Review & Full Album Stream: Sammal, Suuliekki

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on March 12th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

sammal suuliekki

[Click play above to stream Sammal’s Suuliekki in full. Album is out now on Svart Records.]

If you’re looking for something to tie together the nine different pieces that make up Sammal‘s Suuliekki, you might find the answer somewhere in the guitar tone, or in the vocals, or in the overarching krautrock-reborn sensibility of the Turku, Finland, five-piece’s third full-length. But on the other hand, if you’re looking for something to tie Suuliekki together, you’re kind of doing it wrong. That’s not to say the album, which is released by the venerable tastes of Svart Records, is incoherent. It’s just intended to come at you from different sides.

The classic-style boogie of “Pinnalle Kaltevalle” and “Vitutuksen Valtameri,” is supposed to sound odd leading into the folk-tinged-but-still-handclap-and-synth-laden prog of “Maailman Surullisiin Suomalainen,” and from the moment the “Intro” eases the way into the theatrical title-track — with jabbing piano notes and an eventual turn to a verse and a chorus that reminds of lounge-pop before a danceable section of definitively Suomi progressive rock takes hold akin to something one might expect from Death Hawks or the bizarro elephant in the room when it comes to all things masterful and strange in Finnish undergroundism: CircleSammal make clear their intentions toward variety and a full-album flow that relies not on the songs all sounding the same, but on the listener engaging with an open mind in order to fully appreciate what’s happening across the heady but manageable 43-minute span.

It’s not always easy to follow — I suspect my own ignorance of the beautiful Finnish language is in no small measure to blame for that — but that would only seem to add to the complexity underscoring Suuliekkias a whole. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be a conversation between creator and listener, subject and object.

Organ, keyboards and other synthly goings on make songs like “Ylistys ja Kumarrus” that much richer, as the lineup of Jura, Juhani, Janu, Tuomas and Lasse fleetly bounce their way from one path to another throughout the nine tracks, finding a foothold in a given part and sticking to it only long enough to use it to brace the jump to the next one — centerpiece “Pinnalle Kaltevalle” does this particularly well, and if you can’t get behind that intertwining of organ and guitar in the second half, you should probably just give up and go about the rest of your day. Percussive groove, inventive rhythms and melodies, and a strong sense of striving toward individualism are all welcome aspects of Suuliekki early on.


The title-cut and the subsequent “Lukitut Päivät, Kiitävät Yöt” have a drama behind them, the former in its chorus and the latter in its linear forward build of tempo from subdued brooder to layered howls of lead guitar (of course it ends quiet post-crescendo), and the aforementioned “Ylistys ja Kumarrus,” which at 3:24 is the shortest inclusion here apart from the “Intro” at the outset, seems to amass significant forward momentum even as it dances around an instrumental hook which, as noted, is driven by the keys as much as the guitar. That in itself is a tie to rock classicism — think Deep Purple‘s weirdo Finnish cousins, if for no other reason than it’s a fun image — but while Sammal put that spirit to work even more across the outing’s second half, I wouldn’t necessarily tag them as being loyalists to anything other than their own individual songwriting impulses, which very much sound like the fruit of a multiple-parties-involved craft process. Not that one person couldn’t come up with the many twists and turns of the seven-minute “Maailman Surullisin Suomalainen,” just that sonic personalities for entire groups are rarely so varied with a single creative force at their root. Suuliekki is dense enough as a listening experience front to back to justify the impression of coming from multiple minds.

That’s not, however, to say it’s completely inaccessible. It’s not. Even “Suuliekki” has a chorus and a rhythmic drive, and when Sammal get through the bass-and-percussion/key-and-guitar/is-that-a-saxophone? vibe of “Pinnalle Kaltevalle,” the subsequent “Vitutuksen Valtameri” signals more straightforward intentions in its fuzzy guitar tone and relative calm compared to much of what’s come before it. Of course, it picks up as it moves through the chorus, but the spirit of the piece is more latter-day Siena Root than Brainticket, and Sammal make the other no less their own than the one, continuing into the stretch of “Maailman Surullisin Suomalainen” to affect vast creative sensibility and to bring the willing parties of their audience with them on this complicated but deeply satisfying journey.

One might consider the midsection of “Maailman Surullisin Suomalainen” an apex for the album as a whole, but with “Herran Pelko” and “Samettimetsä” still to go there’s plenty of ground still to cover and far more than should be thought of simply as an epilogue or an afterthought. The opening keyboards and crashes of “Herran Pelko” do give it a kind of things-are-wrapping-up feel, but while the vocals arrive late in the mostly-instrumental victory lap, the actual closer, “Samettimetsä,” operates in a more meditative mood. A jazz-fusion shuffle emerges near the halfway mark as the verse starts, but the vibe is cool with a kind of late ’70s smoothness of tone and presentation that somehow is just as appropriate as anything else could be to close out the record.

I guess that’s the upside of making a long-player where you go anywhere and everywhere you want: by the time you get to the finish, you’ve already established a wide enough breadth to allow for just about anything. So it is with Suuliekki, which succeeds not just because it’s willfully odd in its affect or because it offers this or that progressive nuance, but also because it does these things while serving not a display of technical prowess, but instead, the songwriting. Wherever Sammal go throughout this third offering, they never seem to lose sight of the fact that they’re creating songs and not just putting parts together like a science experiment to see what happens. That crucial difference further allows Suuliekki to make the many leaps it does, because no matter where they’re headed, the listener can trust they’re being guided by capable hands.

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