Kauan - _Aava Tuulen Maa_
(Firebox, 2009)
by: Mark Dolson (6.5 out of 10)
Circumlocution aside: I can't really get into this album. Kauan have really deviated from their roots as a dark folk-cum-avant-garde doom/death band with _Aava Tuulen Maa_, and I find this a little problematic (much as I did with The 3rd and the Mortal's progression from their amazing _Sorrow_ EP to the dreadfully boring _Painting on Glass_ and _In This Room_). Anyway, if you paid attention to Kauan's previous effort, _Tietäjän Laulu_, you could see that they had already started to incorporate some different, perhaps more mellow and less metallic influences, into their interpretation of doom/death.

With _Aava Tuulen Maa_, though, all traces of doom/death -- or any other kind of metal for that matter -- are long gone, which isn't a problem in and of itself. Now we have acoustic guitar, violin, piano, programmed drums, and all clean vocals forming a particular synergy their new label Firebox are touting as "post-rock". I'm not exactly sure what this means, but I wager that it's got something to do with mellower atmospheres, a more minimalist approach to melodies (with the incorporation of non-traditional "rock" instruments, such as violin, mellotron / synths, and piano), and less use of distortion of any sort, in favour of a more "organic" and "open" feel. Compared to their previous releases, though, I have a feeling "post-metal" would have been a more apt descriptor for Kauan's music; but, that's just me.

Apropos the music: I found the first two songs, "Ommeltu Polku" and "Valveuni" to be the most captivating on the album. The first few minutes of each draw the listener in with an almost Sigur Rós-type atmosphere. Haunting violin, piano, and a very interesting and mysterious sounding synth effect evoke feelings of rain-etched and dolorous landscapes, punctuated here and there with undulations of hope and possibility. I think the cover artwork is the best graphic expression of the kind of music they're attempting to create with this album. So if you can, just listen to the first song whilst looking at the cover—it serves as an excellent leaven to the listening experience.

The rest of the album, to me, isn't nearly as good as the first two songs. Actually, the other three songs are forgettable and rather bland; they really seem to just blend into one another, and therefore fail to reach any form of status with respect to their own identity. Sure, there are beautiful and mysterious melodies in parts, but there's not enough of them to really make me want to keep listening to this over and over again -- as I would for any of Amber Asylum's albums (which, I think one could say, fit into the same genre as Kauan). In keeping with my reference to Amber Asylum, each time I listen to one of their CDs I feel that I'm left with some form of an "audile idolum" or a spectral trace that resonates with me for hours after having stopped the music; not so with Kauan's latest effort, unfortunately. Even after the fifth or sixth spin of _Aava Tuulen Maa_, I would find myself getting more and more impatient; and, at several points, I just wanted to skip through certain sections.

Now, in my description thus far, you might have noticed the absence of any commentary on the vocals. Well, unfortunately, they are my biggest issue with this album, and thus make it very difficult for me to give it a higher rating. That Kauan have managed to "phlebotomize" their instrumental approach by withdrawing and draining all traces of metallic elements away means that the vocals have followed suit: you'll find no dry rasps or growls on this album. To be quite frank, the first reference that came to my mind when the vocals made their first appearance was a flat-out boring Eastern European adult contemporary band that's regularly featured on Eurovision. Is this a good thing? No. Multi-instrumentalist Anton Belov's vocals are a rather special sort: a lowish clean croon without any efficient ability to emote, inflect any special mood/substance, or really captivate the listener -- well, this listener anyway.

I think with this kind of music, the vocals need some sort of trademark approach, something to set them aside from other bands -- energy of some sort, perhaps? Had Anton gone for a much higher-pitched and possibly more "fragile" approach, not unlike Jón þor Birgisson from Sigur Rós or Carmello Orlando from Novembre, then I might have found this album a little more interesting. Or, inversely, had he taken his croon down a few octaves, similar to Juhani Palomäki's vocals for Yearning, or Jarmo Kylmänen's for Eternal Tears of Sorrow, then it would have added more depth, edge and identity to the music. As they stand now, though, Anton's vocals come across as too safe and too plain.

We can only hope that with their next effort, Anton and Lyubov will be able to inject more of a special identity into their songs, leaving behind, perhaps, some of the more unexciting elements found on _Aava Tuulen Maa_, such as the vocals. To close, then, _Aava Tuulen Maa_ is a brave attempt at exploring new territory (for a former "metal" band), and this is especially instantiated in the first song; however, the rest of the album unfortunately lags, and thus becomes boring and flat after just a few listens. Hopefully maturity will afford Kauan some insight into how to make their craft a little more dynamic and memorable.

Contact: http://www.firebox.fi

(article published 24/12/2009)


ALBUMS
5/5/2009 Q Kalis 8 Kauan - Tietaajan Laulu
3/15/2008 Q Kalis 7 Kauan - Lumikuuro
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