It’s been said many times and by those who can express it far more eloquently than I, that music knows no language. Now as hackneyed as that may sound, a release like “Kevättuulisormi” emphasizes just how genuine that statement is. Pyhä Kuolema is actually the project of Finnish musician Mikko Pöyhönen (Tervahäät / Tuhat Kuolemaa Sekunnissa) and this LP is the follow-up to his brilliant debut “Saavun Vaikken Kulkisi” released on the Anima Arctica label in 2011.
As you’ve probably guessed, the album is preformed entirely in Mikko’s native Finnish tongue, a language in itself complex and beautiful, owing more to Estonian and Hungarian than it’s Norse neighbors. His voice is at times mournful and haunting, but always powerful, even on more subdued tracks like “Voisinko Olla Sun Hautasi?”. The man’s command of his own voice is extraordinary, ranging from sultry baritone to ethereal tenor. Many times this record has moved me to tears, an impressive fact given that I don’t understand a single phrase of Finnish. And if you read my reviews on any regular basis, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that I’m a giant baby. Which may not be entirely untrue, but soulful music has a way of moving me regardless of content or genre.
The songs are recorded as simply as you can get, voice and guitar, but only a special few can pull off this type of stripped-down performance, and Pöyhönen is one of those few. Tagging Pyhä Kuolema as Neofolk seems a bit to simple for me, even as the sounds themselves are decidedly Finnish and project, at least for me, an image of the land. Pöyhönen reminds me of the darker Folk of American singer-songwriters in feel. The label, Svart, likens him to Townes Van Zandt. Throw in a little Guy Clark, Steve Earl and maybe some Lucinda Williams and I’d say he’s in pretty tight company.
The album was recorded Antti Haapapuro (Arktau Aon / Arktau Eos / Halo Manash) on vintage analog equipment, and that’s one reason I can’t recommend the vinyl version enough. This is one of those rare releases that it just seams obvious. This album was co-released between Pesanta Urfolk in the USA and Svart Records in Finland. There were only 1000 copies of the LP pressed, 400 on tradition black and 100 on a limited blue / yellow haze from Pesanta, and 350 on black and 150 on blue from Svart. As of this writing, both are still available. And for the more digitally minded, fear not, it sounds fantastic as well. This is a record I come back to again. It rarely left my turntable in 2013. Asked to narrow my favorites of that year by my friends at Heathen Harvest, it was not a difficult decision to list this album as my number one.
Between the beauty of the music itself and for the raw emotion it invokes, for myself, it’s a masterpiece. The highest recommendation possible….