Album: Karelian Hills
Label: Ranka Kustannus
Psychework are perhaps best known as the comeback band of ex-Machine Men singer and guitarist, Antony Parviainen and J-V Hintikka. Their first album, The Dragon’s Year, was released in 2015 and was heavily influenced by Parviainen’s struggle with leukemia. The new album, the more locally-named Karelian Hills, is out on April 20th, 2018, and promises a new take on Psychework’s style.
I have a mixed history with Psychework. As someone who didn’t know Machine Men, Psychework wasn’t as immediately interesting to me as it was for the old fans. However, Parviainen is one of the few people in the world who I would be okay with singing a Bruce Dickinson song, and therefore, these guys deserve my respect. I think The Dragon’s Year perhaps didn’t get to me very well as I never read the lyrics and wasn’t able to see the story or connect with the album. As such, I hoped that this more historically-themed album might be a bit easier to ‘get.’
Check out the band and their newest singles here:
The album opens with some full-on high-energy orchestral string sounds that are quickly joined by the heavy necessities (guitar, bass, drums). It moves on to a slower groove with dotted piano notes here and there, and then Parviainen comes in. He starts out in a haunting lower register as the song moves into a short chorus. The lyrics already reflect the historical themes, and a child’s voice comes in talking about some dark subjects. Parviainen’s power in the word “mother” is gorgeous. Around the halfway point, the song takes a power metal turn before getting darker and… apprehensive, perhaps? It’s got a really nice dramatic arc and it’s a surprisingly strong opener considering it’s a bit short to be a proper epic, but long for a regular opener.
“Phantoms White” is an intriguing piece – lyrically it could potentially be talking about the Finnish snipers, all dressed in white in the winter. Again, the song has excellent dramatics – it gets chaotic and the drums sound like gunfire, and then an evil drunken carnival takes over? A seriously creepy choir comes in and… well, these songs certainly must be telling stories, to go to these strange places and return to normal like nothing happened. Lyrics are clearly in order for after the album comes out.
An eerie piano line opens up “Sky Keeps Raining”, which then turns into an almost Phantom of the Opera-y power piece. I think it’s safe to say that these guys have listened to their share of Nightwish as well. Meanwhile, “Fury and the Beast” has some rather pirate-y segments, followed by thunderous power metal drumming – it’s a fast-roaring song that I can only assume is about war/battles.
The title track, “Karelian Hills”, starts off slowly, feeling very much like a ballroom waltz or a ballet. And then suddenly… BLAM! Speedy metal music all up in your face. It slows down a bit halfway through to even out the pace before rising high and mellowing out yet again. Another slow piano intro opens “Fire Still Burns.” This feels like ballad territory and as far as ballads go, it’s very nice but not as epic or memorable as the other songs. It’s a really pretty piece – the piano and strings are great – but the overall feeling is perhaps a bit too cheesy (dancing near Manowar territory).
“Ghost Patrol” feels like an album climax, high-rising and dynamic. There’s a solo in there and maybe more than the others, this song actually feels like a straight-up rock track, and not so much full-on epic, which is good at this point. I wonder if this song is also about the 7th Panzer Division that Sabaton referred to in “Ghost Division”, or if this was something else.
The longest song is also the last, with “There Beyond” finishing things off. Clocking in at 10:11, it goes through a lot of phases, opening with haunting organs and angelic choral notes. It kicks off then into some solid power metal, soaring and very clearly telling a story both lyrically and musically. The first solo is pretty nice, not even halfway through the song, and then mellows out for a while. There are tons of dynamics and the song explores a lot of territory before the slow fade out.
The feeling I get from this music is very much akin to how I feel about Epica. When every song or nearly every song is turned up to 11, I have no time to rest, so to speak. So for people who like albums full of big, bombastic, dramatic songs, this will likely have a lot of appeal. Their music is extremely mature and is clearly influenced heavily by old symphonies – these guys know how to write music, that’s clear. It has a good vibe throughout that feels intensely of their theme, and the stranger the songs get, the more interesting their subject material feels. I feel as though if you were to be a fan of symphonies and heavy metal, this album would be perfect to your taste.
Rating: 8.5-9/10, 4.5 stars [I need more time to decide between the 8.5 and 9]
2. Phantoms White
3. Sky Keeps Raining
4. Fury and the Beast
5. Karelian Hills
6. Fire Still Burns
7. Ghost Patrol
8. There Beyond