Tuesday 10 February 2015

Dark Music Review - Nielu

Dark Music Review – Nielu

Written By Casey Douglass

Nielu Album Cover

The first thing that hit me about Nielu was its distinctive cover image. I don’t know what it is about it but it felt somehow quirky but depressing, light but sinister and probably a few other extremes and their counterparts. The next thing that hit me (things hit me a lot it seems) is the distinctive sound. Utu Lautturi hails from Finland and dedicates all of his work to “ever inspiring Nordic nature.” That is probably why I’ve never heard anything quite like this before, and it’s awesome!

Nielu is a meticulously crafted nine-piece journey through various sonic landscapes ranging from abysmal depths to gleaming peaks. Textural ambience, drones, manipulated field recordings and noise elements are supported by traditional instruments like violin, piano, organs and guitar. Vocals (in Finnish) are sparse but play an important guiding role in some of the main conjunctions of the album. Diamond and dirt, ice and fire, stone and water all merge to conjure an extremely visual experience. Each track has a distinct story and are all quite different from each other, yet form essential parts of a whole. The album is mastered for all kinds of speakers but is definitely best experienced with headphones in an introspective setting.

The Tracks

Tis Not Blood
A strange piano rhythm with distortion/hiss and dripping sounds is joined by a deep drone. This sounds like the kind of music that might play when a lone traveller first sees Big-foot or Sasquatch. Quirky and hinting at the strangeness of the situation. Footsteps on gravel do join with the sounds later which only adds to this effect.

Pu-Erh Tea (feat. Rasplyn)
Birdsong and dripping water on canvas with strong strings joins haunting vocals and deep piano notes. This conjures images of a visit to the wise woman or witch that may live in the forest, someone you are unsure of as to what kind of reception they will give you. The sound distorts at the mid point, deepening the feeling of uneasiness and turns more electronic at the end. Loud and strange.

Only Sap
Soft tones joined by light-hearted violin and piano that warps and reverses to create a pleasing plucky rhythm. Deeper tones and peripheral movements darken the feeling as dripping water comes, the sounds getting louder. A growing noise looms and gets stronger before departing abruptly before building again. If you’re afraid of a ghost manifesting beside you as you walk, this might be the music that encapsulates that. Lots of crinkling sounds and quirkiness. Light one moment with upbeat melody and then crushing you with tension in another.

Mother Mountain, Father Stream
Underwater rumbling sounds like horses stampeding are joined by the tones of an instrument that sounds like an accordion. Finnish lyrics are spoken over the top about 1/3 of the way in. Shrill tones and distortions join them before the lyrics dissolve into swirling water. Darker lyrics then sing over an ominous deep tone with sounds of movement beyond them, evoking the sound of someone digging a grave with a spade. A very high-pitched sound wave follows with other sounds behind before gradually fading to the sounds of insect-like buzzing.

Wait And Witness
This is the longest track on the album. A long string note soon joined by a melancholy wind instrument and hiss that builds into a loud whirling, like being in the middle of a squall or gale. This comes and goes with the instrumental tones and creates a to and fro feeling of calm and storm, ease and tension. The tone changes near midpoint of the track, a hushed roar, like a plane engine idling on a runway. This builds and looms for some time like a storm. Instrumental elements come back towards the end with water sounds and multiple gentle vocals and accordion-like instrument as track approaches ending.

Crackling and grating high pitched string noises boom into a deep and moody wind instrument track, much like you might expect to accompany a retro cat-burglar slinking inside a museum. Except that isn’t in keeping with the theme of the album and you can hear birdsong which places it in nature, so change the cat burglar to a thief sneaking into a troll’s cave on the hunt for gold and you might be nearer the mark. Whimsical and dangerous are two words that sum this track up for me.

With Mouths Of Fingertips
Rolling vibration and hissing audio sounds like corrupt frequencies from another realm trying to impinge on our own. It grows loud and cacophonous, energies straining to make themselves felt. A piano melody joins as the end approaches before fading into swirling electronic noises and then quieter deeper sounds.

Skinned By Sea
This is a brutal track. It begins with the sounds of the sea smashing against the shore, dragging and playing with pebbles. It maintains this for a fair while, the odd distant voice mingling, a hint of rumbling, the sounds of the pebbles clacking and grinding eating into your brain. With the name of the track in mind, it becomes sinister and crunchy, like the sounds a giant might make as they sit and chew bones. It also makes you feel cold, the stone crackling making you think of fracturing ice. The sounds grow louder, almost deafening, causing the feeling of being lost in the midst of massive forces. Quietly spoken vocals mix in after awhile, taking the edge off things as everything else grows quieter, even vanishing completely at one point, save for the vocals. Then things crackle into life again followed by a massive concussion.

A slow piano rhythm and high-pitched whine merge into louder distortions and whines. The piano note becomes more upbeat as other things swirl around the melody, deep tones and a maelstrom of electro noise.

Nielu is an album that took my attention and held it in a way that few other dark ambient albums have achieved. I want to call it quirky, folksy, naturey and plenty of other words ending in “y” , both real and made-up. I think the mix of real instruments and vocals with the more atmospheric nature recordings and electronic sounds just creates such a textured arrangement of audio that it feels like you are hearing something that you might not be allowed to, something not meant for mortal ears that has slipped through from somewhere else. That might sound grandiose but it’s how I feel.

I really took to Nielu from the first listening session and consecutive sessions only confirmed my feelings. If you are new to dark ambient or you are an old hand looking for something a bit different, pick up Nielu now, it’s a stunning album!

Rating 5/5.

I was given a free copy of the album to review.

Album Title: Nielu
Artist: Utu Lautturi
Label: Pale Noir
Released : 31st January 2015