Over the last couple years, I’ve really become a fan of the more ambient and textured types of music out there, and so albums like the self-titled debut from Auri end up stealing my focus. The album releases on the 23rd of March on Nuclear Blast, and it is one mesmerizing experience from beginning to end.
Auri has some pretty big names involved. Celebrated Finnish singer Johanna Kurkela provides vocals and viola, while Nightwish members make up the rest of the group: Tuomas Holopainen handles keys and backing vocals, and Troy Donockley offers acoustic and electric guitars, bouzouki, uilleann pipes, low whistles, aerophone, bodhran, and keys. As you can probably tell from the wide variety of instruments, this album is quite eclectic and diverse in sound.
The band describes their style as “a magical kind of sound to be heard whilst falling down Alice’s rabbit hole.” I think that is appropriate, but their sound is far from psychedelic, unlike what one might assume from that description. Instead, their style is entrancing, dreamy, and quite Celtic in many instances. The album definitely has an overall folkish tone to it, and the gaps are filled in with light electronic elements, hovering textures, world music, strong viola melodies, or even just silence itself. This is about as restrained and mature as a composer can become, focusing more on the atmosphere and gentle melodies than anything else.
Performances here are subtle and focused on effect rather than technicalities. Johanna’s viola is absolutely gorgeous and present throughout most tracks. Tuomas’ keys are stunningly composed and performed, creating backgrounds of sheer beauty. Troy outdoes himself with a huge variety of instruments that are played organically and serenely, giving joy to my heart. As for vocals, Johanna reminds me of Anneke van Giersbergen to some extent, only with more subtlety and expression. She can be powerful one moment, and tender the next.
This is one of those albums that metalheads will say is “so metal” in order to try to justify their undying love for it (I’ve seen it already). Truth be told, there isn’t a bit of metal on this album, and it is all the better for it. Part of why I think metalheads will love this album (I love metal, too, by the way) is the fact that this album exudes the darkness of northern European forests and the windy glory of its coasts. You can hear it on every single track. The album feels darkly organic and melodically dense, like you are breathing it in through your nostrils, or as if a musical fog has moved in around you.
The album flows like the wind and twists like a river through its many beautiful songs, and they each evoke different feelings. “The Space Between” begins the album with a track that is both organic and electronic, with a killer chorus to boot. “Desert Rose” is delicate and exquisite. “See” is mystical and mysterious. “Underthing Solstice” feels monastic and ritualistic, but a tight vocal hook in the chorus really brings it together. “Them Thar Chanterelles” ends the album on a highly Celtic note that is also somehow playful, too.
My favorite tracks, though, rise above the rest mightily. “Skeleton Tree” has a slight macabre sound to it, like the land of the dead or a tree with roots in the mythical underworld. The stunning viola melody makes this one of the most hypnotic songs on the album. “The Name of the Wind” is quite different from that track, though, being a fleeting and magical journey, as if you are flying above the earth with the wispy clouds within your transient grasp. The addition of pipes on this track makes it feel as if it is truly alive and breathing.
“Auri” is a beautifully mysterious offering from these experienced musicians. It has nothing to do with technical playing or showiness, but is instead a journey into our own imaginations where melody and silence create both fleeting glimpses and powerful visions of other places and familiar feelings. It seems both idyllic and otherworldly at the same time. I’m quite excited to see where this project goes from here, as the potential here is deep and diverse.
Find Auri online: