This was an intriguing one. Suuliekki is the third full length album from Finnish prog rockers Sammal, and musically, it is fully encased in a pop-rock time bubble of yesteryear. My head bounced around trying to pinpoint the exact source of this band’s influence. I went from being reminded of 60s/70s psychedelic rock, to thinking I was listening to a series of theme tunes to an 80s Anime series. If you were none the wiser, you’d find no element to this music that suggests it was made anytime following the year 2000, or even 1980. But this is actually a crowning achievement for Sammal. The act may have shed some of the avant-garde experimentation heard in the band’s previous works such as Myrskyvaroitus, but their full immersion into a musical style of days gone by is a talent not to be underestimated.
You get an intriguing sense of 70s nostalgia right from the start, during the instrumental “Intro,” and also in the opening of second and title track “Suuliekki.” But it isn’t until vocalist Jan-Erik Kiviniemi first steps into vocal duties for “Suuliekki” that this album fully cements its identity. It is upbeat, it is poppy, and, clearly, it is extremely proud to exist.
There this something of a deeper emotional turn taken in third track “Lukitut päivät, kiitävät yöt.” The breakdown is very Led Zeppelin-like, with some lovely melodies on either side. The song has an increased level of substance, and assures listeners that there is an intelligent level of musicianship going on here. The next track, “Ylistys ja kumarrus”, is a shining beacon for the singer’s vocal talents. Yes, it might be the case that I do speak not a word of Finnish. But there is a captivating crispness to Jan-Erik Kiviniemi’s voice that’s impossible to resist. This is also a greatly orchestrated song.
We then move on to a more adventurous feel in “Pinnalle kaltevalle.” There is definitely some more vintage prog shining through here, with some great solos and a funky undertone. The vocals disappear for a time and then reappear at the end to remind you of just how integral that singing is. The groove continues in “Vitutuksen valtameri”, which has some real rock muscle to it. And this leads on to the decidedly epic “Maailman surullisin suomalainen”, which is arguably the proggiest tune on the album. It has a definite “Stairway to Heaven” feel to it, with a somber beginning that leads to a cataclysmic progression.
But there is more interest to be found towards the end of the album, with the spacey and remarkably happy “Herran pelko.” The finale track marks a change of extremes in the form of “Samettimetsä”, a song that’s kind of brooding by the rest of Suuliekki’s standards. But it isn’t long before those spacey keyboards return and give it a sense of joy.
Forgive the generalization because my opinion may be completely ill-founded on this, but I usually consider there to be an air of pretentiousness attached to bands trying to create retrospective-sounding folk rock. I also felt that Sammal managed to completely avoid this. The whole process sounds so natural on this album, though I don’t doubt that the conception and recording was a highly assiduous task. It’s impossible to deny that Sammal can write a good song, and anyone with even a small sense of objectivity can find merit in this album. I personally found it a real grower. I drew from my love of Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly to contextualize those clever guitar riffs, the unrestrained singing and classic vox-organ style keyboards. In its proud homage to the ‘olden’ days of rock, this album actually manages to be a refreshing change. So I believe it is not incorrect to recommend it to listeners who want something a little, well, different.
Notable tracks: “Lukitut päivät, kiitävät yöt”; “Ylistys ja kumarrus”; “Maailman surullisin suomalainen”
FFO: Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy