REVIEW: Pressure Points – The Island

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From time immemorial, metal acts have been absolutely the best sculptors of the Finnish national reputation, and it seems almost as though there must be some clandestine sweatshops all around the country where Santa’s machine elves birth awesome new acts like there’s no tomorrow. The thing is, the Finnish town of Heinola popped up on my radar back in the day merely for being the hometown for this one Finnish radio-friendly pop-punk-alternative-rock outfit that made waves in the 1990s: APULANTA. As fine as the band is in its own genre, the town has never really stood out as the melting pot of exciting metal flavors, with all due respect. Something strange must have happened in 2004, however, because that’s when the progressive metal sages, PRESSURE POINTS, hailing from this little doucheville, laid down the foundation for a musical path that’s not only exciting, it is of such a high standard that the Heinola city council would do well to toot their horn really loudly for these proggers by expressing something like “These are our boys!” With two critically acclaimed studio albums under their belt, this Heinola bunch will be releasing their third full-length, “The Island,” on March 17th, 2023, via Art Gates Records. After the very first spin, I was delighted to sense a strong kinship of spirit with revered prog-acts such as PORCUPINE TREE, RUSH, KATATONIA, and even the growl-era OPETH. New vocalist Juha Tretjakov‘s (VANSIDIAN, ALASE) clean vocals do resonate with the subtle air of Mikael Åkerfeldt‘s soft crooning here and there – and Tretjakov‘s growls and black-metal snarls do not shy in comparison either. It’s been a while since the last time I heard Finnish progressive metal of this type, combining atmospheric, melodic, and brutal textures into a beautiful and coherent whole, yet steering clear from the popular djenty side of things. It’s only February but I think I’ll be safe to write this band on my list of the “Finnish Metal Album of the Year” contestants already. These guys rock!

The album opens with a 7-minute rollercoaster ride, entitled “Our Constellation.” It is a mind-boggling epic that alternates between somewhat RUSH-like riff origamis – echoing the arena-sized prog of the 1980s – and harsher passages of an almost OPETH-like variety; there’s even a little bit of blast-beating… a feature you don’t find very often on a modern prog offering. Then again, what could be more illustrative of the very meaning of “progressive” metal than blasting out brutal death-metal riffs in oddball time signatures with an added black-metal edge! What strikes me as spectacularly impressive is Tretjakov‘s vocal power – during the harsher passages (assuming this is him singing and not Kari Olli) he belts out pure fire and brimstone, channeling both the ogre power of Åkerfeldt and, in passing, even Shagrath of DIMMU BORGIR – and when he switches into clean singing mode he delivers just as brilliantly, resonating with the subtle air of Tony Kakko of SONATA ARCTICA. He sure deserves a spot in the pantheon of great Finnish metal vocalists.

It is probably the pristine execution, in every aspect, that makes it so easy to follow these prog ruffians into these unexpected sonic territories. Despite the songs rolling out a real cornucopia of every-flavored ear candy, each track evolves of its own accord with the pieces falling naturally into place at exactly the right time. For example, an ethereal plateau of soothing synth and guitar textures emerges from an ocean of boiling and blazing fire – and these proggers make it sound like the most natural thing in the world. Speaking of the synths, keyboardist Veli-Matti Kyllönen drops some killer licks and tasteful textures too; his signature style comes off as a nice cross between Kevin Moore (CHROMA KEY, early DREAM THEATER) and the grand old maestro of progressive textures, Richard Barbieri (PORCUPINE TREE, JAPAN). Kyllönen shines on the tracks, “Two Moons” and “The Night Inside,” in particular.

That said, it’s easy to shine in a lineup of this caliber; the songs are arranged in such a manner that each musician has his moment in the spotlight. Guitarist and deep growler Kari Olli (DE LIRIUM’S ORDER) drops a couple of killer solos as well. Then, when it comes to the rhythm section, the duo of Janne Parikka (bass) and Vili Auvinen (drums) keep the groove intact, sometimes with rather minimalist means but if that’s what the song calls for, then, that’s how it should be. On occasion, the down-to-earth approach resonates with the proggy air of some modern British prog-rock acts such as LONELY ROBOT, FROST*, or THE PINEAPPLE THIEF, not to mention Steven Wilson‘s recent, more pop-oriented endeavors. Then again, when you really put your ear to the speaker, you can pick out some diabolically groovy and intricate bass runs too, not that far from the style of OPETH‘s bassist, Martin Méndez – on the surface, it may first look like he’s not doing that much but when you really pay attention, you begin to notice all kinds of little tricks. When it works, it just works – and these prog sages certainly know how to make it groove!

So, here’s a promising bunch of proggers from Heinola, a 5-piece that are not afraid to use immersive, atmospheric textures – the keystone in the archway of post-prog enlightenment à la PORCUPINE TREE – in the exciting context of brutal death-metal riffs à la vintage OPETH. On occasion, they even go one louder and add a touch of black metal to this sonic concoction. It’s hard to single out the best calling card from the album because each song has a certain appeal. Then again, with prog bands, the “best face forward” is usually the longest epic they have – and here, the 11-minute title track closing the album, “The Island,” shouldn’t let even the most distinguished prog aficionado down. Rich with proggy flavors, the song demonstrates all the strong points of the band – soaring melodies, punchy riffs bounding to and fro in twisted time signatures, and spirited solos by both the guitar and the keyboards. The closer does not boast growls, if that’s the deal breaker, as it is for some of the older prog demographic. Then again, even if you do not entertain a very high respect for that sort of vocal style, PRESSURE POINTS might just prove to be the band to change your mind. I know I could not stand growled vocals until my delicate ears were exposed to the haunting 2001 album, “Blackwater Park,” by OPETH. Now, I even have a veneration for that sort of thing, as long as it is done with style.

Ogre vocals are one of the most prolific sources of genuinely evil vibes in music – evil in a good way, that is, like some twisted Jack-O’-Lanterns, Will-O’-Wisps, and other nocturnal lights peculiar to the moist and humid atmosphere of warm climates. “The Island” is one hell of a musical Jack-O’-Lantern glowing in the dark with a devilish grin. There’s an interesting conflict of extreme metal aesthetics and more plaintive, atmospheric prog conduct throughout the album – and that’s exactly what makes this endeavor so bloody excellent! Not only does this effort add new, exciting dimensions to the collective prog consciousness, but it also does it by engraving its credentials into it in imperishable golden letters.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Our Constellation
  2. So Ordinary
  3. Two Moons
  4. Leaves on the Road
  5. The Night Inside
  6. Collateral
  7. The Island

Lineup

Juha Tretjakov – lead vocals

Kari Olli – guitars, vocals

Janne Parikka – bass

Veli-Matti Kyllönen – keyboards

Vili Auvinen – drums

Label

Art Gates Records

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