Tarujen Saari - Sota Kirottu!
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Tarujen Saari
Sota Kirottu!
Silence Records

cd cover I'm having nightmares, and I shouldn't. Over wet, hilly ground I'm being pursued by galloping, steaming horses; the land all around is covered with bones. And the soundtrack is this CD by Tarujen Saari (roughly, "The Island of Legends"), Sota Kirottu! The fourth full-length recording by this exciting Finnish quintet, Sota Kirottu! ('Damned War!') is a concept album circling around the themes of war and horses and the chosen repertoire is powerful.

What makes Tarujen Saari slightly different from other Nordic bands is that they focus on medieval traditions from all across Europe, so the tunes and songs are re-arranged from Scottish, English, French, Italian, Swedish, and Finnish sources. In keeping with these olden roots, the band sticks to acoustic instrumentation, but theirs is no parlor-music interpretation. Rather, the arrangements are often loud and downright creepy, which fits the overall aura of the album perfectly. Listeners enamored of Garmarna or Hedningarna would find themselves thrilled by Tarujen Saari (indeed, Sota Kirottu! was produced by Pekka Lehti, a former member of Värttinä), and as befits those similar Nordic bands the voice of Kaisa Saari is so crystalline that she stands above the musical fray.

I'd venture to say that Sota Kirottu! bears a bit of resemblance to classic French folk-rock band Malicorne. It is not just the omnipresence of the hurdy-gurdy (ably played by Tapio Mattlar), but also the inclusion of two anti-war songs associated with Malicorne: "Sota Kirottu!" (also known as "Prince D'Orange") and "Pierre de Grenoble." Both songs involve a protagonist who heads off to war, but who returns remarkably changed; for the poor Prince, he arrives back in France mortally wounded.

But clearly, if one is going to cover fairly well-known folk tunes, it is to a band's benefit to interpret those songs in a fresh manner. Tarujen Saari succeed by making their music, ostensibly anti-war, sound as war-like, haunting, and dark as possible. I'm at a loss for most of the lyrics, as translations are not included; but if I were to judge the album purely on its sonic merits, I would be stocking cans in the basement as if the plague were coming. Amongst my favorite tracks would be their terrifying version of "Henry Martin" ("Merille Rosvoamaan"), a classic Scottish folk song about a man turned pirate. The clanking, grinding background accompaniment sets a perfect atmosphere for the remainder of the album. Likewise, "Sotaratsu" makes for medieval-pop, as the band breathes collective sighs during the hurdy-gurdy soloing.

It is certainly a delight to know, after so many extraordinary releases in the Finnish and Swedish folk revivals, that there is still new ground to be ploughed. Tarujen Saari do so here, on the scythe-edge of medieval spookiness. - Lee Blackstone

Artist's web site: www.vuorenk.pp.fi/tarujensaari

CD available from cdRoots

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