A listener, especially one who doesn’t speak Finnish, could be excused for mistaking the music on Vimma’s Tornadon Silmässä for standard World music folk pop. The pretty voice of Eeva Rajakangas and the catchy, often lilting melodies of main composer and violinist Pessi Jouste all certainly pointed in that direction the first couple of times I listened casually to this album. Finnish experimental ethno-rock, big on the rock with prog influence, and yet with firm roots in Nordic folk music and a strong pop sensibility. Which is reasonably accurate as far as it goes.
But there’s more going on here, as hinted at by the band’s name Vimma, which means frenzy or mania; the album title, which means “In the Eye of the Tornado”; and especially the arrangements, in particular the insistent rhythms and often earth-shaking, tribal drumming of Aapo Lankinen.
The opening track “Maailmanloppu” is a good example. Eeva sings the insanely catchy tune over a fluttery violin tremolo, but looming over both is Aapo whaling on the kick drum and toms. Then you check what the title means, and in English it’s something like “Apocalypse,” or “The End of the World.” And then the lyrics, which the booklet helpfully provides in Finnish and English, that marry the personal grief of loss to our collective terror at our planet’s crisis. The chorus:
If there’s still something your heart holds in reverie
Take it in your arms, for the light s dying fast
Tomorrow your clear mind will be nothing but a memory
As we drown within our eyes.
Eeva and Pessi in particular are involved in the Finnish environmental movement Elokapina. Collectively, they draw inspiration from folk, jazz, hip hop, spoken word, funk, and experimental and chamber music. Violins are sweetly plucked at one moment, furiously bowed the next, synthesizers warble and electric guitars twang out surf-rock solos, Eeva declaims in hip hop style or recites spoken word in addition to singing, her urgent words about the ongoing climate crisis intertwined with personal love and loss, joy and sorrow. As Eeva sings in the gentle, lullaby-like “On Syy” (Is A Reason), “Love songs are sung / Even if they fade away.” Did I say gentle? This song, like most on the short album, leaps into a thunderous prog-rock bridge verse between those gentle parts.
They truly rock, fittingly, on the title song “Tornadon silmässä,” which kicks off with a distorted guitar riff which, combined with Eeva’s conversational delivery, reminds me a bit of The Beths. The lyrics are the most direct yet:
Mass extinction is upon us
Shit already hit the fucking fan
Microplastics are my favourite meal
Yet we decide to carry on.
We don’t have a lot of options
Time’s running out, oh, it’s already up …”
Which is not to ignore the second track and first single “Antrasiitille” (For Anthracite), in which Eeva’s spoken words are driven by a folksy dance riff on fiddles and perhaps banjo, with occasional synth pops and blurps. “As we all know, the earth isn’t dying / It’s being killed … And you, anthracite, you / Belong in the ground / But you are burned / into the sky over this hell, a cradle for war.” This one rises to an electrified fiddle fest that calls to mind Ashley MacIsaac. The one instrumental track, “Unohdetaan” (To Be Forgotten) has a similar but more acoustic vibe, rather like a mid-tempo Irish jig.
The final track proper, “Seisahdumme pieneen huoneeseen,” (We Come To A Halt In A Small Room) which is also the longest, is the exception, never rising above a middling intensity and a gently rocking tempo, Eeva speaks a lengthy passage that reflects the album’s overall theme. “Even if everything were to change completely / Something always begins again.”
That one’s followed by two additional versions of “Maailmanloppu,” one with German lyrics, one in English.
Tornadon Silmässä is Vimma’s second album. Their debut Meri Ja Avaruus (Ocean and Space), won them the best newcomer of the year award at the renowned Etnogaala 2020. This one is destined for more awards and spots on critics’ year-end lists, I think. It’s on heavy rotation for me, that’s for sure.
(Nordic Notes, 2023)