2020 was definitely a year to remember; the world knows it as the year the pandemic took hold of our lives. We remember it as the year ALTAMULLAN ROAD published their self-titled debut album. It took us 4 years of waiting patiently for this to happen, but in January 2024, Johanna Iivanainen and Johanna Kurkela were finally ready to present their soulful music to a live audience. Their tour, which is still ongoing, is spread around Finland, but we decided to stop at Savoy Teatteri on January 27th, 2024, in Helsinki to watch this highly anticipated show.
When this tour was first announced for 2020-2021, I had made plans to watch the show with a friend. Unfortunately, she passed away around the same time the shows were originally planned, and thus never got to experience ALTAMULLAN ROAD live. That being said, this album, in particular, really helped me through a lot of similar things in the past 4 years since it was released. When the show began, naturally, this was on my mind as well, at the very start with “Candle in the Dark,” followed by “Art of Losing,” and “Hearts of Old,” I felt an indescribable feeling of joy hearing music that had been a pillar of support in trying times, which for some reason felt similar to a long and warm embrace, as if you are meeting an old friend after a long while and you feel like almost no time has passed. The show started off with beautiful lighting, showing silhouettes, and throughout the show, it became clear that the lighting by Tommi Stolt, who has also worked with NIGHTWISH, was truly phenomenal, lifting this performance to what was essentially just an art piece – I don’t throw the phrase “this is art” around lightly, having an art degree/being an art snob myself.
“When It’s Time” has been one of my personal highlights of the record, so it was great to finally see its stripped-down live version. Most of the songs played received some new arrangements for this tour, being a little bit more minimalistic than they were on the record, and including backing vocals from Mikko Iivanainen and Timo Kurkela. The setlist had been curated very carefully with songs from the album, but also with some cover songs, the first one being “Jacob’s Dream,” having been a fan of Alison Krauss ever since her collaborative album with Robert Plant, “Raising Sand,” and even having seen them live, it was great to see a cover of hers included, and at the same time, it made a lot of sense. The historical setting of the story behind “Jacob’s Dream” and the Johanna‘s power to transport you to different times and emotions in your mind, made it feel like it was 1856, and you were part of the search party for the two missing brothers from the Appalachia region of the United States (if you are interested in more context, just look for The Lost Children of the Alleghenies or listen to the song attentively). “Fields of Gold” by Sting was another great choice for a cover with a beautiful message that suited the performance very well. After the song there was a very brief but beautiful moment where Johanna Kurkela grabbed Johanna Iivanainen‘s hand and they smiled at each other, showing their love and affection for each other. It was so brief, but it felt like a statement of them saying “I’m glad to experience this with you and I’ve got your back,” without any words. It also made me think of the many good people I have around me, and appreciate each and every single one of them; if you felt some positive vibes, it was me!
Christina Perri has been my go-to artist whenever I went through a breakup (I mean… “Jar of Hearts” was released when I was a teenager). “Thousand Years,” on the other hand, has always been a song that warms my heart. ALTAMULLAN ROAD‘s version was even more beautiful and just made my eyes well up out of genuine excitement. Mikko Iivanainen has a beautiful way of playing the guitar, which reminds me a little bit of Steve Howe in YES, just sweeping over the strings, making it almost sound like a violin is playing, and adding extra depth here and there to the songs. Additionally, his solos – a little bluesy – at times contribute to the overall mood of the songs. It’s a minimal thing, but so very beautiful. During the end of this song, Timo Kurkela disappeared and went to the back of the stage behind a tom, to add some percussive elements to “Interstellar Friends,” which had one of the most beautiful lighting settings I have ever seen, with red stripes in the background, some white sidelights, and blue front lights, creating an almost 3D effect that made it truly feel like an otherworldly performance.
In 2011, I went through a year of life-altering events, among them my uncle, a huge PEARL JAM fan, passed away unexpectedly. For one year, the only thing I could bear to listen to was Eddie Vedder and PEARL JAM. This was also the year that I discovered the Into the Wild movie, and its soundtrack – like ALTAMULLAN ROAD – right now feels like a soundtrack to that year in my life. “Society” was one of the songs I was obsessed with. Naturally, I went through a rollercoaster of emotions when it appeared to be on the Johannas’ setlist as well, but it was extremely beautiful, and just made me think of how much people, in general, have to overcome, and how every road that goes down, goes up again in the end. Mikko Iivanainen subtly inserted a very slowed-down line from “Paranoid” by BLACK SABBATH, which I thought was sort of funny. Admittedly, I’m not the most familiar with Johanna Iivanainen‘s solo work, so it was great to also get introduced to her song, “Mustarastas Laulaa,” which I definitely need to look up again. 10 songs into the set, it turned out that ALTAMULLAN ROAD wasn’t finished with us at all, and we were served with an intermission.
The second part started off with “Dawn,” which was actually quite fun to be included in the show this way since it’s a very cute instrumental track on the album, and I didn’t expect it to be played live. During “Song of the Lark,” Timo Kurkela grabbed an electric guitar, where he played one note at a time with a beautiful vibrato, again adding something small but meaningful to the atmosphere. “Never Ending Story” by Limahl was a huge surprise because I had totally forgotten about that song, and it transported me back to my childhood. Brandi Carlile‘s “Mama Werewolf” was one of the few songs that was unknown to me, but once again, it was simply beautiful and had me look up the original song.
“Go Slowly Now, Sands of Time,” from Tuomas Holopainen‘s solo effort, was originally sung by Alan Reid on the album, so it was interesting to have a version with Johanna Kurkela singing the main melody (other than the backing vocals like on the studio album), it was simply beautiful – which may have been because its composer was also watching the show. That being said, what booking agency is willing to organize a “Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge” one-off show or even a tour, anyone? “Ainiaan” represented Johanna Kurkela‘s time in EYE OF MELIAN, which was a Finnish interpretation of the song and left me with goosebumps. I was delighted that they also added “The Merry Scallywag,” which is a fun instrumental folk track that can lift anyone’s spirit up, and was also happy that they combined it with another happy-vibes song, a cover of “Hey Brother,” from Avicii. This song came out around 2013, while I was on exchange in Tampere, and every time I hear it, I’m just very happy that I stuck around for some more years in Finland, and ended up where I am now. The lightness of the second part of the show continued with “They Should Have Sent a Poet,” it was great to see Johanna Ivanainen dancing a little despite being behind her piano, and also how Johanna Kurkela was twirling around a bit during the piano solo. They chose a fun note to end with a cover of “Maniac,” which was something – at least for me – unexpected but indeed heaps of fun!
Thankfully, ALTAMULLAN ROAD came back for a round of encores with the enchanting “Underwater,” which had that great sweeping guitar sound again that made it a very atmospheric and beautiful encore. The last song of the evening was a cover song of Billie Eilish which was done for the recent Barbie movie, “What Was I Made For,” despite not being an original, it felt like it was made for ALTAMULLAN ROAD.
Altogether, after heading out to SWALLOW THE SUN‘s ballet production a bit earlier that month, I was wondering for a while whether something as great would happen in the next year. Little did I know that ALTAMULLAN ROAD‘s show would move me so much. I went through a rollercoaster of emotions, and their music truly felt like some sort of a journey you just need to experience, with all beloved songs from the album, as well as covers that were meant to be sung by these vocalists in their own interpretations, with astounding lighting, a great balanced mix of the sound by Tero Kinnunen, and a respectful audience that clapped along bravely when they were asked to and lived in the moment with the band (despite not being prohibited, I did not see too many phones up in the air). This was one of 2024’s highlights at the start of the year. I concluded the debut album’s review by saying that sometimes you don’t need a lot to work with to create a magical atmosphere in music; sometimes a piano, a violin, and two (now four) beautiful voices harmonizing is enough, and sometimes when you have a brilliant crew backing you up, you can even bring that magic to the stage without losing its authenticity, once again ALTAMULLAN ROAD proved this to be true.
- Candle in the Dark
- Art of Losing
- Hearts of Old
- When It’s Time
- Jacob’s Dream [Alison Krauss cover]
- Fields of Gold [Sting]
- Thousand Years [Christina Perri cover]
- Interstellar Friends
- Society [Eddie Vedder cover]
- Mustarastas Laulaa [Johanna Iivanainen cover]
- Song of the Lark
- Never Ending Story [Limahl cover]
- Mama Werewolf [Brandi Carlisle cover]
- Go Slowly Now, Sands of Time [Tuomas Holopainen cover]
- Ainiaan [Eye of Melian cover]
- The Merry Scallywag
- Hey Brother [Avicii cover]
- They Should’ve Sent a Poet
- Maniac [Michael Sembello cover]
- Underwater (Encore)
- What Was I Made For [Billie Eilish cover] (Encore)