(2012) Status Minor – Ouroboros: Anniversary Special + concept teaser

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If you’ve followed the underground Finnish power metal scene into its darker and deeper depths, you may have come across a lesser-known outfit called STATUS MINOR, made up of a surprising number of big names, such as Markku Kuikka (AGONIZER, THE RAGGED SAINTS), Jukka Karinen (THUNDERSTONE), Rolf Pilve (STRATOVARIUS, SMACKBOUND, TRUE CULT CLUB, etc.), as well as a few lesser-known names like Sami Saarinen and Eero Pakkanen. As of 2020, this band has three full-length releases, but today, on April 25th, 2022, we’re looking back at their sophomore effort, “Ouroboros,” which was released via Lion Music.

Not only does “Ouroboros” mark a new era in STATUS MINOR‘s sound, but it’s a full storied concept album that tells a very modern and relatable full-circle tale of distance romance, as a couple meet, fall in love, and grow apart as the songs progress. While vocals are largely done by Markku Kuikka, songs like “Like a Dream,” among others, feature guest vocals by Anna Murphy (CELLAR DARLING, ex-ELUVEITIE), who plays the love interest.

The album and story begin with “The Wind,” an upbeat song about a free-spirited young musician and his lust for life and love and new experiences, not being tied down, the usual young man in his prime, living his life sort of thing. Flickering guitar riffs and neoclassical keyboards open the track as Pilve‘s drums keep a very forceful rhythm. Markku Kuikka is one of Finland’s lesser-known jewels in power metal, singing for projects ranging from THE RAGGED SAINTS‘ hard rock flavor over to AGONIZER‘s metal, with his name also marking notable eras in other bands of interest, like VOLYMIAN and THAUROROD. While he does sport a pretty heavy Finnish accent (side note: does anyone else ever notice that it’s only the Finns who seem particularly bothered by Finnish accents?), his range and emotion nevertheless make him a stand-out vocalist.

Things progress with “Hollow,” as the character feels a sort of emptiness in their carefree – and yes, hollow – lifestyle. There’s something deeply “classical Finnish power metal” about this music, perhaps in Karinen‘s keyboards, which hold an artistic bonanza of influences from classical music to DREAM THEATER, STRATOVARIUS, and SYMPHONY X in their notes, from the proggy effects and Jens Johanssen-esque key-riffing to the sweet kiss of neoclassical stylishness. It’s great to see a band that so heavily shares the spotlight between guitars and keyboards, each having an equally important role in the music. The play-offs of solos are ever-delightful, reminding the listener that this is, in fact, heavy metal.

The album takes a turn with a dramatic, DREAM THEATER-y, proggy flourish in “Glass Wall.” More recent generations may sympathize with this song a bit. Have you ever met someone, say during an overseas exchange or a concert or on vacation, and had to have a relationship with them through a screen? All of the complications and questions associated with the difficulty of an online relationship really shine in this melodic, piano-driven song.

The first ballad is also the first duet on the album, featuring the aforementioned Anna Murphy, who you now know from CELLAR DARLING, but back in 2011 was still known as a member of ELUVEITIE, having just released Everything Remains (As it Never Was) the year before. It is a crime that this song is not more well known, because it’s one of the most emotional songs of its day. The interplay of voices between Kuikka and Murphy is fabulous, as Murphy‘s character laments the distance between them and Kuikka speaks of how he feels changed from the boredom and meaninglessness felt in the first two songs. The guitar solo is melancholic and full of longing as the two separated lovers reach out for one another. “Tallulah,” eat your heart out, this is the true song to shed a tear to live as you hold your partner in one arm and a lighter/cell phone in the other.

A powerful piano intro opens “Confidence and Trust,” which has an eerily Jane Austin -feel to it, as Murphy returns to intermingle her words with the piano to a chilling effect. Murphy‘s character begins to lose her faith in them, talking about the facade coming down. The song is a sort of haunting interlude that leads into “Stain,” where it begins to seem that Kuikka‘s character may have been unfaithful. The riffing is so tight in here and let’s throw a shout-out to the bass for some pretty fast fretwork. Kuikka confronts his actions, saying that facade cannot be broken. The story seems to double-down with “Smile” as the couple pretend they are cool with each other but the facade is crumbling at this point as it is clear that a harsh reality is setting in. It’s one of the darker songs on the album, harsh and accusing, with intense keyboard riffs leading the way.

The album takes a turn for the melancholy with the acoustic intro to “Flowers Die.” There’s some true Finnish sadness in this track, but not in the usual folk-metally way people expect from INSOMNIUM and the like these days. It just feels… tragic. Finally, Kuikka understands that this thing that was once beautiful and full of hope must be let go. “Just let the flower die,” his character sings of the relationship, juggling between a few of the stages of grief as he reminisces and wonders about the meaning of those beautiful moments they had once shared. He ultimately decides that it’s best to cut ties, “it is too late, it is our last goodbye.” Man, do I love an emotionally-powered guitar solo, and boy does this song have one! It’s so melancholic yet understanding at the same time; this track has been giving me goosebumps for 10 years, all the way to its piano outro.

But wait, it’s not over yet! That’s right, the sheer emotional intensity of “Flowers Die” was simply the prequel to the grande finale, “Sail Away.” There’s an intense, proggy power metal intro (a la DREAM THEATER, but don’t take that to mean it’s derivative) with powerful drums, evocative keyboards that paint wild pictures in the mind, and riffing that stands alongside the greats of the ’90s heavy metal scene. The song takes a sharp turn into the bass as Kuikka takes the lead, giving one last thought to there ever being a spark left and letting his partner fully go, releasing the chains, letting them “sail away from my life.” There’s some great ’80s synth riffing before the guitar takes over for a great solo as the dynamics oh so subtly build up to the next verse. It almost feels like the character is passing through a few of the stages of grief still, leading up to acceptance as he encourages Murphy‘s character to go and she agrees, it is time to drop the chains and sail away. Unlike many other masters of Finnish melancholy, STATUS MINOR decide to leave the album with a glimmer of hope, as the two seem to leave in peaceful agreement that their time is over. A final burst of energy appears in the solo, as they eventually refer back to “Flowers Die.” Murphy and Kuikka do one last reprised harmony, singing some of the words from the previous song. The dynamics finally explode as the characters let go in a great crescendo and the piano leads the way out. The listener can easily envisage a sailboat drifting peacefully out into a sunset, sailing away. What a sad yet encouraging way to end.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of “ouroboros,” the snake with its tail in its mouth, it represents the circle of life, natural cyclic renewal, but can also represent a pattern of behavior. The relationship and the characters go through the process of life, death, and rebirth, as they fall in love, fall apart, and let each other go to start anew.

So if it’s not clear, I really like this album. It’s terrific, but not without its flaws. The production would have benefited from a better budget (shame on you, big labels, for not scooping up this band!), so some of the edges could have been a bit smoother, but that’s hardly a fault from the band’s side of things. Nevertheless, STATUS MINOR and “Ouroboros” are what I consider to be one of Finland’s hidden gems and a truly undiscovered work of art in the realm of concept albums, from which many artists could learn a thing or two. They also have two other albums, the likewise very well received “Dialog” from 2009 and the follow-up to “Ouroboros,” 2017’s “Three Faces of Antoine,” which has a loose concept about serial killers. Ultimately, these guys have great skill and style and definitely deserve at least a precursory spin if you’re into power/prog/neoclassical metal and/or concept albums.

Written by Bear Wiseman
OS: 9.5/10

Tracklist

  1. The Wind
  2. Hollow
  3. Glass Wall
  4. Like a Dream
  5. Confidence and Trust
  6. Stain
  7. Smile
  8. Flowers Die
  9. Sail Away

Lineup

Markku Kuikka – vocals

Jukka Karinen – keyboards

Sami Saarinen – guitars

Eero Pakkanen – bass

Rolf Pilve – drums

Label

Lion Music

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