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Finland strikes again! - 100%

andreipianoman, July 21st, 2018

If anyone would have told me not so long ago that my next obsession was going to be a pagan metal project with black metal influences, written by just one person that simply showed up out of nowhere this year, I would have thought they're crazy. Well call me crazy because I've been listening to this album at least three times a day for a week and I don't feel like stopping anytime soon.

Vermilia is a pagan black metal artist coming from the one and only Finland who single-handedly put together one of the most impressive albums of this year in any metal subgenre that was ever invented. It is called "Kätkyt" and it is not only a truly remarkable collection of music but also a record that is quickly becoming one of my all time favourites. To be honest, neither pagan metal nor black metal are accurate descriptions for her style but as with any original and "out of the box" musician that shows up, trying to place her in a single subgenre is one of the most pointless things you can do. However, those two are the key components of her music so for fans of those genres, I strongly advise you to give this album a spin. It has eight tracks and it's only 45 minutes long and that easily translates into: "I already want more"!

I don't want you to think that this belongs to the extremes. It's not a very complex album. The songs are pretty straightforward and based on just a few themes and variations. It is also not the most technical or the most epic sounding music. It isn't even very emotional. But while there are multiple bands out there that surpass Vermilia in one of these aspects, very few have done a comparable job at balancing them out. "Kätkyt" isn't "the most" anything but it has a lot of everything.

As a result, trying to pull this album apart and see what it's made of isn't a very difficult task. The songs are very well balanced and based on black metal drums with pretty static and simple guitar melodies, usually played with tremolo picking or just basic down picking. The double kicks are there almost all the time, and even blast beats are common so it does end up sounding big. You also get very beautifully made harmonies between the guitars and bass. As there are two guitars playing different riffs and melodies at the same, this gives an unusual sense of harmony in the music. It is very fluid and cohesive. One guitar might play a melody in a higher octave while the other turns down to a punchy riff but then both may harmonize tremolo picking melodies and let the bass move into the foreground for a few seconds. There are just very inspired ideas throughout, some made to stay in your head while others are focused on creating atmosphere and depth. Above it all, there are also dual vocals executed beautifully by the very same artist that built everything else. A contrast between black metal harsh vocal and a very clean and beautiful female voice completes the final layer of the music. And that's pretty much what you should expect.

So analizing the music isn't a big thing especially if you're the kind of person who likes all sorts of intricate, weird and technical stuff that challenge your mind's every cell just to keep up with what's happening in your ears (a.k.a. me). But from where I'm standing right now, I can see no reason why you should even bother to do that. Listening to this music with a critical and analytical mindset is nearly impossible and also pretty pointless! Vermilia didn't focus one bit on making a "good" or "bad" album. Instead, she focused on making a beautiful album. And I'd rather have that any day! The atmosphere and feel that this music gives immediately surrounds you. It has a very natural and vivid feeling. It's the kind of stuff where you just close your eyes and see unspoiled natural landscapes. You have to listen to it actively and really connect to the energy it releases. I'm quite certain that the inspiration for this album came from nature because it really takes you there. It's not black metal. Black metal is harsh, evil and tormentful. On the other hand, this is also harsh but pure, wild and untamed! And while the black metal style releases massive amounts of savagery, it isn't dark. It's just powerful and agressive. I actually associate many of the songs on this album with weather. The opening track "Äiti maa" is a thick cloack of mist in the morning. "Haudoille" and "Poissa" are howling winds and heavy rain and "Maisema" brings a warm and gentle sunrise. I'm probably just getting side tracked in some weird trance and rambling gibberish right now but that's exactly where my mind goes when I listen to this album. That's not only the result of the harmonious and atmospheric songwriting style but also of the mix which I simply have to say, is perfect. It's very organic and lively but doesn't descend too much into low-fi territory. It is primitive and a bit black-metal oriented but all the instruments are still very clear and easy to hear. It brings everything out and creates a very full sound. I also really enjoy the distortion effect that is used most of the time. It's just a bit fuzzy but very consistent and brings a lot of substance to the guitars, just not enough to bury the bass. And the vocals sound like they're coming from a different direction. They're just so clearly defined and placed above the instrumental, not overpowering it but almost standing on their own. You almost need no effort to separate the instruments in your head.

And then I get to the vocal performance. I don't even know what's happening to my insides ( both physical and emotional ) when she starts singing. Her clean voice is beyond hypnotic. It feels like an omnipresent living and breathing entity in the air. It's so clear and magical and no matter how tremendously crushing the surge of grinding drums and guitars underneath may be, this celestial sound just takes over. Take "Haudoille" as a first listen. That's what I did and the vocals were what instantly sold me. It's like a downpour of hail on the instruments but this clean voice just shines through like it's being carried by the winds! And if that wasn't enough, the harsh vocals do the very opposite. While the cleans echo from the skies, the harsh shrieking and deep growl rumbles from the earth and rises into the storm! To make matters even more intense, most of the time these two polar opposites resonate in unison, reciting the same beautiful finnish lyrics that build up even more authenticity.

But it's not all savage. Many times it's peaceful and beautiful. Especially the album closer has a chorus so uplifting and peaceful that it defies gravity. This last song is easily the brightest sounding and ends on a high note but even in this one Vermilia has to punch a good dose of power which is why, half way through the track, she smashes the blackness over your head one last time before she allows the sun to fully reveal itself.

To complete this masterpiece, the amazing artist displays fantastic care for details, breaking the patterns with imprints of fabulous cymbal play, a few bass stand-out moments and even a couple of guitar leads. I really like that she didn't stuff solos in there just for the heck of it and only drove the creative stream into guitar leads when it came so naturally. There's also a bit of string sound in "Mustan taivaan morsian" that might be keyboard or sample but I'm not sure. To be honest, the album isn't perfect. You could pick on the fact that most songs end pretty suddenly and there is no sort of intro feel, the tracks going straight into it. But I honestly just don't care about that. There are only two debut albums that I've enjoyed as much as this. Those are Wintersun's self titled album and An Abstract Illusion's Illuminate the Path and as I never got bored of those, it is now time to see if "Kätkyt", will stand the test of time. Now get the album, hit play, hit repeat and start obsessing!