Valoissa (In The Lights) is Indica's most impactful album. Here's the sound of a band reborn with turboboost. We might well have wondered what was coming, when we heard that it was being produced by Nightwish's Tuomas Holopainen. Indica have already toured once with Nightwish, and will again this Spring. They clearly get on well, but Nightwish's operatic metal is a very different animal from Indica's melodic pop rock; some must have had visions of The Fly and feared the result would be some strange mutated hybrid. Here's a band who very much want to reach out further; an association with (some would say) Finland's biggest band is obviously a good thing, though not if the music's no good, or they end up a weak imitation. And they wouldn't want to wreck their musical heritage, ie. turn their back on the music which is so special for their earlier fans.
...No worries. None at all. As if they would ever have ended up sounding like Nightwish! No, it's not a 'Nightwish album', as if it ever could have been when you have a band like Indica with such a unique spirit. It's true that, especially as the album opens, with some Oriental swirls and power chords, and later on all sorts of characteristic touches, that you can see their hand in the production, but my feeling is that Tuomas and friends have listened to Indica, understand full well what the soul of their music is, and in the end they've added strength and depth to their sound. As far as I'm concerned, they can come back again.
I've never heard a song from Indica that I've disliked, but I must admit it took me a while to get Pahinta tänään (The Worst Today - sorry, but no one's been able to come up with a good translation of that), I think this was because, the first new single, it seemed so unlike the highly melodic Indica of before, and it felt as if with its more driving beat it didn't have other dimensions. But that empty feeling has gone now I've heard the whole album. It makes so much more sense here; the sound is a part of the album's harder edge, and of course you do pick up extra details when you listen more. It's a good punchy song which is amongst a lot of people's favourites. But there is another out and out rocker on the album, Täältä pois (Away From Here). No, nothing totally uncharacteristic of the band, but it is a new departure and very welcome as far as I'm concerned, building on the grungy flavours of Pahan tarha from the last album. A basically simple song with a bit of bite.
By and by, the band released a second single, Valoissa itself. I found myself wanting to avoid hearing it, so I could better enjoy the impact of the whole album when that eventually appeared. However, they'd uploaded it to play as the intro for their website's home page, which led to a habit of urgently clicking on to the news page: as a result I kept hearing the same opening notes over and over again, and from those la-la-las I gained a totally misleading impression of what the song was like. I should have reminded myself of the cleverness of Indica's songwriting. It's a thoroughly charming and intricate song, and one of my personal favourites along with Sanoja (Words), Hiljainen maa (Silent Land),
...and the third download single released, 10h myöhässä (10 Hours Late). The video for this is very entertaining, featuring the band rushing about Helsinki, apparently, yes, late. It's a nice contrast to the fantasy and mysteriousness of some of their other shoots - a simple concept, though not with the weirdness of Jonsu herself keeping her eyes closed right until the end. I suspect that's to do with the lyrics, which describe someone out of touch with the world, always late...
Favourite transition: the segue from Täältä pois to Pyromaani. I love a bit of dirty guitar. Pyromaani (Pyromaniac) lyrically is very interiorised like most of the songs, but nevertheless has a strong stately melody, a kind of grandeur it shares with Hämärää (not sure... Twilight? Shade? Gloom?) and Hiljainen maa. Which I would say is almost epic, a gorgeous song. What it's about... blimey, who really knows. I mean, my Finnish lessons have come on a bit, and I can sort of follow the words, and you can find translations, but like with most of these songs, you're only halfway there to the meaning. I just think this song is one of the affirming ones. it seems to speak of the soul's comfort in the land... agh, what do I know.
There are two very quiet songs, beautifully constructed with deceptive simplicity. Askeleet (Footsteps) is almost minimalist, and it conjures up what seems to be the briefest of moments of experience, could be the end of a relationship, or a silent disappointment; but it's delicately told in a few words, with a strange and lilting piano line, which sticks in the mind. Seems a contradiction to say it's at once utterly pessimistic, and yet positive in the way it tells an emotional truth. Ei enää (No More) is the other quiet song, gradually diminishing at the end of the album. It's much more of a comforting song, a sort of release from some of the album's darkness. These two songs feature Troy Donockley's low whistle, a haunting flute-like sound. He was an obvious invite, since he's performed with Nightwish, there as here injecting some Celtic accents. It's very effective and not overdone, though at the same time I wouldn't mind hearing these lovely songs without the instrument, for comparison. Not too likely, since the quieter songs don't get played so much live these days, as Indica's gigs get more energetic.
I have one small complaint(!), something I noticed straightaway (and which I put down to the Holopainen influence), that this is the band's longest album by several minutes, mainly because the average length of the songs has gone up. Complaint?? Just that it takes me the length of a tape to drive my regular journey, and now I can't listen to a whole album ...that's right, my one big gripe really is that trivial :)
I love the design of the last two albums. Except maybe for the lettering, the design of Valoissa strikes a perfect aesthetic balance between dark Gothic and minimal elegance. Some excellent photography (I like the leaves) but the band has never looked better than on the cover and in the centre portrait. And there's a treat um for female fans of Nightwish apparently when they remove the disk to reveal the picture underneath in the jewel case. And what is that? Hmm I think I'll leave that for you to discover.
There's terrific variety in Valoissa, from upbeat hard rocking to slow sad. Except that with this album there's much more variation of pace between fast and slow so that by the end you feel you've heard a lot more songs than you actually have. Such a dark album, it seems, such a melancholy tour around the shadows. A tiny simple minded part of me sometimes yearns for some joy, a song of love maybe. But even though Indica's songs so often touch themes of life's harsh trials, it's not the whole story. The answer's there in the music, and the passion of the singing. These songs aren't about being beaten, but of surviving, not accepting defeat, but finding new strength. The clue's there in the title of the very first song - Elä - Live! I'm still in awe of this band; four albums in, few would have such a strong body of work as this. And on the evidence of Valoissa, they going to find new worlds to conquer.
5 February 2009