Among big NIGHTWISH fans, there have been a few whispers about what’s been going on in the last year, while the band have been on break. Emppu Vuorinen (guitar) did a new album and some shows with BROTHER FIRETRIBE, while Floor Jansen and Marko Hietala were seen with AYREON Universe. But what about the ringleader himself, Tuomas Holopainen? Well, everyone knew he wouldn’t be silent over this break, and now we know what he was up to: AURI.
So who and what is/are AURI? Holopainen has been joined again by his wife and vocalist, Johanna Kurkela, and new(ish) NIGHTWISH bandmate, Troy Donockley. The press releases refer to it as “three people, united through their shared need to hear a kind of music which can’t be described by words alone,” and I won’t call that far from the truth. AURI is very difficult to explain with words.
I feel as though there will be two reactions to this album. People will like it and think its pretty, or people will “get” it. What does this mean? Well, I think Holopainen, Donockley, and Kurkela all share a longing or a feeling. Any person who has found immersion in stories, music, or games may know this feeling. Any person who has listened to modern pop and found it soulless and boring may know this feeling. Any person who just likes to kick back and listen to an instrumental album may know this feeling. If any of those things describe you, you might want to give this album a go and might find it to be something special. To everyone else, this album will be rather nice. I think I get this album. I constantly long for music that I can let my imagination soak and expand in. This is that music.
So the album as a whole then. First of all, Johanna Kurkela‘s voice is truly something wonderful. She has a mature beauty mixed with a childlike innocence that I find endlessly enchanting. That’s exactly the sort of sound you’d want in this sort of music – something that can make you feel the beauty of wisdom that comes with age, or can take you back to the feeling of purity and bliss you may have experienced as a child. To those extremes and anywhere in between, and Kurkela‘s voice will take you where you want to go, you need only ask (or press play).
Meanwhile, Holopainen and Donockley hold nothing back musically. You’re bound to compare the sound to NIGHTWISH, but for me these styles are really not comparable, and let’s be honest, if they were, these songs would be on the next NIGHTWISH album and not here. This is closer in sound to “Music Inspired by The Life and Times of Scrooge,” though “Scrooge” has a clear story arc to its music. “Auri,” conversely, doesn’t have that connecting theme like “Scrooge,” but rather each song has its own feeling. You can listen to the words to gain more guidance into the place it takes you, or you can allow the vocals to serve as an instrument, just added to the mix. Call it celestial music or rabbit hole music, or call it progressive folk music. Call it what you like, labels don’t matter here. But it certainly shows a lot of folk influence, with Celtic parts (like in “Them Thar Chantarelles”) or other native folk sounds (like in “Skeleton Tree” or “See”).
The piano is gorgeous (look no further than “I Hope Your World is Kind” for some gentle keyboard solos) – say what you will about Holopainen, but his use of that instrument has always been fantastic. The same can be said for Donockley. It should come as no surprise to anyone that any instrument he touches produces wonderful sounds. Also, the vocal combination of Kurkela and Donockley in songs like “Desert Flower” adds a lovely change to things. The album never gets dull, but if it does, I suggest you give it a good listen and try to find the keyboard solo performed by a horse. Because that’s a thing on this album too: horse solo. And let’s not forget others – there’s some really gorgeous violin and drumming on the album (both can be heard in “Aphrodite Rising,” for example) done by Frank Van Essen.
If I want to talk about a couple songs more specifically, I’ll highlight two, the first of which is “Night 13,” which you have already heard (and if not, the video is up above). I feel like this song says a lot about Holopainen. You can clearly hear that it was written by the same guy who writes most of NIGHTWISH‘s material, but at the same time, it has steered in a different direction (a similar direction to “Scrooge”) and I feel like it shows a lot of his spirit as a musician as it links all three of these projects, sound-wise. That is to say, you can hear many aspects of Holopainen‘s sound in this song, and that’s kind of cool.
And then there’s “Them Thar Chantarelles (ft. Liquor in the Well).” I was unsure of this song at first, but the more I listened to it, the more I felt like there was a more concrete story in there than perhaps some of the other tracks. The story can be found in the above-mentioned interview, but I will say that this song has a blissful drunken purity and lunacy at the same time, mixed with the happy fiddle tune at the end, and tends to make me want to put on candles, turn out the lights, and dance. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this song is a high without the drugs if you want it to be.
Beyond that, it really just is a pretty, lovely album. It’s the kind of album you could listen to with your parents who don’t approve of heavy music. Your grandmother might enjoy it. But you’ll still enjoy it too (I hope), not just for the performances the album offers, but for the feelings and experiences it might give you. I’d call the songs “experiences” instead, but hell, I’m not that pretentious.
Written by Bear Wiseman
- The Space Between
- I Hope Your World is Kind
- Skeleton Tree
- Desert Flower
- Night 13
- The Name of the Wind
- Aphrodite Rising
- Underthing Solstice
- Them Thar Chantarelles (ft. Liquor in the Well)
Nuclear Blast Records
Interview Phantom Elite – “It’s always good to share that feeling that none of us is alone in hard times”