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The Festival of Happiness - 92%

Napero, July 31st, 2005

Why should anyone review a single? Well, this minor piece of art defines, in my opinion, everything that is good about Ajattara. And in addition to that, contains a bad joke that needs an explanation, and that can be conveniently forgotten after the issue has been dealt with.

If you ever get your hands on this release, buy it. There's one thing you must remember, though: this is a dedicated Christmas single. Three random copies included a voucher for a 20-pound ham, a traditional Finnish Christmas delicacy. The second track is the joke. Hei, Tonttu-ukot Hyppikää is a traditional Swedish Christmas carol, and as a translation, a tradition in Finland as well. The lyrics in Finnish basically urge Santa's elves (and other varied gnomish creatures of folk tradition) to joyfully dance for one day, since life is short and gloomy, and the single day of joy during the whole year is here. Somehow, when more carefully studied and semantically dissected, the merry melody turns into a description of a brief ray of light revealing a hopeless existence that is soon bound to end in misery and eternal decay. Therefore, the whole song successfully defends its place on this single, even if the execution sounds like a drunken joke. Which, I believe, it probably is. All right. You may now forget the song and concentrate on the essentials.

The first track, Ilon Päivä (Day of Joy), is the only truly important thing on this CD. Everything else is superficial, even the joke; the single track defines a lot of things, and it is quite possibly the best song Ajattara has ever produced. In it's ingenious simplicity it goes beyond such classics as Haureus and Helvetissä On Syntisen Taivas. The basic guitar and bass work is simple in the extreme, but carries the whole song on its wings of rusted iron, as is characteristic to many Ajattara songs, only this time the flight goes further and higher than ever before. Ruoja's vocals are harsh and dark, and by their abrasive power alone move the definition of Ajattara's music from doom towards black metal. Otherwise we would probably categorize Ajattara as doom: most of their tracks have a rather slow tempo, and the lyrics are mostly about torture, death, murder, hopelessness and other such merry concepts. Ajattara, however, successfully avoids exact categorization. Whatever the genre is, I'm sure either "dark" or "blackened" is the weighty adjective in front of it.

One problem or advantage the current metal scene in Finland both benefits and suffers from is the proliferation of songs sung in Finnish. Ajattara is no exception. The main disadvantage of lyrics in Finnish is obviously the limitation it places on the maximum sales abroad. The advantages are more diverse: it enables the use of a massive cache of folk tradition, from Kalevala and Kanteletar favoured by Amorphis (in English, of course), Ajattara and a thousand others, through the drunken village idiot thematics of Kylähullut and others, to the national romantic ideas more recently used in music, such as the bitter successes in the Winter War of 1939-40. The expressive power of the language is also quite a bit different from the germanic language family, and fits certain styles of doomish metal like a glove. Most people with any knowledge of military history know of the unyielding mentality of the Winter War and finnish "sisu"; other, darker aspects of the psyche of a Finn are much more difficult to express. There's the inherent melancholy that first leads to the solitary suicide of a Finn, and when told about the suicide, the next Finn may show no emotion other than noting that "a man has to do what a man has to do", and continue sharpening the axe in silence. Among others, Viikate and early Kotiteollisuus have been able to capture the atmosphere very nicely, but once again, unfortunately in Finnish. I have privately tried to translate many finnish metal songs into English, but I unvariably fail: the mood and essence of the lyrics is usually lost in translation. Unless it's gory stuff or comedy, it's easier to make completely new lyrics for practically any song than to translate allegoric and symbolic lyrics from Finnish to English. Or maybe I just suck at translations, I don't know.

Whatever my translational problems are, I took me a moment to figure out the lyrics of Ilon Päivä, even when they are in Finnish: they tell the story of the last moments of a dead corpse on a funeral pyre soon to be lit. It's waiting to be cremated, still hungry for extended, insane existence, and sings of its own death and begs to be left to lie, both wowing and cursing its eternal existence. The people around it only see a peaceful dead corpse, resting in its darkened silence and being embraced by the growing flames. This is dark stuff, people, and anyone providing a decent and truly mood-preserving translation of these lyrics is a guru and deserves a sextet of ale. I'm buying, but beware: the jury will be harsh and unforgiving, and to get the prize, you must be equal to Ruoja.

I'm not going to waste your time by explaining Ajattara's sound any more than telling you that it's slowish, blackened dark metal. Read the reviews for the other releases and remember: this is an important but virtually unknown band, and having one or more of their albums is a good thing for you and your CD collection. Ilon Juhla is a special treat for those of us who enjoy singles; I've listened to the first track for something like 300 times in the car, and it simply is close to perfection within its style. The band obviously knows it, too, they have reportedly often played it as an encore.

The song, Ilon Päivä, is a true masterpiece of relatively minimalistic metal, but unfortunately it most probably won't find its way to Ajattara's next album. If there ever is one, that is. The highly disturbing news of them splitting up or going on hold forced me to take extreme measures to see them live just once: I had to reschedule my daughter's sixth birthday to see the second to the last booked gig they had on their schedule, that in Tuska Open Air in July 2005. If that was the last chance ever to see them live, I just had to grab it and hold on to it for dear life. Or dear death, that fits it better. But, man, did my mother-in-law hate me? Well, no. She took it rather well, but the risk of sudden death was there. Certain things just are worth more than others, and sacrifices must sometimes be made. I'm happy I did.