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The Spirit of Ukko is one hell of a debut, putting nearly all of it's chips down in support of it's eccentricies and clearly having a blast with all of it in the process. This free-form songwriting style clearly transcends onto the listener, delivering everything you expect and more. In a genre so heavily devoted to clichés, Kiuas has always stood out from the pack by going against the traditional Finnish grain - even if they themselves fell prey to many of the common pitfalls later on.
At the risk of devolving into a sordid track-by-track affair, I have to mention the three gems of the album immediately: "Warrior Soul", "On Winds of Death We Ride", and the title track. Salovaara is clearly the centerpiece and most influential band member from a songwriting standpoint. What makes The Spirit of Ukko so appealing is the consistent emphasis on the riffs, never failing no matter how distracting and overblown the rest of the performances may be. His riffs are at their knuckle-twisting best during the three aforementioned tracks, with "Warrior Soul" having the most lasting power courtesy of it's head-bobbing main groove and measured use of keyboards. While I can contest that it is far from the best song here, it appears to be most individual's favorite Kiuas track. I will agree that it is immediately accessible and showcases all of the band's strengths efficiently, serving as a nice introduction to the stylistic mixing pot being drawn from here.
"On Winds of Death We Ride" is more anthemic than it is bludgeoning, and the clinical thrashing that is exhibited during the verses makes this one a keeper. The title track draws influence from both "Warrior Soul" and "On Winds of Death We Ride", embodying a functional opener and a decent namesake piece to the album proper. An EP consisting of these three tracks and the atmospheric "Until We Reach the Shore" would be near flawless, but we still have half of the album to go, so does it stack up to these three masterpieces?
Well, no, but honestly, what can? I consider The Spirit of Ukko a companion piece to it's direct successor Reformation, as it contains many similar high points yet falls prey to many of the same shortcomings. Kiuas has always had a problem emoting effectively during the half-balled crooners, and this album is certainly no exception. I don't have many qualms with Jalkanen's gritty tenor, but he struggles to maintain the appeal of the proceedings on his own without much of marked value going on behind him. As such, "Thorns of a Black Rose" and especially "No More Sleep for Me" are complete throwaways, only picking up sporadically and certainly not enough to warrant their existence.
The only other track worth noting is the aforementioned "Until We Reach the Shore", which is a great ambient mid-paced tune that gives Tanskanen's synths a chance to coat the proceedings in a dense atmosphere, complete with buzzing leads and a breathtaking keyboard solo near the end. This track exhibits Jalkenen's stronger clean tones, which are far superior to the parched death growls he feels the need to sporadically radiate in an attempt at keeping The Spirit of Ukko heavy. His effort is largely unneeded, as Savolaara's incendiary riffs fill that void effectively on their own. Other than an overuse of the pinch harmonics, the riffs are constantly pulling the album back toward it's more well-meaning origins just when it begins to stumble and fall into typical Finnish pitfalls.
The Spirit of Ukko has certainly aged well, as the band never managed to come close to the eclectic appeal featured here. In fact, the only other track on the entirety of the band's remaining discography that would fit nicely on here is "Race with the Falcons" from Reformation. The rest of Kiuas' discography is far too safe and limp-wristed at times to fully sell the appeal. While this album is not without it's faults either, it's high points are stratospheric, truly redefining the overplayed Finnish power metal formula. Worth the time of fans of this style, but clearly loses some steam after the halfway point.
Finnish power metal is a subject that seems to be generally stereotyped by more down and dirty metalheads as being fluffy, light, and that hand-grenade of a genre descriptor, “flowery”. This is an interesting release, because with one smashing debut album, Kiuas managed to play around with, AND shatter that stereotype.
Keyboards are ever-present here, bringing out the kind of wintery atmosphere characteristic of the Finnish scene in bands like Nightwish and Sonata Arctica. But they’re reinforced by enough riffs to slap any would-be dissenter across the face for days, accented by a sharp, blunt production job.
I disagree with certain people’s phrasing of Dragonforce as “extreme power metal”. They’re pretty stereotypical power metal in their melody structuring, albeit hopped up on that trademark speed that’s made them infamous (among other things). This album is a much purer representation of the idea of “extreme power metal”: it’s power metal, but with elements more characteristic with extreme metal such as tremolo-picked riffs, blastbeats that interplay with the riffs in such a way, and the occasional harsh singing backing Ilja Jalkanen’s already naturally rough lead vocal work.
For me, the highlight songs are those that play up on this unique, frosty blend of power metal and extreme metal: the title track is extraordinarily up-front with its extreme tendencies, yet in the same breath proudly boasts the strong melodies and memorable vocal lines more characteristic with power metal, while On Winds Of Death We Ride grapples with thrashy melodies that possess a sense of grandeur – I hesitate to use the oft-oversaturated term Epic, but there is a sense of it here. Warrior Soul is an exceptional display of performer dexterity melded with aggressive, yet supremely catchy and memorable writing.
The less furious songs are by no means bad, though – No More Sleep For Me delivers a haunting tale whose atmosphere draws you in and is a welcome break from the assault, while the soft breaks that occasionally enter into the heavier tracks not only deeply accent the frigid atmosphere, but don’t even feel out of place, instead complimenting the rest of the song.
The only thing holding this record back for me is that the second half doesn’t quite match up to the furious majesty of the first half. Even then, perhaps I just need to let it grow on me some more. None the less, this is a wonderful, unique album. A requisite for fans of Finnish metal.
This band has gotten quite a lot of praise heaped upon them since their inception, and a lot of that praise is indeed deserved. Kiuas play Power Metal, except not in the way you'd expect. Sure, they have fantasy-based lyrics, but the music here is about as far from derivative as Power Metal can get, having elements of Death Metal and 80s hard rock blended into the colorful palette of influences on display. An accurate description might be Children of Bodom with less keyboards, less harsh vocals and a more serious thematic but even that is pretty far off from what The Spirit of Ukko sounds like.
The vocals range from a midranged, gritty snarl to a much harsher sort of rasp/growl, and the music is a majestic cacophony of heavy, pugilistic riffs, riveting guitar leads that border on neoclassical at times, a few slight folk inclinations, and even a few "epic" overtones with grandiose synths and orchestrations, although these are few and far between. While that description doesn't sound too off-the-wall, it's the songwriting style that's uneven and bizarre. The title track opens this disc, and it's a triumphant, pounding Power Metal epic in the style of old Blind Guardian, except with that unique Kiuas touch that was already in place even here. "On Wings of Death We Ride" is a double-bass throttled speed cooker with a high-octane shout-along chorus, and then "No More Sleep for Me" is a sludgy, distorted romp with a more hard rock vibe to it, having a chorus slightly reminiscent of AC/DC's heavier songs; quickly kicking into the next song, "Warrior Soul," which is a full-fledged galloping volley through 80s Helloween country. The album plods on further with a few Prog Rock/Metal influences, and one song ("Thorns of a Black Rose") that sounds like Gutter Ballet-era Savatage, except about three times as heavy...see what I'm going with this?
What I'm getting at is that Kiuas are exuberant and very inventive, cramming as many ideas as they possibly can into this. It all makes for a very interesting listening experience, with some really killer ideas and a great sound overall, with no real weak links, but at times it's just a bit too much. Kiuas on this debut album comes off as the equivalent of an enthusiastic young artist, filling a white canvass with every color on his palette, eager to create just about the best fucking painting in the entire world; one so enamored and dense in color that it could eclipse the sun, to put hyperbole to use. He has not learned the meaning of the old adage, "less is more," and thus, while having immense talent, creates something that is jumbled and rather messy, in spite of being somewhat pleasing to the naked eye. The Spirit of Ukko is a diverse, musically rich album, but the band didn't even try to restrain themselves here, just blazing away with the speedometer at 11 on every single song, and sadly they don't all come together as well as I would've liked.
Nevertheless, though, that weakness also ends up being one of Kiuas's greatest strengths. While I would've preferred a more restrained, slightly more subtle style of songwriting, Kiuas's manic creative energy is really something you have to hear yourself to believe. They might throw everything they can possibly think of into the 40-odd minutes of music contained within The Spirit of Ukko, but there is a certain charm to it that simply can't be denied. Even when you take Kiuas's faults into consideration, if you're a Power Metal fan, you will no doubt drool over the combination of genres on display here. And like the eager young painter, there is an earnest, genuine sense of pride at work on this album, and that is heartwarming as well as worthy of respect from any serious Metal fan.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Oh yeah, they put blast beats in power metal. This is a band I always have a fun time describing to friends, as they are the only band I can honestly say incorporate virtually every metal subgenre. The blast beats of black metal, the occasional death growl, the power metal choruses, the speed/thrash riffs, they seriously did it all. It is predominately power metal, but all of the other influences are there, and they are there in fucking force. This band has a ton of potential, and I really, really want to give this album an A, but three or four songs don't carry an album. Upon first hearing this, I thought to myself "This is only their first album, they'll mature a bit more and really fucking nail it next time." Unfortunately, the follow up seems to fall flat on it's face pretty quickly.
So they don't really harness all of their potential, but they should most definitely be teaching Ass Kicking 101 at Berkley. Upon looking at this album, and analyzing the cover art, you can gather that Ukko is some sort of powerful being, most likely a mythical god. A little bit of research shows that the initial assumption is indeed correct. So you figure the music has to kick as much ass as the cover right? You would once again be right.
The opening track is an amazing one. It is a truly kickass opener and lets you know really quickly what you've gotten yourself into. This is not Mr. Joe Everyband here at all. Tremolo riffing, epic keys, blast beats.... one of these things is not like the other! One of these things just doesn't belong! But holy shit do they make it work. After the first minute, you get a dose of an almost melodeath riff before thrash drumming and atmospheric keys take over. Then the voice, oh god that voice. The vocals are really love/hate, they tend to be kind of out of key the whole time... all the time, not to mention they don't always harmonize to well, but they somehow sound amazingly good. His clean vocals are pretty bad, but when he's adding a touch of rasp or flat out growling/screaming, it's really good. It all depends on which part of the song you're listening to. The solo is a trip as well, starting off kind of death/thrash-esque, but ending on an epic/power region.... Once the sonic onslaught has surceased, you realize that your ass has just been kicked harder than it has been in a LONG fucking time. Seriously, my description is almost perfect, it seriously is everything good about every respective genre thrown into one six minute aural assault.
Next up is another classic, On Winds of Death We Ride. It starts off kind of mediocre, but after his semi-spoken intro about 30 seconds in, the true song starts. The natural harmonic run followed by the blasts and bombastic key hits, it all just hits you in the face like a jackhammer. The vocalist emphasizes his more extreme style here. I use extreme in the sense that they are harsher than on the previous tracks (or any of the other ones for that matter), and during the chorus, when he screams the title, it is an honest to God COB style black metalish growl that makes you want to murder.
But what's next? Uh oh, it's a throwaway! No Sleep for Me isn't terrible, it's just a huge step down from the opening duo of ass kickage. This song is also the first in which the stupid lyrics really hit you. It didn't matter too much in the first two tracks, but now it really bothers me because the music isn't as compelling, so naturally you pay more attention to the lyrics.
Destructive drum solo? Speed/thrash riff? Blast beats accompanied with low death growl and artificial harmonics? Power metal keys? ALL IN THE FIRST THIRTY SECONDS? Oh yeah baby, it's Warrior Soul. Hands down the best song on the entire fucking album. Catchy vocal lines, scattered drum solos, blazing fast harmonized dueling guitar solos, this one has even more mayhem than the first track, which up to the point I heard this song... I thought was untouchable. There isn't much to say about this, the best things usually need the least amount of explanation....
Uh oh, throwaway number two?..... yep. Until We Reach the Shore is.... well, crappy. I've no problem with slower songs, but it just doesn't work really well with this one. Kind of a typical 80's NWOBHM riff to start off, mid paced thrash riffs with sporadic harmonics (ala the infamous playing style of Zakk Wylde). Parts of this song honestly remind me of Sonic the Hedgehog. Boring chorus, just not up to the caliber of the other three ass kickers so far.
Across the Snows, one of their oldest songs. I must admit, I love the opening, what with the folk melodies, acoustics, building up into a twisted pile of metal wreckage (aka awesomeness). But as a whole, the song just doesn't seem to measure up to the ridiculously high expectations the first half of the album gave me.
As a matter of fact, neither do the last two songs. So I won't even go into detail on them, just know that they are more of the style laid out, but slower and less cool.
On the whole, an amazing album at first, but Kiuas's unfortunate inability to keep their songwriting consistent really kills it at the end. I tried to keep this review as positive as a could, because I absolutely love this band, but from an objective standpoint, this album earns a B.
Kiuas play a very oringal, unique style of metal that mixes everything from folk to black metal, and epic, symphonic metal with bombastic , crushing power metal. Let me tell you guys: This is quite possibly the best metal album of 2005, and perhaps the best metal debut of all time. From the moment you shove the CD into your playing device and hear the fast, crunchy riffs of the explosive title, "Spirit of Ukko" track all the way until you reach the the dark, ponderous yet epic "And the Northe Star Cried", any fan of heavy metal will be totally hooked by guitarist Mikko Salovaara's techincal soloing and quirky riffs, singer Ilja Jalkanen's energetic and aggressive vocal attacks, not to mention the stunning drumming, and totally awsome, yet non-cheesy keyboarding, not to mention the solid basslines. I've decided to briefly run through each song.
1: "The Spirit of Ukko" The album immediately launches you into the title track of the album, which consists of a minute and thirty seconds of fast and heavy riffs backed by symphonic keyboard elements. If you're not pumped after 30 seconds, then keep listening, it'll happen soon. The energy of the song only increases once the vocalist enters the scene, and his powerful singing totally fits the music. An amazing, though rather short guitar solo follows, which leads into a serene moment in the song, which is destroyed by heavy riffing, and a sweet guitar lick/mini-solo. Oh, fun fact: for those who don't know, 'Ukko' was the top Finnish god back in the day.
2: "On Winds of Death we Ride" This is a cool song that is slower, but still starts with a pounding riff that escalated into a lightning-fast riff with the help of the vocalist, who shows off his talent by singing with a a harsher voice tone, and actually layering death metal vocals underneath his noral singing. There are plenty of heavy, death, black, and folk metal moments in this song, and it's a amazing blend.
3: "No More Sleep for me" This is a mid-paced song that begins with a snare drum intro, then a very cool headbanging riff. The verse is a change from the first two songs, in that the guitars are left out until later. This song isn't fast, but the band's enthusiasm never dwindles at any point in the song.
4: "Warrior Soul" This is the best song on the album. Fuck, this song kicks ass. If everyone here could only listen to one song from this band, it'd be this song. It's so cool. It begins with a huge drum intro laden with double-bass kicks, then some deep guitar notes, and low death growls. Then, a dual keyboard/guitar lick opens into the explosive verse. Jalkanen puts up his best vocal performance here, and the chorus of this song is amazing and memoriable. It's a great sing-along chorus. "WARRIOR SOUL! BLAZES THROUGH THE LAND OF FROST AND SNOW! HIS PAGAN HEART AND FLESH BUILT TO ENDURE THE COLD!" Man, if that doesn't get the blood flowing, nothing will.
5: "Until we Reach the Shore" Another slower song that beings with a nice keyboard melody that is joined by a melodic guitar solo. This song is actually the weakest one on the album, though the begining is very nice, as well as the chorus. That's pretty much all I've got say about this one...
6: "Across the Snows" Okay, time for another sweet song. This begins with wind in the background, and footsteps in the snow. Some very catchy acoustic guitaring in a folk style catches the listeners interest, and the addition of a flute melody is very cool. The nice setting is shattered when Mikko's nutjob guitar riffs start blasting at a healthy head-banging pace. Some cool hooks with crazy harmonics are thrown around by Mikko, and the outcome is a very sweet folk metal song. I'd like to take a moment to point out that this is one of the songs featured on their demos, and the demo version is much better, although the mix is poor.
7: "Thorns of a Black Rose" SLowing it down again, this is probably the clostest thing that this album gets to a ballad. It's several steps above "Until we Reach the Shore", the other balladish song on the album. The chorus to the song is acoustic with some very powerfl singing, backed by some wicked licks and melodies in the guitar. Totally cool, and a very different style from the rest of the album. The chorus is soaring and epic, and the song changes in style. Very good song.
8: "And the North Star Cried" This is pretty much that 'epic' of the album, clocking at 7 minutes. In this one, the band is backed by a string quartet, so the song is very epic sounding, with the strings and keyboards playing these chilling melodies with the guitars chugging away with some solid, heavy rythms. The vocalist doesn't even enter the song until 2 minutes into it. The song features more qicked guitaring, and a sweet-ass keyboard solo. Plus, the whole symphonic element is very awsome.
With that all said and done, I'm going to recommend this to anyone interested in music ranging from rock to heavy metal of all types. This band is so cool that I seriously doubt that many non-power metal fans will dislike this. The amazing level of variety contained in the songs is mind-blowing, and the sheer memorability (Is that even a word?) of the songs will knock you off your feet. I can't get through a day without singing/humming/thinking the choruses to the songs "Warrior Soul", "Spirit of Ukko", or "Across the Snows". The playing ability of each band member is stunning. Jalkanen belts out the vocals lines with his versatile voice (Powerful with a rough edge) and performs death metal growls occasionally. He makes up for his slightly limited vocal ranged with his obvious enthusiasm for the material. Man, Salovaara is an undiscovered guitar god. I think he's way better than Alexi of Children of Bodom. His riffs are crunchy, fast, heavy, and laden with wierd hooks such as crazy harmonics and shit like that. His riffs rules, and I believe he's one of the main songwriters Also, he does both the lead guitar and rhythm guitars on the album. Drummer Nareneva is great. His double-bass kicks are flawless, and he hold tons of variety behind his kit. Tanskanen is the man behind the keyboard, and he's blood brilliant. Half the time, good power metal is ruined by mediocre/cheesy keyboarding, and while the keys are up front much of the time in the songs, it never gets bad. Synth counter-melodies, string sounds, and funky winter-sounds are flung ever which way with amazing precision. And Bassist Tuominen hold his own of the feild of glory with his solid bass-lines that admittedly follow the guitar much of the time, though he get his shots in here and there.
Kiuas's next album, "Reformation", is set for May 24th, 2006. "The Spirit of Ukko" was release May 4th of last year. That's 385 days betwen albums Holy crap! I'm pre-ordering this shit! For those that missed this album back when it came out in 2005, don't worry. Most people missed it. Listen to it. Download it, buy it, get the samples, I don't care how. It'll be worth your time if you're up for some wicked heavy metal.
What a mess this album is. Having heard of Kiuas as a Finnish power metal band I was expecting nothing more than another average Stratovarius clone – in any case, I was certainly not expecting THAT. I must say it was a rather good surprise even if I stayed quite puzzled after the first listen of this odd thing.
Basically, like their fellow countrymen of Ensiferum, Kiuas play Viking-influenced power metal, finding their lyrical as well as musical inspiration in Nordic legends and epic tales. But unlike in the aforementioned band, folk elements, while not totally absent, are less present here and have been replaced by several other and sometimes a bit weird influences. The first striking element is the singer, constantly switching between the standard high-pitched power metal vocals, an harsher style a la Children of Bodom and, more surprising, a sound far closer to 70’s or NWOBHM vocal style! The same goes for the music: while On Winds of Death we Ride contains so many blastbeats (for a power metal song) that it becomes almost disgusting, some others tracks like Until we Reach the Shore sound actually far more hard-rock than metal – just imagine what would have happened if AC/DC had suddenly decided to turn Viking. Add to all this some harsh riffs which sound like they were borrowed from Pantera or, better, Symphony X, acoustic guitars playing traditional melodies, growled backing vocals, black metal influences (in the last track), a lot of energy and a slight touch of madness, now you get an idea of how this album sounds. The production is the standard power metal one, the double bass sounding sometimes too much triggered to be honest, but nothing awful.
Power metal fans won’t be disappointed by the furious Warrior Soul which can exhibit everything they like: high pace, pounding double bass, aggressive high-pitched vocals, a memorable epic chorus, shining but not overwhelming keyboards, this song, pure Ensiferum inspiration, is without doubt the masterpiece of the album. In the same vein the title track as well as Across the Snows – featuring indeed nice folk melodies – should please even the most close-minded of them. On the other hand, listeners who don’t object to more hard-rockish tunes and/or who are nostalgic of the 70’s and 80’s may prefer No More Sleep for Me, the almost progressive Until We Reach the Shore or, above all, Thorns of a Black Rose. If you have even wondered how the encounter of metal from 1975 with metal from 2005 would sound like, this mid-paced semi-ballad is the song for you, where you will find bluesy verses – well, who is singing there? Robert Plant? Ian Gillan? – alternating with a rather bombastic chorus and Symphony X – esque riffs.
Eventually, the seven minutes long closing track, And the North Star Cried, is a strange mix of power metal with some touch of black metal and orchestrations some may like, but which failed to really convince me. Some points prevent also this record from being an ultimate masterpiece, amongst them its patchwork nature – the listener might wonder where a song like On Winds of Death we Ride really leads. Besides the singer, occasionally trying too hard to sound aggressive, may become slightly annoying, while his NWOBHM sympathies sometimes just can’t fit with the music. But these minor flaws are nothing compared to the evidence this band and this album show: no, power metal isn’t dead! And no need to say that after such a debut I’m eagerly waiting for the next album.
Highlights: The Spirit of Ukko, Warrior Soul, Across the Snows, Thorns of a Black Rose
Kiuas, yet another good but relatively unknown band from Finland. After a couple of demos and a failed contract with Rage Of Achilles, they signed with Spinefarm Records and have finally released their debut album The Spirit Of Ukko. What an album it has become..
Basically, Kiuas play power metal, but there's a lot more to their music than just that. They're influenced by other genres such as death, thrash, folk, speed and so on. The diversity is, in my opinion, endless. To be more precise about their sound; imagine Pantera crashing their tour bus into that of Stratovarius, Children Of Bodom striking a deal with Iron Maiden or any other pact you would reckon to be VERY unlikely. And that is exactly why Kiuas is so refreshing.
The album opens with a killer song, simply titled The Spirit Of Ukko. Immediately, the sheer, raw power of Kiuas becomes apparent. Their insane drummer does some fantastic work here, the guitars are very nifty and the vocals are just amazing. Imagine very raw, near-death vocals on top of a power/pagan folk song. Sweet!! The lyrics are very simple and stick with you in minutes..
And this is only the beginning.
The next songs on the album are of equal quality. All of them cover themes like pagan religion, battles and the honour of ancient warriors. Nothing new under the sun here, but Kiuas make it work. The only bad thing about the lyrics is they don't rhyme too often, which can sound very strange at times. It's hard to explain, but you'll see what I mean once you hear it. Songs that suffer from this the most are 'Warrior Soul' and 'Thorns Of A Black Rose'.
Overall, this is a really good, well-produced and refreshing album that is worth listening to for anyone who likes any of the above mentioned genres. Even if power is totally not your thing, you should go through the trouble of checking this out. You will NOT be disappointed!