Arriving even without moving

PYHÄ KUOLEMA: Saavun vaikken kulkisi

Release year: 2011/2022
Label: Anima Arctica

Back in 2021, I gave a somewhat raving and ranting review to Finnish neofolk act Pyhä Kuolema’s third album Uusi panssaroitu Suomi (click here to read). And you know what? Almost two years later, I still stand by every single word of praise heaped on the album in that review. It is a stupefyingly good album.

Of course, Pyhä Kuolema didn’t get there from nowhere. Much of the band’s past catalogue has been out of print for a few years now, so this third edition of the Finnish band’s 2011 debut is certainly in place. Comparing it to what I think of as their magnum opus, Saavun vaikken kulkisi offers an interesting perspective into what the journey has been.

Most obviously, of course, the instrumentation. Saavun vaikken kulkisi is, like its successor Kevättuulisormi, much more minimalistic, stripped-down and understated. Unlike Uusi panssaroitu Suomi, which featured prominent electric guitar and bass, the debut relies almost solely on acoustic guitar and sole member Mikko Pöyhönen’s vocals. Especially the latter make it impossible to mistake this for anything else but a Pyhä Kuolema album.

The more rudimentary arrangements make the album feel more intimate, tender and introverted. Personal, even. And though Pöyhönen’s vocals are recognizable, they too have an almost trepidative, held back and at times even shy feel to them. Which does sit in well with the overall feel of the album.

But it’s not just the simpler, stripped-down arrangements. Lyrically, too, the album appears to inhabit a very different place and perspective. The viewpoint of many a song seems more personal, introverted and introspective. Yes, of course, it’s not like Uusi panssaroitu Suomi would be void of that level. But where it embraces lofty concepts and visions on a grander scale, proclaiming them with an unfaltering confidence, Saavun vaikken kulkisi seems to focus on the fragments of tales of individuals, exploring the situations and inner life of the individuals who appear in the songs with an even touching sensitivity. But, of course, not only that. Avaruusmies ja helvetinmies is like a weird folk-tale with an asbtractly disconcerting atmosphere to it.

But scratch the surface, and familiar elements will of course rise up. It’s not like Pyhä Kuolema would have transformed into an entirely different entity in the 10 years between the debut and Uusi panssaroitu Suomi. That hard-to-describe Finnish-ness permeates this album as well; in the music, yes, but even more in the lyrics and their delivery. How to describe it? It feels like a sense awe and reverence at the utter beauty of what transcendant, abstract Finland means – not only the nature, the seasons and the climate, but what it means to be Finnish, to be part of the living continuum of the people who have existed here – mixed and intertwined with a profound sense of melancholy and loss at the ever growing distance in our modern world to that same thing.

Pyhä Kuolema is like an echo of that vague, lost something, a reverberation that comes through the concrete and tenement blocks. And where Uusi panssaroitu Suomi is a defiant call to re-envision and rebirth it in spite of the age we live in, Saavun vaikken kulkisi feels like a loving lament to it, and what of it lingers between the brightly lit shop signs and dirty city lights.

Or maybe I’m just rambling nonsense as I wax poetical. Honestly, I don’t feign to have some deeper insight into the lyrics and their often mysterious turns of phrase and imagery.

All in all, though, Saavun vaikken kulkisi is a beautiful album. I still think Uusi panssaroitu Suomi is the apex of Pyhä Kuolema’s discography so far, but that doesn’t lessen or tarnish the quality of the debut album, either. It too is an album of exceptional beauty full of fine songs.

This re-release is adorned with new cover art which, truthfully, I prefer over the original. Similarly to Uusi panssaroitu Suomi, the digipak is a high-quality, loving piece of work with an embossed cover and gold-color text. My only complaint is the mix: man, this is quiet. I really have to crank the volume up when listening to this… which is of course a bad thing when I forget to turn it down for the next album. That’s no way to keep up peace between neighbours.

But this small complaint notwithstanding, a deserved re-release of a fine album, that does it justice.

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