Kiuas are a Metal band hailing from the fine country of Finland. Formed in 2000, they released 3 EPs before their debut album, The Spirit Of Ukko
in 2005. That happened to be the best debut album I’ve ever heard, and got them a fair amount of attention in the Metal world, enough to tour it in Japan. In 2006 they followed it up with this offering, Reformation
. I’m not going to beat around the bush here – this album is nothing you haven’t heard on The Spirit Of Ukko
, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good, at all. With their latest release (The New Dark Age
), I think it’s unfair to categorize Kiuas as a Power Metal band, but at the time they released this album they were pretty much Power Metal. To briefly sum up Kiuas’ sound on this and the previous album, I’d say a rougher, heavier side of Power Metal, so keep in mind this is no ordinary Power Metal.
The album opens with ‘Race With The Falcons’, and wow, what a track it is. This pretty much has all you’d want from a Kiuas song – heavy riffage, a great melodic chorus, intense verses, a great solo, etc. The song is particularly fast (check out the insanely fast drumming with those frantic blast beats sprinkled around), getting the album started at a blistering pace. The next three songs follow in the same vein, although they’re a bit slower than the first track. While they’re all standard Kiuas, there’s still small details separating them from each other, for example, when you’re expecting a guitar solo in ‘Of Ancient Wounds’, a fantastic key solo comes in. Also, the opening riff in ‘The New Chapter’ is totally killer.
I really feel the need to mention the keyboards here. While they may not get a large spotlight, they’re an essential part of what makes this album what it is. They’re integrated in to the music perfectly; creating an epic atmosphere wherever it’s needed (ie in certain song intros), doing some up-front melodies that carry some of the choruses and getting some time to solo (and the solos aren’t just like those in say, CoB where the keys just copy the lead guitar). I almost never enjoy keyboards in Metal, but in Kiuas, I always do.
After the first 4 tracks, ‘Child Of Cimmeria’ comes in, and what a beautiful piece it is. It’s basically just an acoustic guitar interlude (think Dark Tranquillity’s
‘Mine Is The Grandeur’), but it does a great job of calming you down. And that’s all the well, as the next track, ‘Black Winged Goddess’, is Kiuas’ most intense, extreme song ever recorded. The start explodes with blast beats and a heavy riff, and then the vocals come in - these aren’t Iija Jalkanen’s sung vocals though, they’re growler Niko Kalliojärvi’s. He growls the first half of the verse, while Iija sings the second half, then they do a sort of duet in the chorus. Overall a great, great track, which features one of guitarist Mikko Salovaara’s wildest solos.
My favourite aspect of this album musically, as with all Kiuas albums, is Ilja Jalkanen’s fantastic voice. This may be a Power Metal album, but this guy’s vocals are nothing like any other Power Metal vocals at all – he sings at a lower range (but still can go fairly high), with his incredibly powerful, unique voice. He uses lots of different vocal styles at points (for example, he’s almost growling in the verse of ‘Race With The Falcons’, while he’s singing calmly and melodically in the verses of ‘The New Chapter’), and always brings the necessary power in his voice for each and every chorus on the album. The vocals on ‘Bleeding Strings’ are especially good – he sings in a raspy (but not in a bad way), very emotional tone in the verses (which totally fits the nature of the song of the song), and goes as powerful as he can in the epic chorus. I do have one small problem with the vocals, and that’s that they’re a little low in the mix at points (ie verses of ‘Through The Ice Age’), but it doesn’t take much away from the album.
After ‘Black Winged Goddess’, we have a filler tack in ‘Heart of The Serpent’. Despite the lack of originality, it’s still a very solid song. The real gem of the album follows though, as the ballad ‘Bleeding Strings’ is found. This track goes from soft to heavy, yet still remains emotional the whole way through, and features two excellent guest guitar solos (both different to a normal Mikko solo – one has excessive tremolo arm usage, while the other is slower and more melodic). The next track, ‘Call Of The Horns’ is a filler, and not a good one at that. After ‘Call Of The Horns’, we’ve reached the final song on the album; the title track. This is pretty experimental by Kiuas’ standards – it has a lot more a folky feel with strings and flute, but still features a great chorus (which may take a while to get into – it’s a bit overwhelming at first, like the first time you listened to Blind Guardian
) and some awesome lead work.
The rhythm section in this band is also fantastic. Bassist Teemu Tuominen may be hard to notice at first, but the incredibly hard, heavy sound he achieves is amazes me, and while he may follow the guitar a lot, he does a good job at it, making lots of riffs sound appropriately heavier, for example. He also lays down some great independent basslines - see the verses of tracks such as ‘Bleeding Strings’ or the title track. Now, I’m not that big on super fast Metal drumming (Hell, my favourite drummer is Nicko McBrain), but I absolutely love drummer Markku Näreneva. His keeps the beat perfectly, while keeping it interesting with subtle double bass work and constantly different fills. Also, like Teemu, he creates an incredibly hard sound with his instrument, creating a very unique rhythm section.
Okay, I’ve been praising this album enough already, and you’re probably wondering why it’s not rated higher than a 4. The reason for this is simply because it’s pretty much The Spirit Of Ukko
but slightly lower in quality. Take the respective opening tracks for example – while it is awesome, ‘Race With The Falcons’ feels exactly like ‘The Spirit Of Ukko’, but just not as good (less melodic, opening instrumental part weaker, etc). Another thing that isn’t as good as The Spirit Of Ukko
is the guitar solos – while Mikko rips faces off in tracks like ‘Black Winged Goddess’ and ‘Through The Ice Age’, many of his solos on here start sounding a bit too similar towards the end of the album.
In conclusion, this is an excellent album, which sees Kiuas follow up their fantastic debut strongly. It’s not as original as The Spirit Of Ukko
, nor is it as good in quality, but it still features fantastic songs and the superb instrumentation Kiuas are known for. If you wanna check out Kiuas try the first album, but if you’ve heard that and liked it, definitely pick up this.