If Värttinä had never recorded another album after 'iki' in 2003 their achievement would have been momentous, an unrivalled catalogue celebrating a tradition, in performances of unrivalled brilliance. Maybe that's why Miero has such an incredible effect, sweeping us off our feet with an unexpected surge of creativity that has dug deeper into that ancient tradition, taking our breath away, and stretching the song-writing genius of Värttinä further than we ever thought it might go, with a vocal range previously untapped and blinding instrumentals.
How can a band which has been together for so long achieve this? Part of it, says sax and bouzouki player Janne Lappalainen, is that with the The Lord of the Rings the band has been forced to be together for much longer stretches of time than ever before, writing songs and lyrics all the time. This has served to unleash huge amounts of music from them, not just for the stage production, but when it came to the album in the summer of 2005 there were nearly forty songs that could have gone on it, they just dripped music and texts. "Just when we were worn out and tired, we wrote our best tunes ever," laughs Janne.
What emerged is an album of the darkest songs the band has ever done. "We've done happy music," says Janne. "We've grown up, we have the confidence to address any emotions." 'My loathing drips blood, my pain slashes, curses, drenches with pus' - there's plenty more like that, dangerously cloaked in that wonderfully mysterious Finnish language. Dark? The lyrics are black, jet black, yet the music is vibrant, energetic, pulsating with gleaming instrumental writing and witty singing. It's this all-important contrast which makes the album so successful - music which gets under your skin and words which impregnate your mind. "I'm a big fan of strong emotions," says producer Aija Puurtinen (lead singer with Finnish cult band Honey B and the T-Bones as well as vocal coach at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki). "You don't have to understand the language but we're all human beings and the heart is the seat of affections and everybody understands this."
Janne and singer Mari Kaasinen give huge credit to Aija. "This is the first time we had a producer who was also a singer," says Mari. "She understood us, showed us how to take risks, to try different techniques, encouraged us to have the confidence to do what we wanted. Everybody was so full of melody, so creative."
The key thing for Aija was that she'd known and loved the band for twenty years: "They are dedicated and inspired about what they are doing. I also like their craziness!" Now with the title of producer she spent six months just going to their rehearsals, and having separate workshops for the singers helping them to try different approaches. Sound engineer Risto Hemmi worked alongside helping Aija achieve the sound she wanted: "a little bit scary and yet magical" is how she describes it. "I didn't want their music to repeat the cliche-like 'overly cheerful' side of Finnish folk music."
Aija Puurtinen places huge importance too on the traditional aspect of Värttinä's music: "That's the most important thing. The rhythm of the vocals comes from the pulse of the traditional rhyme. The music itself can have influences from different cultural and ethnic sources, yet the phrasing and rhyme of the vocals keep Värttinä characteristically rooted in Finland and in Finnish tradition."
All of which makes the band the obvious choice to collaborate with A.R. Rahman on the score for the The Lord of the Rings. The ancient Finnish tradition is dark and haunting, truly another world, Tolkien's world. The band is feisty and ready to take on this world in the 21st century.
How appropriate too to bring that tradition to a record label which is renowned for celebrating cultural roots yet is never afraid to address the audiences of today and tomorrow. The intriguing, and slightly scary, question is: whatever will Värttinä do next?! For now though, let Miero assault your senses.
- Just the stuff of Middle Earth The Finnish neo-folk ensemble Värttinä are at their wildest, darkest, and most ferocious on Miero (Real World), their 10th and most nightmarish studio album. Mixing otherworldly harmonies with angular phrasing and acidic intonation, the group's three siren-like female singers coax alluring melodies from a witches' cauldron of Wagnerian drama, backed by a feral clash fiddle, accordion, and bouzouki. Inspired by the traditional music and ancient runo poems of Karelia, an area on the Finnish-Russian border, Värttinä's exotic sound is both traditional and contemporary, with medieval passages morphing into avant-garde experimentation and back again. Time Out (USA)
- Accessible and somewhat exotic What has helped to make Värttinä so popular in Britain and North America is that their music is both accessible and somewhat exotic. It really sounds like something from between the British Isles and further east. The instruments used are familiar, but the vocal style, rhythms and melodies are just different enough to make the whole combination more exciting. Sing Out! (USA)
- This album shines as a celebration of the human voice On tracks such as "Riena/Anathema" and "Mierontie/Path Of The Outcast," the singers combine into a forceful, almost sinister whole, declaiming over swaggering bass and drum arrangements. Other tracks, such as "Mustat Kengat/Black Shoes" and "Vaiten Valvoin/I Lay Awake," showcase their gentler side, with one voice taking the lead as the others harmonize.... Exploring a range of moods that range from dark to serene, the album plays well as a whole. While the backing band is in fine form, with most songs, aside from a few sung a cappella, propelled by a raw mix of drums, accordian, bass and violin, this album shines as a celebration of the human voice. Global Rhythm
- One of the great contemporary folk acts of our time Finlands Varttina are one of the great contemporary folk acts of our time. Miero opens with a snarling stormer and continues with everyday tales of gossip, infanticide, falsehoods (rolled around the forked Finnish tongue), the banished and the generally vengeful and venomous... Brilliant in their darkness, artfulness and flashes of light. If they weren't already involved in Tolkienesque fantasy, hacks would go blond fantasising Record Collector (UK)
- Skilful...Intriguing This, their tenth studio album, skilfully weaves their distinct brand of Karelian folk with more westernised beats and some intriguing female vocal harmonies. Kent Voice (UK)
- Fiery Finns Do Not Disappoint Potent vocals and quirky inventiveness have been Värttinä hallmarks since Finlands leading band burst onto the scene in the early 90s. Their witty, quasi-feminist take on ancient songs coupled with a dynamic stage presence have taken them far.... Miero (outcast), their tenth album, does not disappoint and runs the gamut of their intriguing styles. 'Riena' (anathema) opens with the band's signature, sharply-close harmonies spat out as if the three singers personified wild creatures weaving dangerous spells, and the vocals are offset by fiery fiddles and rock-edged guitars.... By the time we reach the bittersweet 'Lupaus' (the promise) with its interwoven gleaming threads and the tongue twisting patterns of the game song 'Eerama' we have heard a Värttinä that is as fresh and feisty as when they first formed. It's a great ploy to end with the wistful 'Vaiten Valvoin' (I lay awake) as it makes you want to start all over again. Songlines (UK)
- A Brave and Extremely Beautiful Album Foreign languages you don't understand can mystify or mesmerise. Finnish, in Värttinä's jagged female harmonies, does both. The music is equally beguiling. Rippling beneath a veneer of North European folk, replete with fiddle and accordion, is a relentless percussive throb and an insistent summons or curse. Part of the hex rises from the instruments - the jouhikko (a bowed lyre) and the nyckelharpa (a complex 16-string fiddle, with a drone string and three melody strings) - which make the songs wheel along like enchanted dirges. But the band acknowledges this is an album of jet black lyrics which, played off against an off-kilter positive energy in the arrangements, make for a dark, deeply satisfying sound. Grounded in an ancient Fino-Ugaric tradition of runo poems and tribal sagas, Värttinä's music opens itself to jazz, rock and pop to give it contemporary appeal. This is a brave and extremely beautiful album. Chris Moss www.bbc.co.uk/music/world/reviews/varttina_miero.shtml BBCi (UK)
- Songs of extreme emotion and deep beauty Värttinä's vocals have steadily improved from enthusiastic to impressive over the years since the bands formation... Miero sounds as fresh as anything they've done.... most of these songs speak of the extreme emotion, pain and anger of gender relations... with a stabbing pace and edgy vocal harmonies making a uniquely Värttinä reactivation of the language, imagery and almost ritualistic insistency of runo-song scales and rhythms, backed by an ever-inventive and hot instrumental team. The venom seems to turn into calm with the last track's lyrics of caring and deep love and its winding tune... The songs are, lyrically and melodically, vividly gutsy rather than doom-laden, and there's catharsis in them, whether or not one understands Finnish. It's well worth reading the translations, though Andrew Cronshaw Folk Roots (UK)
- Miero After writing the music for the imminent stage version of The Lord of the Rings, this Finnish female roots trio deliver a bold post-folk experiment in which their harmony vocals are twisted into almost Wagnerian shapes. Nigel Williamson Uncut (UK)
- Värttinä - 'Miero' After writing the music for the imminent stage version of The Lord of the Rings, this Finnish female roots trio deliver a bold post-folk experiment in which their harmony vocals are twisted into almost Wagnerian shapes. Nigel Williamson Uncut (UK)
- Attention-grabbing is not an issue Attention-grabbing is not an issue for Värttinä's three women singers. Miero opens with the trio at their most ferocious....They careen from hoarse-voiced chanting to giddy ululating to some of the purest close-interval singing imaginable. Li Robbins Toronto Globe and Mail (Canada)
- Lost In An Enchanted Forest The big news from the camp of veteran Finnish folksters is that they have just co-written the score for the stage adaptation of Lord of the Rings, which hits the West End in 2007. They are due to record the soundtrack album this summer, and it seems certain to catapult them from the fringes of world music to the commercial mainstream. The commission has emboldened them to make by far their most experimental album. The tone is set by the opener, Anathema, which fuses storming global beats with wild fiddles and accordions while conveying genuine menace as the band's trio of vocalists, Susan Aho, Mari Kaasinen and Johanna Virtanen, warm up for their battle with the Orcs by chanting such lines as "my loathing drips blood, my pain slashes, curses, drenches with pus". This record should come with a "parental advisory" sticker, for the venom - musically and lyrically - scarcely lets up throughout. Folk music as cultural terrorism, anyone? Nigel Williamson The Times (UK)
- An Exhilarating Concoction An exhilarating concoction of wild female vocals, crisp, asymmetric rhythms and stirring Nordic melodies.... The vocals are beautifully arranged, taut, raw and scary. Even scarier when you read the English translations of their lyrics: "Faraway is my mother...she lies on forest mould," goes a typical linefrom Miero.... Varttina's music is very catchy, which puts them right at the rock-pop end of the world music spectrum, with a melodramatic streak that transcends language, and skilful instrumentation that's always subordinate to the songs. John L Walters Guardian (UK)
- Emotional...Bewitching...Primeval...Enticing! Another succesion of tremendously potent journeys-in-song that focus firmly on the confrontational impact of the three female voices in the front-line, whether in edgy harmony or tenderly trailing an enticing sinuous melody over a pulsating electric backdrop.... Lumotar (The Enchantress) is like a mouth-music chant filtered through the experience of proto-punks Kleenex. Some songs (eg Mataleena and the bewitching acappella Eerama) are inspired by the myth and legend of the Kalevala, while others like Lupaus (The Promise) and Vaiten Valvoin (I Lay Awake) deal more tenderly and longingly with issues of love and devotion, and Valhe (The Lie) and Synti (The Sin) come as ready-made, powerful curses both on lovers and on those who would gossip. So keep your ears open, mind not the strange and scary tongue, and you're likely to fall under Värttinä's unique spell. Net Rhythms
- The Norsewomen Are Coming! Lock up your sons! The Norsewomen are coming! Finland may not be strictly part of the Nordic world, but there's a Viking fierceness to the music of top folk group Varttina - three Wagnerian blondes who boot into their all-acoustic music with a hard rock swagger. Backed by swirling fiddles and accordions and remorseless pounding drums, their exultant, semi-polyphonic singing is at once strident and alluring in a way that would make them perfect adolescent fantasy material if they didn't happen to be foreign and folk. If it all sounds fairly frightful, the strength and chiming prettiness of the melodies keep you listening. The mixture of radio-friendly riffs and ominous nasal ethereality will set memories of school round-singing jostling with images of forest frolicking in the firelight. The group's pivotal role - and perfect casting - in a highly acclaimed theatrical version of Lord of the Rings due to arrive here next year will ensure we hear a great deal more of Varttina over the coming months. Indeed, these forest sirens could yet make it to your 15-year-old son's bedroom wall. Daily Telegraph (UK)