Progressive rock and punk are one of the most unlikely couples you could possibly think of. Isn’t prog about playing three thousand chords in front of three people, whereas punk is more about chugging those three chords on repeat until the crowd of three thousand goes totally ballistic? So when you set out to form a punk band, it does not happen very often that you actually end up playing something of the progressive variety. The saga of the Hämeenlinna-based alternative duo, KIRKKOKAHVIT, has followed pretty much that rare line of thought. It was supposed to be a punk outfit of sorts – a creative outlet for musicians with a long history of playing in metal bands. However, this crazy bunch seems to have way too many prog-fetishes to restrain themselves to singing merely “Hey, ho! Let’s go!” The band’s sophomore studio outing, “Yöaika,” was released in December 2020 via Concorde MusicCompany – the label of the legendary Finnish metal producer, Hiili Hiilesmaa. The song structures have the subtle smell of the grey-bearded looney-prog from the 1970s and the execution is way too flawless and sophisticated for a punk band. On the other hand, the riffs and motifs are not exactly differential math either. The music certainly has the element of surprise but it does not make you squint like a bag of snails, with eyes directed as many ways as the points of these tiny, slithering creatures, out of sheer confusion. Probably the golden past of progressive rock can never wholly be rebuilt but visionary bands can update the genre’s fundamental tenets and vision every couple of decades. I have no clue if KIRKKOKAHVIT is interested in doing a complete pivot for modern prog in the slightest. However, they are certainly pushing the boundaries towards the less beaten paths. Before getting acquainted with the sonic forays of this peculiar group, I did not know that progressive punk was a thing. Now, I do.
The sense of drama builds up rather early on in the somewhat ominous intro of the opening track, “Te taotte taivaankantta.” The song creates tension with patience that feels almost predatory as though the band was merely biding its time for the critical attack. With the entrance of the bass, the mood swings lightly towards early PINK FLOYD, but the sudden change of mood does not come until a little bit later. Nothing really prepares the listener for the surprise onslaught of the early-1980s new wave in the song’s outro. Yes, the new wave movement kind of evolved from punk rock and modern proggers such as Steven Wilson have started to incorporate new wave elements to their music but still – the unholy trinity of prog, punk, and new wave is something that I did not see coming. These prog-punks certainly aren’t traversing the most beaten path and by not doing so they are, in fact, bringing the ”progressive” back to prog. Quite often it seems as though the progressive community has tacitly agreed to respect some clandestine etiquette of not sounding like anything released after 1976 – as if they’d made it a priority not to get caught in the caricatured and immoral act of defiling any of the revered prog incantations by half-assed attempts at sounding modern – not these guys, though!
As if in a fit of anarchistic joy, KIRKKOKAHVIT throws in all kinds of diverse musical elements: pop-punk choruses filtered through a vocoder (“Velodromi”), oddball time signatures (“Assassiinin puutarhassa”), sepia-filtered prog-folk (“Ruusu ja risti”), and air-tight guitar riffs that create the intensity of bands such as SIELUN VELJET and CMX. Lyrically, the album tells stories with somewhat dark forebodings. The title track, “Yöaika,” could be a cryptic tale of texting in the middle of the night but the dark and vague undercurrent of the lyrics suggest something much more sinister. The krautrock-ish synth that bursts into a stringent, oddball sequence halfway through the song only intensifies such feelings.
Those inclined towards cynicism often claim that all new music is either composed of recycled ideas or drug-induced phantasmagorias. The sophomore album of KIRKKOKAHVIT sounds more like the result of an uncompromising work ethic rather than a collection of wild and druggy non-sequiturs. Although, If I may say so, the music sounds pretty dope too – radiant enough to hit the average listener with the devastating force of a small H-bomb. Each track on the album slants the different facets of the band like a diamond cutter’s tools. While sounding eerily familiar here and there, the band is mostly reaching for the stars by rather unimaginable routes, almost as though having difficulties with choosing from the diverse multitude of identities. Some people might find this sort of cross-over approach slightly, if not profoundly, stirring and annoying even. Those of us with an acquired taste for a bit of something out of the ordinary, however, here is a band to check out immediately!
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Te taotte taivaankantta
- Ruusu ja risti
- Assassiinin puutarhassa
- Kahleissa kantaa kansoja
Jukka-Pekka Miettinen – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keys
Erno Liukkonen – Drums
Concorde Music Company