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(43:51 / Mellow Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Kaikkitietava 5:31 2. Koskelan Taisto 5:09 3. Lapimurto 4:13 4. Palava Maailma 6:25 5. Sankaruuden Kahdet Kasvot 4:39 6. Ei Taivahassa 10:35 7. Ylen Sankia Priha 2:09 8. Ne Iyraa Meitin 3:08 9. Aika Velikultia 1:59 LINEUP: Ari Naappa - guitars, mandolin Riku Luostan - keyboards Juha Sarkioja - basses Timo Sivula - drums Tero Arteli - vocals
Prolusion. The history of Finnish group AARDVARK goes back to the late '90s, but "Tuntematon Sotilas" is only their second studio album to date, though they also took part in the Kalevala various artists project, having contributed one song to that three-disc output. The CD booklet contains the statement that the band dedicates "Tuntematon Sotilas" to the memory of the 95000 Finns who lost their lives in the Second World War.
Analysis. While Aardvark sing in their native language, the booklet features English versions of each of the four songs present (the other five tracks being certainly instrumentals), from which is clear that the recording's lyrical substance is indeed filled with thoughts of the Finnish nation - well, generally speaking. As a matter of fact, the lyrics depict the Finns fighting the Soviet Union, heroically dying for their independency from the 'red shackles', but never touch the WWII as such. I fear some of the verdant potential buyers of this CD will get a wrong impression of the matter. In any event, "Tuntematon Sotilas" has musically almost nothing to do with the group's native ethos. To be more precise, some tunes on each of the two brief symphonic mandolin-laden instrumentals, Ylen Sankia Priha and Aika Velikultia, bear a resemblance to Finnish traditional ones, but otherwise the album suggests Aardvark's creation is firmly rooted in that branch of English '70s Hard Rock which secures the presence of lush symphonic patterns. Thanks to the band's ability to naturalistically reproduce the distinctive vintage aura of the epoch, all tunes without exception leave a pretty pleasant impression, even though most of the music is only proto-progressive in character on the one hand and isn't completely free of outside factors on the other. Classic Uriah Heep (circa "Demons & Wizards") is the primary influence and is most obvious on the songs, Koskelan Taisto, Sankaruuden Kahdet Kasvot and Ne Iyraa Meitin, - apart from the fact that on the vocal angle, the resemblance can be traced only on the first; otherwise it approaches zero. The vocal-free Kaikkitietava begins and ends in the style of church organ music, but is the same story overall, with the Hammond soloing almost ceaselessly within the sections with heavy textures and those with art-rock-like ones as well. The remaining track with lyrical content, Palava Maailma, and the instrumental, Lapimurto, both reveal much fewer hard arrangements, standing out for their expressive Mini-Moog solos which instantly bring to mind the name of Manfred Mann, though as a whole, the music is more accessible than that by Earth Band during their heyday. The 10-minute instrumental Ei Taivahassa is fully original and is the only track here that evokes classic symphonic Art-Rock. It features brilliant acoustic guitar and bass solos, fine piano and organ passages and a very impressive harpsichord interlude. There are still no volcanic arrangements here, but the piece breathes with '70s magic and progressively strongly surpasses all the other tracks. Its only flaw is the presence of the same riff-based theme to which the group returns thrice during the composition, each time just repeating it down to the smallest details.
Conclusion. Musically, Aardvark have many elements that are admirable, including some complex arrangements in varying tempos and meters, as well as good playing on their instruments - especially on keyboards, bass and drums which have a light jazzy touch rather than a plodding rock attack. On the negative side (apart from the parallel that one may draw between "the 95000 Finns who lost their lives in the Second World War" and the lyrics themselves), the guitar riffs aren't very strong, besides which they are often repetitive in character, which can be okay while making allowances for traditional Hard Rock, whilst the band in fact pretends to be something weightier. In the final analysis, this album is proto-progressive music with occasional genuinely progressive tendencies, but anyway is musically a pretty pleasant listening experience.
PS: The main problem I have when describing the outings by Finnish bands is that even the majority of those playing all-instrumental music name their tracks in their complex native language, persistently avoiding using English, which became an international language already many decades ago. It is always rather difficult for me (though I know for sure - not only for me) to make a list of Finnish titles without making any errors, so I am (once again) sorry in advance if these are present in this review (too).
VM: March 27, 2007
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