Metal Express Radio
Of all the things the Metal genre has been criticized for through the years, one of the more substantial issues is the lack of original thematics. The emphasition of classic scenarios with dragons, knights, and warfare in general are a prime example, but luckily some bands still choose to use bear forth their own national culture with pride rather than succumb to such clich�s -- Finnish band Kiuas is one of these.
A look at the band's 2005 debut album The Spirit of Ukko reveals why -- Ukko is the chieftain god in the ancient Finnish pantheon (the equivalent of the Norse Odin and Greek Zeus). Guitarist Mikko Salovaara's nickname 'Ilmarinen' (Seppo Ilmarinen being a key figure in Kalevala, the "National Epic of Finland") confirms the cultural ballast resident in these lads -- as well as the band name itself. According to the band, the word Kiuas is the perfect way of recapitulating Finnish culture as it means 'stove,' and thus is commonly associated with saunas, the perfect symbol of Finland. This proves Kiuas to be a very well-informed group, presenting a product built on a strong, dedicated foundation.
2006's release, Reformation, opening track, "Race with the Falcons," shows that there's no shortage of talent. It is a strong melodic piece where the band gets to show off all their musical flair and skills, clever riffs and melodies being the chief ingredients. While not straining any boundaries, Kiuas still manage to create their own sound to some extent �- the increasingly well-known Power/Prog hybrid is no rare sight these days, but has yet to be exhausted as a source of inspiration. Successful bands in this genre are recognized by technicality and musical understanding, and this is the case for these young Finns. Generally, the music is distinguished by broken chords and syncopation, both familar. Vocalist Ilja Jalkanen's added touches of growling and clean vocals unified also helps with respect to maintaining an image -� listing Blues legends like Buddy Guy and Howlin' Wolf among his idols,, he contributes with powerful, yet emotional harmonies, rendering him a vital part of the sound picture. He also gets his share of interludes and fills, without allowing it to get out of hand.
The album makes a strong impression as a whole. There's not much distance between the peaks: "The New Chapter," "Of Ancient Wounds," and the nicely done "Reformation (Wrath of the Old Gods)" epic being the most notable, in addition to the opener. All these are instantly catchy tracks with characteristically heavy verses, elevating, floating vocal melodies introducing a clean, melodic chorus. There are also more brutal numbers to be found, like "Through the Ice Age" and "Black Winged Goddess," but the melodic elements are present in every song. While it lacks a definite killer, it also lacks any real downpoints, and even the medieval-inspired interlude, "Child of Cimmeria," provides a nice impact �- if nothing else as a present day counterpart to the ramblings in the ancient national studies, being an obvious reference to Conan the Barbarian.
Like most of the tracks, the musicians fail to make the absolute Hall of Fame. Vocalist Jalkanen remains the most standout member, but no blame for the slight pent-up feelings shall be attached to the musical performance. Guitarist �Ilmarinen� Salovaara clearly knows his stuff, his solos even sound Laihoish at times �- no bad association, but by no means an uncommon one. Markku N�revara on drums and bassist Teemu Tuominen keep things simple, making the foundation for Kiuas' overall groove �- but while keeping a steady beat, especially N�revara grasps many an opportunity to show his prowess. Atte Tanskanen's keys contribute a nicely, and the precise engineering makes Kiuas' newest release a pleasurable listening experience. While not quite A New Supremacy, Kiuas are a band to follow closely in the future �- and to share a thought with when next seated nude on a wooden pew sweating your guts out.
EIRIK P. KROKFJORD 24.5.2006