Kiuas - The spirit of Ukko 4/5

Reviewed: 8-12-05


1. The spirit of Ukko
2. On the winds of death we ride
3. No more sleep for me
4. Warrior soul
5. Until we reach the shore
6. Across the snows
7. Horns of a black rose
8. And the north star cried

Now this is something wild, something altogether different, and altogether cool. The feeling of uniqueness is pervasive from the moment one picks up the CD case. What does "Kiuas" mean? Who the hell is "Ukko"? And who is the fearsome looking dude with the deer's head and antlers perched on the underworld throne in the striking cover art? The Spinefarm logo on the back cover may not be a quality guarantee, but the upstart Finnish label has certainly developed a reputation over the years for signing bands that are both a cut above and a shade different than the norm (see, for example, Sentenced, Nightwish, Children of Bodom, Moonsorrow, Finntroll, Ensiferum, Dark Tranquillity, etc.).

I'm pleased to report that Spinefarm have struck gold again, as Kiuas are perhaps their most exciting find in years. These 5 Finnish lads have devised a fascinating twist on the well worn European power metal theme. Like many young aggressive Finnish bands these days, Kiuas are heavily influenced by Children of Bodom, as their music is replete with the spiraling guitar melodies and cascading keyboard passages popularized by the northernmost deathrollers themselves. But it would be a mistake to lump Kiuas in with Kalmahs, Northers, and Skyfires of the world, as Kiuas have taken numerous steps to separate themselves from Alexi Laiho-worshipping hordes. First and foremost, Kiuas have wisely largely eschewed the faceless death grunts of their peers in favor of the strong, clean voice of Ilja Jalkanen, who compensates for his limited range with his obvious enthusiasm for the material. 2nd, Kiuas have cleverly mixed in elements from other styles of metal too, from the occasional blastbeat and black-metal riffing sequences in the title track and "On winds of death we ride" to the traditional Finnish music-inflected "Across the snows" (reminiscent of Amorphis in their overlooked 'Elegy' phase) to the Evergrey-meets-Pantera stomp of "Thorns of a black rose" to the beautifully orchestrated "And the north star cried". There are enough unpredictable moments to keep the listener on his toes, anxiously awaiting the band's next move as the songs unfold.

Of course, this explosive mix of styles would mean nothing without good riffs and good songs, but thankfully Kiuas deliver on both fronts. Many of the songs are instantly memorable, as I've been walking around for days singing the choruses of "Warrior soul" and the title track to myself. The musicianship is top-notch too, with the face-ripping yet tasteful guitar work of Mikko Salovaara and the outstanding drumming of Markku Nareneva deserving particular praise. And the lyrics may be clichéd, but they are perfect for this music. In "Warrior soul", for example, Jalkanen sings, "In battle sworn to die/He unsheathes the blade with fire in his eyes/Warrior soul blazes through the land of frost and snow/His pagan heart and flesh built to endure the cold". What better topic for a Finnish metal band to sing about than the tale of a warrior born under the northern lights, waging battle against the false ones across a snowswept plain?

I've heard Kiuas described as a melodic death metal band, but I don't think the tag fits. I would classify them as more of an extreme power metal band, with elements of death metal, Viking metal, traditional Finnish music, and more. Whatever they are, they are a very talented act who have come out swinging, and from whom I expect great things in the future. Oh, and in case you're still wondering, Ukko was the Finnish god who specialized in storms and lightning, a veritable god of thunder (and rock'n'roah-ohhlll). Ukko was considered the top Finnish god until that pesky Christianity spread through the country. Thanks to Kiuas, long will the spirit of Ukko burn brightly, infused with the eternal flames of metal.




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