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CMX retrospective part II – rock crunching, prog artsiness and space operas

24/08/2010
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From where we left off: in 1997 CMX came to the end of one era as they compiled their six albums under one wing with the Cloaca Maxima compilation, soon followed by drummer Pekka Kanniainen’s decision to leave the band. Finding the life of a rock star rather pleasant, the band found a new drummer in one Tuomas Peippo and continued to move on.

The recruitment of Peippo is a pivotal event in the band’s history. Kanniainen was always a very basic drummer: he knew his stuff, but he had a rather basic style and the drumming in the early CMX albums was rarely if ever worth a separate look, it was simply there in the background driving the beat. Peippo on the other hand is a technically far more skilled drummer: he knows how to do the basic beat like a metronome if needed but if the songs require something more complicated, from quickly switching from one beat to another to full on double kick drum thunder storm, Peippo is on top of it. The CMX albums from 1998 onwards have an extremely strong rhythm section and much of it is because of Peippo.

Because of that or because of natural evolution, the band’s style finally found its natural resting place. After the back-and-forth bouncing of the earlier days, CMX from now on in is a band of people who know their thing and know how to do it. There is a significant increase of a more professional touch to the band’s works. The experimental nature is still intact, but this time instead of chucking shaman drums in the middle of punk noise the more modern CMX has a desire to prog it up every now and then or toss in some metal influences. Or, well, anything else really. There’s hardly any boundaries.

As such, if you didn’t enjoy the clips in the first part of the retrospective, please do check what’s on offer here. The band is a significantly different beast.

And onwards.

Return to rock – Vainajala (1998)

The game plan for the band’s return was clear: after the mechanical Discopolis, the follow-up would go back to a more traditional rock band sound. The band would retreat to Lapland and wrap up an album there quickly and simply. And somehow along the way they got Faith No More’s Billy Gould (a longtime CMX fan) to produce it.

And rrrrock is what Vainajala (Necropolis) does. It’s a dry, no-fluff album that aims to just wrap together a bunch of good songs and play them powerfully. In this respect it’s a bit of an underdog in the catalogue as it has no specific conceptual or recording quirk to make it stand out, but it really is rather good when that’s exactly what you want: uncomplicated, damn good rock songs. There’s only a few slower moments and most of those end up breaking into all-tearing guitar walls: the funereal closer “Vanha talvitie” as the most gorgeous example. Elsewhere it shows just how much new backbone Peippo has brought to the band, alongside the whole band’s more professional and skilled touch. The band may have rocked like hell before, but it never really seemed to have as much balls as Vainajala does.

It’s a very good start for CMX’s new era and shows that the band has one hell of a good rock streak despite how they these days prefer to hide that under prog-isms and such. Which, amusingly enough, is exactly what they were going to do next…


Surunmurhaaja

Also: Vanha talvitie (live)

Proggin’ it up – Dinosaurus Stereophonicus (2000)

Around 1999 CMX did their infamous announcement about going on a hiatus from touring, worded and misunderstood so that everyone thought they were actually going to quit touring altogether. They broke their hiatus/promise (depending on how you view it) after a few years, but it did have a rather massive effect on the album that happened in-between. Free of the burden of recreating their songs in the live environment, the band embraced the new-found freedom and saw it fit to take studio recording further than they had ever done so before. Going mad with layers, hiring orchestras and choirs to back them up, fiddling about with productional tricks and taking their music somewhere far more proggier than ever before. The sessions proved to be so lucrative that eventually the offspring was to become a double album. It was fittingly christened as Dinosaurus Stereophonicus.

The bane of Dinosaurus Stereophonicus lies in its two-disc format. While most double albums suffer from some amount of filler, it’s usually divided equally between the two discs. There are plenty of moments on DS that feel a bit lacklustre, and pretty much all of them are centered on the first disc.  Songs with good ideas are tossed around to something less inspired: “Ei koskaan” has a great atmosphere but too plodding of a feel, “Kylmänmarja” gathers together a gigantic choir to sing backing but they’re wasted in an otherwise vaguely annoying, way over-stretched song. Things sound bloated, stretched – a bit uninspired and muddled. There is however “Baikonur” which floats gorgeously in deep space for ten minutes of sheer bliss, revelling in ambient soundscapes and soft electronic drumbeats.

On the other hand disc two offers one of the consistently greatest musical stretches in CMX history. Constant stream of brilliant songs, all brimming with inspiration and craftsmanship holding hands together proudly. There’s no bloat and the extended moments sound natural, the additional assets like the huge choir and string orchestra are put to great use: the already wonderfully powerful “Meidän syntimme” becomes downright hair-raisingly fierce when the choir suddenly turns up to back the massive rock song, and “Tähdet sylissään” bids good night to the world and farewell to the listener in the most perfect way possible, proving to be the greatest closer of a two-hour epoch there has ever been. “Jatkuu niinkuin sade” (wonderful rock euphoria!) and “Myrskyn ratsut” (hauntingly beautiful!) are easily among the band’s best ever songs, “Tämän runon tahtoisin unohtaa” shows that tongue-in-cheek sense of humour CMX does so well with its ridiculously singalong-begging hey-hey chorus (and cowbell!). The more ‘experimental songs’, ie the ones with all the proggy time signature flips and other stylistic quirks, sound both majestic and mysterious. Disc two is simply fantastic.

God knows what it makes DS’ place in the CMX catalogue though. On one hand you have a bit of a failed experiment. On another you have some of the best CMX ever.


Jatkuu niinkuin sade

Also: Meidän syntimme
Schizophrenic hit parade – Isohaara (2002)

The two CMX albums that tend to be situated in the bottom of people’s lists are Discopolis and Isohaara (lit. big prong, also a place name). It’s also accepted by the band as if not weak then at least flawed. However, when the band released a hit compilation in 2008, all four of Isohaara’s singles made it to the tracklist which only accepted the band’s bigger hits.

Isohaara is probably the closest CMX has come to a pop album, in the sense that all of its songs have an insanely high catchiness value. All its four hit singles were pretty obviously always going to be big hit singles, from the airy ballad pop “Minun sydämeni on särkynyt” to the ridiculously fast crazy-rocker “Pohjoista leveyttä”. At the same time, as the band states its main flaw to be, its tracklisting makes no sense. There’s atmospheric noodling. There’s AOR pop. There’s gloomy metal marching. Not only is it cohesively weird, but it’s sequenced to hell as well. It’s an album with absolutely no internal logic.

And while it’s probably the weakest of the six albums presented in this part of the retrospective, its reputation as something really weak is a bit overdone. It hosts within itself several excellent moments, even if there’s one slightly weaker song for each of the great ones. In particular “Minun sydämeni on särkynyt” is an eternal classic: a rare moment of simple, untouched beauty. It is however an album that doesn’t really fit in any particular mood due to its schizophrenic, disjointed nature. It jumps from place to place with no seeming sense. For a lot of albums an approach like that actually improves them: Isohaara sadly suffers.


Minun sydämeni on särkynyt

Also: Pohjoista leveyttä

Staring into the eyes of the devil – Aion (2003)

After something a bit unfocused, it was the perfect time for a concept album.

Aion (“I will”, or aeon) is all about evil, about the devil working his magicks behind the curtains in everyday society, behind the people who want to see the world burn and behind the people who simply see their futures burn ahead of them in a flame of desolate existential anguish. Evil is Aion’s concept, the thread that binds its songs together. Sometimes less obviously than elsewhere but always present, grasping a tight grip around the music and tensening the already jagged atmosphere.

Aion is also musically all about that evil. What’s brought up in the lyrics is turned to the music. Always on the edge, always ready to burst aggressively into the open but similarly always held back until the right moment. Rather than walking into the easy trap of unleashing eleven aggressive rockers into the atmosphere and calling it a day, a feat that wouldn’t sound out of place for a band who lets their occasional metal influences similarly occasionally, Aion saves those bursts of violent rage into critical moments and spends the rest of its time plotting for the release, building the web of tenseness; the long, long build of “Kuoleman risteyksestä kolme virstaa pohjoiseen”, the ghostly vocoder-electronic ambience of “Sielunvihollinen”, the shaman drums of “Tuonenlinnut”, even the deceivingly bright “Kyyn pimeä puoli”. The abstractly bird-faced demon of Aion’s regally purple cover is in no hurry: it builds the mood in peace and doesn’t even have to attack to let itself be known.

That atmosphere and the tightening grip of Aion that strengthens itself the more you spend your mortal time with the album is successful because Aion is an album of sheer determination and excellent craftsmanship. It is the tenth album of CMX, a number terribly rare at these days of quick burns, and it’s an album that could have only been made by an older and more matured band because it takes every single aspect of the band, all the experience, all the experiments, all the chemistry and all the knowledge of songwriting that have been refined over the years, and condenses it into a single, cohesive disc. You can hear it all in the nuclear bomb string purge of “Kuoleman risteys”, in the tongue-in-cheek hit song flirtation of “Melankolia”, in the spinechillingly cold and mechanically merciless “Sivu paholaisen päiväkirjasta”, the beautifully tragic “Sielunvihollinen” as well as in the double-whammer CMX rocker classic “Fysiikka ei kestä” & “Palvelemaan konetta”. Or any other moment – you can hear it all throughout the album.

Often held as the band’s magnum opus. Not without reason.


Palvelemaan konetta

Also: Sivu paholaisen päiväkirjasta

Somewhere in between – Pedot (2005)

Conceptually Pedot (Beasts) continues the themes of evil that Aion had, only from an inherently human and personal viewpoint: distrust, fear, lack of confidence, suspicion. Musically it mixes together the rock edge of Vainajala and the pop sensibility of Isohaara while wielding the prog rock -esque tendencies of Dinosaurus Stereophonicus which surface here and there. It’s also an album of contrasts: songs with big pop hooks are surrounded by the aggressive, jaunty title track and flute solos, and the album’s personal nature (as revealed by Yrjänä) shares the same impersonal space as several concept songs linking to the band’s next album.

Pedot seems to have gained a reputation of a bit of a love it or hate it kind of album. The band hosts a fan comment/question page on their website and the fan opinions on Pedot seems to range from being one of the band’s worst to being immensely important and personal to the listener. There’s never been anything in the middle.

From the biased viewpoint of a person who firmly falls into the category of Pedot being an important favourite album by the band, I find it hard to fathom what exactly sets the alarm bells off in many other’s heads. There’s a sense of ever-looming melancholy in Pedot that’s never unleashed but lurks in the background. It sounds often like it’s completely at peace but simultaneously the songs always have an element of emotional rumbling. It may carry large hooks – the lead single “Uusi ihmiskunta” which is probably some of the catchiest CMX ever or the instant-stick chorus of “Kain” being perfect examples – but it’s at the same time a large grower, many of its songs showing off their details and finer points only in careful listen and with time.

Once it clicks though, it shows just how excellent it is. It would make a perfect starter album to the band due to its multifaceted nature if it wasn’t only for the fact that it seems to radiate some weird opinion-dividing energy.


Kain

Also: Mustat siivet yli taivaan

Space opera – Talvikuningas (2007)

It had been several years in the making. It had been hidden from sight, only living its life in private notebooks. It had made occasional trips to the surface but in secrecy, disguising itself has something normal. But it was too large to contain. It had a will of its own. And finally, it forced itself out.

Talvikuningas (Winter King) had been Yrjänä’s private project for several years – an epic space saga, chronicling the rise, reign and perhaps even the fall of a mysterious commander who fought in wars amidst the galaxies and supernovas and eventually became a legendary, feared character in whole of hyperspace. The occasional song had appeared in previous CMX albums but out of context and without explanation, the vague references to scifi and space terms only seemed like the usual bizarre Yrjänä poetry. But after being discovered by the band’s now-traditional producer and urging Yrjänä to finish and release it, it was time for the monolith to rise.

And a monolith it is. Talvikuningas is an hour-long epoch all segued together. It’s crammed together with lyrics which in return are all crammed with killer satellites, cepheids, antimatter, neutron stars and whatnot. The story is nonchronologically told, just to convolute it further. The musical spread touches upon everything the band’s seemingly ever done, from 12-minute prog operas to 2-minute punk blasters, not forgetting to tour around melodic ballads and standard CMX rockers. It’s something that could at any time crumble into sheer ridiculousness.

The best thing with Talvikuningas is that it never does. The idea behind the album is a bit daft in itself and the over-the-top sound of it could at any moment become somewhat silly but the band treats the whole thing just with the right touch: it acknowledges it’s a wee bit over-the-top and fully rides with it, dodging ridicule and turning the bombast into brilliance. The story is grand and out of this world and the music backs it up perfectly.

If there’s one word to describe Talvikuningas perfectly, it’s insane. The concept, the theme, everything. But this band’s always been somewhat insane and quite frankly, they work it excellently.


Punainen komentaja

Also: Kaikkivaltias

*******************************

On the 29th of September, the band’s ever-continuing saga gets new continuation with Iäti (Eternally). The band calls the album their dogma project, a recording process where they wrote down a set of rules that they needed to follow – a list of don’ts to strip the music down from all sorts of highly technological or technical faff. The result so far ranges from satisfying to excellent. Excitement.

And finally, here’s an olden non-album goldie:


Puuvertaus

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