ALTAMULLAN ROAD is a bit of an intriguing name for a band, don’t you think? First of all, it’s half in Finnish, half in English, but even more interesting is how oddly it translates, ultimately meaning something along the lines of “road underneath the earth/dirt.” With an intriguing name and an intriguing first release, “When it’s Time,” this self-titled album is made by the duo of Finnish vocalists Johanna Kurkela and Johanna Iivanainen and is certainly a release that was worth looking into. Set for release on September 11th, 2020, via Ranka Kustannus, we couldn’t wait to hear more by this duo. Read our interview with the band here.
If vocal harmonization over gentle, melodic music sounds like your jam, this album should straight away appeal to your tastes. The first track, “When it’s Time,” had caught my attention when it was released as a single due to the haunting vocal combination and later drew my attention because of the lyrics. At first, I had seen it as a wedding day song but after reading the lyrics, I realized this was a song about the death of a life partner. The song is melancholic but hopeful, as two lovers hope to be together again someday, when the second follows them into the afterlife. It’s a truly beautiful song.
The album then moves onto the sweet and innocent sounding “Hearts of Old,” which starts with gentle pianos and a single voice before the second voice joins in. There’s a hint of a wintry sound to the music and this song could be a great track to hear around the winter holidays if you’re not a fan of Christmas music. There’s a gentle dynamic build-up too that’s almost so subtle as to be unnoticeable, yet you almost subconsciously notice the extra emotion you feel after it ends.
“Song of the Lark” takes a more folky direction, almost reminiscent of some of the work of Celtic musician Cecile Corbel. The gentle rhythms guided by the dual vocalists have a nearly fantasy-like quality. The album takes a bit of a darker and slightly heavier (emotionally, if not musically) turn with “Underwater,” with deep, powerful piano parts adorned with some strings, creating a soundscape that indeed does feel as though it could be underwater. Keeping the gentle and mellow through-line going, “Art of Losing,” is a peaceful, slightly sad-yet-artistic-feeling song, led by a harp melody.
Another familiar face appears in the form of “Interstellar Friends,” one of the singles. This ethereal piece creates the feeling of drifting in space, calm and carefree, content, drifting on cosmic waves, perhaps with a friend. “Candle in the Dark” features wavering light vibrato at times, creating an emotional feel to this more acoustic guitar -driven track. As mischievous as its name would suggest, “The Merry Scallywag” opens with sneaking, tip-toeing sounds set to light strings and atmospheric vocal notes and words. A delightfully upbeat and celestial-feeling song, it builds up into a shanty-like folk tune led by a string melody with a wonderful dynamic punch. Though it’s a mostly instrumental song, this was an easy highlight, a bit reminiscent of AURI‘s “Them Thar Chantarelles,” in which Kurkela is also singing.
“They Should’ve Sent a Poet” is a more straightforward poppy song that would be good for radio play, like an ambient ABBA. Knowing this track is on the album, it makes their choices for singles all the more admirable. Nevertheless, this track has a hint of ’80s new wave sound to it that works with the delicate sound the vocalists create with their lines, though for me this glittery track was maybe not quite as suited for my taste as the others. The album then closes with the piano-driven instrumental piece that could be the main theme from the Pride & Prejudice movie if it had made better and more emotive. Adding violin into the melody only increases the loveliness of the song as it softly and sweetly wraps up the album.
Like AURI‘s self-titled debut from 2018 or Tuomas Holopainen‘s “Music Inspired by The Life and Times of Scrooge” from 2014, it feels like any project to which Johanna Kurkela loans her voice is pure gold. That’s not meant to throw any shade on Johanna Iivanainen either, as it’s the combination of these two beautiful voices that create a lot of the magic of this album. Maintaining the celestial quality of AURI, ALTAMULLAN ROAD creates a new type of gentle, atmospheric sound that is neither too folky nor progressive in nature, but rather sits in a comfortable ethereal zone almost more suited to movie or game scores. This is easily one of the most emotional and beautiful albums to be released in 2020.
Written by Bear Wiseman
- When it’s time
- Hearts of Old
- Song of the Lark
- Art of Losing
- Interstellar Friends
- Candle in the Dark
- The Merry Scallywag
- They Should’ve Sent a Poet