Miero (Real World, 2006)
There have been a few changes in the Värttinä camp since I reviewed Iki. Värttinä along with Bollywood composer, A. R. Rahman produced music for a theatrical version of J.R.R.. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, signed to the Real World label and the vocalists exchanged their white gossamer dresses and butterfly images of Iki to venomous viper black. The women strike Kali poses and scowl at the camera lens on the inside cover of their latest CD, Miero. The cover itself doesn’t portray butterflies and spring like colors, but Scorpionic blacks, bleeding reds and thorns. A female black widow spider comes to mind. The lyrics for the most part, are thorny also, speaking of vipers, scathing revenge, the underworld, and are as one English journalist noted, “jet-black,” although most of the lyrics fall more into the gray zone.
I know the power of words and this power of words was not unknown to Finnish ancestors. The rune-songs in which Värttinä models their own songs were in fact magical songs sung by sorcerers and shamans at one time. Many of the stories in the lyrics on Miero mirror tales from the Finnish national treasure, the Kalevala Legends which like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy delves into magical and dualistic territory.
I have read the entire Finnish epic in English and many of the images conjured up in Värttinä’s new repertoire do appear in the legends, not to mention that the group did just collaborate on the theatrical score for Tolkien’s trilogy that was staged in London, so we can see where we are heading here. It’s not just lions, tigers and bears, but poisonous snakes, sinister forces, vengeance and curses that listeners need to be aware on this treacherous path. As any shaman knows, a journey into darkness, can lead to illumination and the music here, though not cheery by any stretch, does lead to the light at the end of the tunnel. And if you’re mining for treasures, you might just find some here. (Also note that J.R.R. Tolkien took his cues from the Kalevala Legends and the Finnish language when he wrote The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Despite the dark lyrics, (not my cup of tea at all), the instrumental arrangement is tight and spectacular and the vocal harmonies as beautiful as ever. The lyrics are sung in Finnish, so I can just sit here and enjoy the instrumental arrangements which does include both traditional Nordic folk instruments along with guitar, saxophone, bass and drums, as well as those signature vocals. And with the exception of the first two tracks, Anathema, launched by a witch’s wail and intense electric guitar that shatter any preconceived thoughts about this group and The Lie which travels up and down a haunting chromatic scale, listeners unfamiliar with the Finnish language won’t even realize that the lyrics are dark. For instance, track 7, The Path of an Outcast bounces along its merry way. Some people might even feel like dancing to it.
The Promise musically and vocally speaking, is a gorgeous ballad with haunting polyphonic vocals and an accordion that plays a waltz in the background. The Enchantress sports what must be tongue and cheek lyrics which men might not exactly adore, but women will find amusing. The instrumental Locks offers a respite. The lilting flute and rhythms sound oddly Irish.
My favorite track, Eerama, about the “Old Woman of the North,” who is also a witch in the Kalevala Legends, features exquisite a cappella harmonies. This track reminds me why Värttinä is one of my favorite Nordic music groups.
Although I have mixed feelings about Värttinä’s departure from Iki, I notice overall that it’s not really a departure, but perhaps a return to something older in their own repertoire and to the old tales of the Finnish people. I can say this in all due respect since I possess Finnish DNA myself, the Finnish people will never be accused of acting Pollyannish. And certainly not on this CD.
Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music
Patricia Herlevi is a former music journalist turned music researcher. She is especially interested in raising music consciousness. She is looking for an agent and publisher for her book Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit). She founded and hosts the blog
The Whole Music Experience and has contributed to World Music Central since 2003.