Plague tales and blunderbusses

KAARNA: Väkipyssyvärssyjä ja kulkutautitarinoita

Release year: 2021
Label: Anima Arctica

Even in the small and quite esoteric Finnish post-industrial neofolk scene, one-man entity Kaarna is a peculiarity. Known for his involvement in Tervahäät (among many other acts), and as the owner of the label Anima Arctica, Kaarna (the man) can safely be called a focal point of Finnish neofolk and neo-traditional post-industrial music. Kaarna (the project), however, eschews any straightforward definitions and labels in favour of truly odd forms of industrial electronics.

Väkipyssyvärssyjä ja kulkutautitarinoita is the project’s third full-length album, and fourth release overall since 2019. As before, it is an unusual and genuinely original brew made from a variety of industrial/electronic music styles. The third album leans, on the surface, towards more martial forms of industrial – but scratch at it, and a veritable potpourri of oddities is revealed.

The three previous releases, the 7″ Voimasanat & Aurinkosanat (2019) and the albums Comitatus Savolaxiae (2019) & Tutkielma magnetismista, kivusta ja valtiosta (2020) have presented a project whose stylistic focus is always shifting: from rustic neofolk to neoclassical dungeon synth to esoteric electronica, no two releases have been similar.

On the surface, Väkipyssyvärssyjä ja kulkutautitarinoita continues in the same vein. Focusing far more on belligerent pomp and martial atmospheres, the new album features some of the most rhythmic and pompous compositions of the project so far. However, simultaneously the album also in some ways starts pulling together the various strands Kaarna has explored thus far: the experimental electronics of the second album, the Cold Meat Industry style neoclassical of the first full-length, and the national romantic mysticism of the first 7″. Väkipyssyvärssyjä ja kulkutautitarinoita both solidifies and expands Kaarna’s stylistic palette.

As far as martial industrial goes, it is a genre where people usually have pretty clear expectations to the sound and aesthetics. Funnily enough, though, these can be quite diverse: some people are expecting abrasive and noisy soundscapes a’la NON or Folkstorm, others the pompous neoclassical orchestrations of Triarii, the loop-based neoclassical industrial of Arditi, or the Wagnerian pomp of Blood Axis, or the martial neo-pop of Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio and/or Dernière Volonté. Or something like the weird and even crude genius of Der Blutharsch and Von Thronstahl.

And: whatever your expectations for martial industrial are, Kaarna won’t give you that. Väkipyssyvärssyjä ja kulkutautitarinoita goes strongly in its own individual direction, away from the swaying banners of Roman glory, Wagnerian drama and apocalyptic romanticism. Instead, Kaarna’s sound echoes the patchwork, improvised and home-made uniforms worn by Finnish soldiers during the war, the equally home-made strategies and concepts of military discipline of the Finnish army. The album paints pictures of the sly, cunning, perhaps cynical but daring, threadbare Finnish “korpisoturi”, the “wilderness warrior” who cared little for military protocol and who could regard his superiors with thinly veiled contempt, but would throw himself into battle courageously – not columns of soldiers in polished boots and helmets marching under glorious banners.

But at the same time, a track like Sotaanlähtöloitsu with its oppressive, militant neoclassical orchestrations certainly evokes very classic martial industrial imagery. Just when you think you’ve got the album squared, it shifts gears.

Anima Arctica is certainly not a conveyor belt label. In 2020, they put out only two releases: this, and Pyhä Kuolema’s brilliant Uusi panssaroitu Suomi. As is apt for a label declaring it “releases Finnish musick only”, there is a strong, abstract Finnish-ness to both albums. On Väkipyssyvärssyjä ja kulkutautitarinoita, a national romantic, uniquely Finnish spirit is present, but in such an abstract manner that one cannot begin to describe it. It’s not in the old school, synthesized orchestral sounds, or the martial percussion, or the peculiar synths of Rottien marssi – there’s nothing you can easily pinpoint. Yet it is there, abstract and intangible.

For me, aforementioned Uusi panssaroitu Suomi was without doubt the strongest album of 2021. There really was no contest. Väkipyssyvärssyjä ja kulkutautitarinoita does not rise to the same level, even though it is a strong and evocative album. But on the other hand, that’s scarcely surprising: with distant, echoed vocals, obscured melodies and a deliberate sense of distance, Kaarna’s album is a far more ambient experience. It does not command attention and focus in the same way; instead it paints abstract landscapes of wintry forests, gray skies and exploding shells. By its very nature, it is not of the “album of the year” type – but a strong album nonetheless.

Like before, Kaarna presents an album that is a challenge. It’s not as hard to get a grip on as Tutkielma magnetismista, kivusta ja valtiosta, but it certainly doesn’t make it easy for the listener. However, ultimately the effort is worth it: Kaarna’s national romantic, martial wilderness industrial is both original and good.

Visit Kaarna on Bandcamp

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