Finally, I get to focus on this interesting project from Estonia, a country for which I have had a lengthy fascination that I cannot really explain, other than some distant Finno-Ugric connection beyond mind or thought, perhaps genetic, surely historic. Let me introduce the band, a classic foursome of composer/keyboardist Lauri Laubre, Raul Vaigla on the bass, stickman Andrus Lillepea and Ukrainian expat Gennadiy Grimov on the guitar side of things. Since Lauri has expressed some thoughts on the ongoing conflict between Moscow and Kyiv, I feel obligated as an amateur historian (whose Hungarian roots were torn out by Soviet tanks in 1956 and replanted in Canada) to underline what many in the West cannot really seem to comprehend: how to survive next to an insufferable bully, who since time immemorial seeks to occupy your land, destroy your culture and your language. Let no one forget that the spark that led to the ‘legal’ collapse of the Soviet Union was the retrieval of the hidden clauses in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact by Estonian Communist Party officials, thus making the ‘forced’ incorporation of the Baltic States null and void the day Hitler attacked the USSR!  Anyway, you need to be stubborn to survive in that neck of the woods. And my Baltic cousins are a tough and resolute breed!

On to the music then! It becomes immediately apparent that the material proposed is an original take that just does not sound like anyone else, as Lauri spent time in a Ukrainian monastery that formulated his musical to an altogether elevated level. As an atheist, it was the historical spirit that overcame him, a culture shock with deep ramifications. Orthodox liturgies, choral pieces and sacred music where every note had a meaning were incorporated with rock riffs into a new progressive interpretation that has no precedence, at least in the format chosen. It is incredibly dense, powerful and overwhelming.

Magnificent church choirs introduce “Great Litany”, the lower registers particularly earthy and stunning, as the thumping bass and cannonading drums set the overall joyous tone. The domineering keyboards are echoing the bombast to perfection, liberally sprinkled with glittering guitar flicks. A thunderous opener to say the least! “In the Dark” shows little mercy in slamming hard and defiant with leaden riffs, Moby Dick drum thuds in unison and churlish organ undertow. Lillepea pounds the bee Jesus (excuse the pun) out of his skins, the axe Grimov pyrotechnics fliting with incendiary conflagrations that surely seek to interpret the horrid sounds of warfare. Incredibly powerful and yet fades away like the fog of war with a solitary church bell resonating in the distance.

The title track is an atmospheric marvel of restraint after all the previous fury, a deeply reflective, almost fragile concern for some sense of sanity or even revelation. The orchestral sensibilities are compassionate seeking, offering superb keyboard work, and illuminated by a parallel guitar phrasing that rises the emotion to celestial levels. The mid-section features a roving synthesizer curve, female choirs deftly accentuating the swirling chorus and the drums settling in for some binary bashing. The male choirs enter to add the manly touch to the proceedings as the fretboard goes for an extensive whirl. A gallant piano settles the score. Magnificent!

A reflection on the commencement of the human impact on Earth, “Anthropocene” is a delectably crafty slice of complex rhythmic pulsations, bold arrangements that seek to explore uncharted territories as expressed by the chorale. The interplay is off the charts, the bass guitar steadfastly holding down the path, freeing the room for scathing synthesizer slashes, bruising organ runs and guitar wizardry that verges on inflammatory. Certainly no stodgy orthodoxy here!  The bells peel once again….

Forlorn strings shoulder the pain, as a monkish voice pleads with the saviours “Time of Hope” being that one religious constant, the eternal search for peace, of perseverance against evil, and the belief for a better tomorrow. The number grows in concentration and fire, as the crew press the pedal into expressing valiant statements, perhaps even verging on stubborn defiance, what the Finns call ‘sisu’.  We will not be vanquished; we will not kneel in surrender.

The finale is quite the emotional ride, “A Hero” meanders innocently enough at the outset, an unsuspecting person with no other thought than to breathe in the winter air, admire the dark forests and live a gentle life. Then, unexpected duty calls for a higher purpose, defending the lives that matter the most, the children, the wife, the parents and the neighbours. The drums usher in the tension, the impending fear of battle, the sound and smell of war and the impossible destruction of body and mind. Gennady recorded the guitar parts while under daily rocket attacks in Mikolaiv. An ode to courage.

This was a 2023 release which I only recently got a hold of, but a true sonic adventure that goes way beyond the well trodden path, offering a bright, crisp and valiant journey for the avid prog fan.

4.5 arctic standards