I’m pretty sure Finland has a quota on bands combining Power Metal with the more Extreme end of the spectrum. CHILDREN OF BODOM, of course, kick-started the trend in 1997 and since then we’ve had KALMAH, ENSIFERUM, NORTHER, and a dozen or so more. Enter KIUAS, a group definitely influenced by this movement but even more definitely doing things their own way.
KIUAS (either meaning “sauna stove” or a part of a larger word that means that) was formed in 2000 and released two demos in 2002 and 2003, the latter of which placed highly in the Young Gods of Metal contest. Rage of Achilles released an EP in 2004, but financial problems led to a jump to Spinefarm and, in June 2005, debut full-lengther “Spirit Of Ukko” was released.
Now what the band does is take the Extreme Power Metal played by the above-mentioned bands and emphasises the Power aspect without losing sight of the Extreme adjective. The Extreme comes in the music itself; it’s not unusual to come across Black-style tremolo riffing or blastbeats. Guitarist Mikko Salovaara shines if you pay attention; he’s not as flashy as a Laiho or a Mäenpää, but he’s got some nice technical chops and irregular riffs. Vocalist Ilja Jalkanen never growls, though his vitriolic delivery certainly has enough snarl to it. You can find various Thrash, Death, and even some Folky acoustic guitars, fitting for the generally pagan-themed lyrics. It’s a young band with a serious chip on its collective shoulder without sounding silly.
So when I say “Power Metal,” don’t think of the HELLOWEEN/GAMMA RAY/HAMMERFALL school. For a more concrete example, look at “On Winds Of Death We Ride,” which sounds a lot like something ENSIFERUM would play without sounding derivative, while upping the Power ante. “Warrior Soul” opens with a Power Metal riff and keyboards, jumps to Death Metal blast beats, backsteps to the Power Metal, CHILDREN OF BODOM neoclassical segue, then we’re taking off in a Speed Metal flurry. “And The Northstar Cried” is a combined pagan anthem and love note to Metal with heavily orchestrated (synthed) sections. “The Spirit Of Ukko” kicks the album off in style, hitting every note in the KIUAS arsenal and kicking ass at once. Finally, I gotta commend the band for the absolutely brilliant bit in “Across The Snows:” what’s a typical KIUAS song becomes instantly memorable around the four minute mark when Jalkanen switches to Finnish and suddenly we’re stomping those heads once we banged. Awesome.
“Spirit Of Ukko” is a hot album, one of the unsung gems of 2005. KIUAS is quite a find; they’re playing a style that nobody else really is, but at the same time they aren’t in some alienating bizarre world that’ll scare people off. This style is instantly accessible and worth your attention no matter your preferred genre. Unfortunately, 2006’s “Reformation” was a bit of a misstep, filled with good but not very interesting material compared to this. Mandatory purchase.
The Japanese version comes with “Winter In June” (title track of the aforementioned EP) as a bonus track.
(Online December 3, 2006)