Bands that are difficult, if not impossible, to put a definite label on are the best, for listening to their music will never get boring. The alternative rock outfit, SPIRITRAISER, hailing from the shores of Helsinki and Rio de Janeiro, is one of those bands that refuse to be hastily categorized into a neat little box. With the personnel having gathered mileage in bands such as PROFANE OMEN and SLEEP OF MONSTERS, they certainly have a knack for writing robust and heavy riffs – but this posse is about something much more. You could sense it already on their debut album, “Inspiral,” a few years ago and it becomes even more apparent on their new album, “Ciklos,” to be released independently on March 25th, 2022. Yes, there are plenty of solid riffs with a more or less metal-tinged flavor, but the new outing is just as much about the widescreen soundscapes of ambient music. The code of conduct is inherently so dynamic that after a few spins, you may not be able to tell whether this alternative squad should be viewed as a metal band flirting with Brian Eno and PINK FLOYD or as an alternative-rock band with metal as their guilty pleasure.
The vocalist, Jules Näveri (ex-PROFANE OMEN), has such a recognizable voice, resonating with the subtle air of Brandon Boyd of INCUBUS, that it hues the songs with a distinct 1990s-tinted alt.rock flavor. Whether it is deliberate or not, some of the song arrangements gently seem to nod toward this direction too. The feeling comes through perhaps most notably on the third album track, “Glory,” which has the same sort of canyon-sized sense of space as, say, U2‘s brilliant album classic “Joshua Tree,” while rolling forward with a hearty amount of punch. The atmospheric and melancholic mood that is so prominent on the album is subtly reminiscent of the Finnish alt.rockers, THE CHANT, here and there. The album opener, “Artificial Light,” in particular, resonates with the same sort of wistful and ethereal air. The filtered synths sweeping across the soundscape add rather substantially to the somewhat weightless feel of the song, nicely contrasting the heavy, metal-tinged riffs. The lengthy coda is one continuous sonic explosion of raw bliss. The dynamics at play sound similar to any post-rock band but, then again, there is certain heaviness in the music that rules out the label.
In the vinyl era, bands used to place the best song of the album as the second or third on side A. I’m sure there must have been some esoteric, ancient wisdom behind this practice. Curiously, one of the stand-out tracks on “Ciklos” is the second track, titled “Invisible Enemy.” It is an instant killer. The oriental synth ostinato that sets things in motion slithers on like a true earworm against the ambient backdrop of slow-brushed guitars, gathering momentum that explodes in the chorus. I guess this is what INCUBUS‘ 2001 outing, “Morning View,” might have sounded like, had it been produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.
Okay, three songs into the album and I’m ready to proclaim SPIRITRAISER as the best atmospheric alt.rock band I’ve heard in years. So far, I have been mostly mesmerized by the inspired mixture of ambient textures and robust riffing. The lyrics are mint too, I must add. “Stream” throws in maybe the best one-liner I’ve heard in a while: “Most people die with their music still inside.” Of course, I’ve seen the same sentiment worded differently countless times, but,here, this one line captures it in perhaps the most haunting way. The follow-up track, “Quipu,” channels the alt.rock ghosts of the 1990s and comes with another one-liner that speaks volumes. The title refers to the ancient, intricate system of knotted strings used by Incas and other Andean cultures to keep records and communicate. The line in the lyrics going, “In the end, let there be a string to follow,” should resonate rather deeply at least to anyone who has played the Hideo Kojima video game, Death Stranding, lately.
The rest of the album does not feature massive surprises. “Sirens” is a ballad type of thing, charged with the sort of slow-burning melancholy that would fit many a post-prog outfit on the Kscope label’s artist roster. “Fearism” is another alt.rock piece flirting with subtle metal vibes… except that halfway into the song, the riff-machine gets hijacked by a lengthy ambient onslaught that throbs away in a sort of SHPONGLE and AURAL FLOAT manner. I could listen to the mid-section on repeat forever. The inspired wah-guitar solo channels the spirits of David Gilmour and Petri Walli rather spectacularly. Did I tell you already how hard this band kicks ass?
Before the post-rockish closer, “Mountain,” brings things to a close, SPIRITRAISER sidesteps in the realms of elderly statesmen of atmospheric rock such as Peter Gabriel and David Sylvian. “Virgin Soil” alternates between the robust alt.rock riffs and the ambient, piano-driven verses in a somewhat old-schoolish way – and the lengthy ambient coda leads smoothly into the somewhat psybient textures of “The Wrong Giants.” The feeling is something very close to HALLUCINOGEN-meets-PINK FLOYD. The arena-sized guitar legatos paint utterly melancholic contours against the sonic canvas of the languidly throbbing synths – and better yet: the guitars do it in the best Gilmourian fashion. When the wah-pedal is stepped on, once again, it triggers nothing short of spine-chilling flashbacks of some of the most memorable KINGSTON WALL moments from way back.
While playing on the conventions of alternative rock, what with a good pinch of that nice 1990s flavor, SPIRITRAISER ups the ante by introducing a heavy dose of atmospheric post-prog to their dynamic sonic brew, and by frosting their solid rock riffs with a subtle pinch of metal. The fans of atmospheric rock with some extra edge are sure going to find “Ciklos” an album worth listening to. It’s hard to believe, actually, that this offering is to be released independently. I think someone ought to speed dial Eno or Lanois immediately, I’m sure they could and would sort out this crying shame.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Artificial Light
- Invisible Enemy
- Virgin Soil
- The Wrong Giants
Jules Näveri – vocals
Uula Korhonen – guitars
Anssi Ruotanen – bass
Kristian Merilahti – drums & programming