Progressive bands have had a soft spot for science fiction practically since the inception of the music genre somewhere back in the paisley-colored hippie days of yonder. Come to think of it, aren’t both of these art forms inherently bent on exploring the uncharted realms of our inner universe through a means of music and/or words? I would like to think so. In the long bloodline of proggy sci-fi enthusiasts, KEOMA is a novel 6-piece musical collective hailing from Helsinki, Finland, with nothing short of a psionic talent for conjuring quantum prog riffs that have all the potential to tear ripples in the cosmic space-time continuum. Their sophomore full-length, “Hypotheses,” released independently on October 1st, 2021, comes jam-packed with quality prog-metal that is laced with sci-fi concepts from string theory to parallel realities, as well as a hint of Greek mythology, aliens, and – of course! – tentacles. When it comes to lyrical themes of this sort, my thoughts are instantly drawn to bands such as the pedigree prog monolith RUSH and the modern prog-metal alchemists, TESSERACT. Musically, KEOMA does not take a very deep nod towards either. On occasion, the ethereal guitar and synth textures resonate with the widescreen, sonic aura similar to those djenty Brits and, of course, I guess one simply cannot make prog without channeling the spirit of RUSH, at least to some extent. Yet, in spite of all this or even the odd TOOL flashback triggered by some random off-kilter riffs on the album, the closest kindred spirit in the pantheons of prog deities is none of the above. When vocalist Katri Hiovain gears up into the throaty ogre-vocals -mode, you cannot completely avoid the temptation to file the band under the same label as JINJER or SPIRITBOX. While the music does not neatly fall into the category of djenty polyrhythms or crazy no-holds-barred crossover metal, you can sense a somewhat similar tendency to play on the beauty of contrast, the chiaroscuro in the music. KEOMA does it by juxtaposing brutal metal-riff maelstroms with ethereal plateaus of fairy-dusted magic with a good pinch of originality and style.
The opening track, “Hypothesis,” is a short instrumental intro leading to the first proper song and it kicks off with an offbeat synth motif that channels – or exorcises – the same interdimensional rhythm demons as the iconic Mike Oldfield riff from “Tubular Bells.” Despite the lyrical theme of “Mirror Symmetry” – that is, searching for a new, habitable planet in the universe out of sheer necessity – the song does not convey particularly dystopian vibes. In fact, what with the song’s strong and melodic vocal hooks, it is probably the closest that KEOMA gets to the modern, atmospheric prog of bands such as TESSERACT or SPIRITBOX without resorting to the use of djenty polyrhythms. The song is laced with a certain sense of weightlessness that is punctured on occasion by robust metal riffing and the raw vocal power of Hiovain.
While the outing is a meticulously crafted and coherent selection of songs, a couple of tracks stand out. “Gaia,” for instance, begins with an ominous guitar motif that is soon paired with a distorted bassline that thrusts the song into the stratosphere of sci-fi metal. It is worth mentioning that the bass tone on the album, the distorted bass on this track, in particular, is easily among the most delicious bass guitar sounds that I have come across on independent releases maybe ever. I’m not a bassist but I certainly appreciate a good bass tone when I hear one! On the same note, when it comes to production-related affairs, the album is top-notch all the way through. Half of the magic stems from the fact that the songs are perfectly arranged. There’s a lot of room for the songs to breathe – and when it’s time to stomp down with the iron boot, the band sounds pretty damn convincing. Along with the tracks “Mirror Symmetry” and “Gaia,” the song inspired by the classic 1997 Luc Besson movie, Fifth Element, also stands out as a portfolio piece of progressive excellence.
The fine balance between all the proggy twists and turns and the more straightforward metal onslaughts is where the magic happens. For the casual Radio Nova listener, KEOMA is most definitely way too complex, whereas the most eclectic of prog-snobs might also get dismayed to find out that some of the choruses on the album almost have a bit of singalong potential. In a way, the band’s signature sound is not that far from the up-and-coming Finnish metal act, MEMOIRA. This Helsinki-based prog brigade could be the evil twin who just didn’t say no to those funny old prog albums with dog-eared gatefolds in dad’s basement, while the Satakunta metal posse evidently evolved on a bit more steady diet of symphonic metal. Then again, I cannot escape the occasional flashbacks of bands such as TESSERACT, JINJER, SPIRITBOX, LACUNA COIL, or OUR OCEANS. However, while the new KEOMA outing may trigger strange and unexpected sonic memories buried deep within our collective musical psyche, the band seems to have embarked on a path of its own – leading who knows where. These prog ruffians are certainly cooking up some interesting sonic brew. Listening to the album is like rediscovering the beauty in the urban wilderness where the frail ghosts of the sepia-filtered progressive past still linger.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Mirror Symmetry
- Fifth Element
- Neural Universe
- The Hive
- Haven in the Abyss
- Echo of Diamonds
Katri Hiovain – vocals
Eero Saikku – guitars, backing vocals
Jaakko Stenius – guitars
Jaakko Saloranta – bass, backing vocals
Sami Lönnberg – drums
Sampo Vesa – keyboards