27 July 2010

CD REVIEW: Viima - Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta (2006, self released)

(NB: this review was originally web published 3 April 2007.)

Folk inflected melodies and female vocals with a touch of Wishbone Ash and Trettioariga Kriget rockiness tossed in for good measure...loads of vintage keyboard tones...infectious songwriting...all of these are elements that define Finnish band Viima’s sound as evidenced on their debut album Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta, released late in 2006 on the band’s own label.

Viima is the latest in a long line of Scandanavian prog bands, and while they wear some of their influences on their sleeves, their sound is fresh and exciting. Päivi Kylmänen’s vocals are folky and delivered without affectation. As a female singer in a mostly symphonic prog band, it’s obvious that comparisons to Annie Haslam are inevitable, yet a fairer comparison would perhaps be Sandy Denny or one of her contemporaries. Her voice is clear, delivering the band’s Suomi lyrics in an easily embraced manner. Kimmo Lähteenmäki doubles on drums and keyboards for this studio release; his selection of keyboard tones is appropriately vintage, with huge grand piano, organ, and ‘tron strings orchestrating the band’s solidly written tracks. Mikko Uusi-Oukari’s guitar playing varies from subtle acoustic and rhythm tracks to firey, yet understated leads evoking comparison to Andy Powell or Christer Åkerberg. Last but not least, Jarmo Kataja’s bass playing, while the most understated of any member’s contribution, adds a richness and thickness to the mix that would otherwise be readily missed.

Title track “Ajatuksia maailman laidalta” is a wonderful slice of folky symphonic progressive rock, memorably written, skillfully arranged and with loads of dynamic changes. Kylmänen’s vocals are multitracked on choruses, creating a virtual choir that adds lushness to the piece. Uusi-Oukari and Lähteenmäki trade solos, with neither showboating at the expense of the song. At times it’s easy to think one is listening to a lost mid-period Renaissance song sans orchestration. It is an all-too-brief 6:37 of proggy bliss.

“Ilmalaiva Italia” adds some nice ambient wind effects, creating a chilly soundscape for the band’s quiet, acoustic track memorialising a failed Italian exploratory mission. The band suddenly explodes with a massive electric section, guitars and keyboards fighting against each other for aural dominance. As suddenly as the sound explodes, it again subsides, returning to its acoustic beginnings. “Johdatus” is the album’s “epic” at 9:31, and again, it is almost too short at that length. An upbeat opening leads into an effortlessly perky vocal section with chiming guitar and synthesized flute (having Anne Leinonen, who guested on flute earlier in the album, handle those parts here would have been a nice touch). Hooks and memorable melodies garnish this wonderfully addictive track. The vocal and piano section starting at around 4:30 is veritably hair raising, despite its simplicity...as the song builds to a climax, chilling crystalline guitar leads build off this restrained foundation. The song builds in pace before quietly fading on a synth and piano chord.

Viima compares favourably to bands like White Willow (think of Viima as White Willow if they’d not added so many post rock and hard rock influences), while adding some nicely placed heaviness to keep the mix fresh and interesting. Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta is a wonderfully surprising debut release, and marks Viima as a band to watch over the coming years.

Track listing:
Leijonan Syksy
Ajatuksia maailman laidalta
Ilmalaiva Italia

Band Members:
Päivi Kylmänen - vocals
Kimmo Lähteenmäki - keyboards and drums
Mikko Uusi-Oukari - guitars, flute
Jarmo Kataja - bass

Jankke Kuismin – Bass (2,3,5)
Kimmo Alho – Alto sax (5)
Anne Leinonen – Flute (5)

Find out more about Viima here:

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