Not to be confused with the UK black metal act, what we have here is the eponymously titled 'Auri'; the debut album from a trio of mightily talented musicians - namely Nightwish mainman Tuomas Holopainen (keys; backing voices); folk maestro and fellow Nightwish member Troy Donockley (guitars, bouzouki, uilleann pipes); and Mrs. Holopainen, Johanna Kurkela (voices; viola), a Finnish vocalist with an established solo career. There are other elements within the instrumentations, such as the sporadic percussion, although press blurb fails to detail any other personnel involved in the creation of 'Auri', so I've no clue who else might've been involved.
First off, it must be said that, on certain tracks, Holopainen's compositional tropes and quirks are discernible throughout the album, but presented within an entirely different context. Moreover, within that context, it seems he's been able to develop, progress and push the parameters of his songwriting abilities. Thus, it's fair to say that 'Auri' is both familiar and fresh. The opening piece, 'The Space Between', has melodies that'll sound ever so slightly familiar to the discerning Nightwish aficionado, albeit succeeds in sounding nothing like Nightwish. Same for 'I Hope Your World is Kind' - and a few other tracks, too - although it never feels like Holopainen's re-treading tried-and-tested ground. 'Auri' is its own beast.
In one sense, despite a folked-up prominence in some of the songs (Donockley's presence is as strong as Holopainen's, instrumentation-wise), 'Auri' transcends genre. It also transcends ephemeral trends. The songs feel truly timeless, which is an undisputable hallmark of astutely composed folk music. But, this is so much more... it even transcends its own folk underpinnings. 'Underthing Solstice' is a prime example of this - an utterly beautiful song that exists as its own emotionally compelling entity, beyond any stylistic considerations. Truly sublime, in every respect. As is much of the album.
Kurkela's voice is so delicately alluring and gracefully ravishing. She never succumbs to vocal acrobatics or misplaced histrionics. It's all about refined control and captivating emotional expression. As such, while she might lack range in terms of style, the songs certainly do not warrant such. Her wide range resides within her seemingly natural ability to convey a whole array of emotions. Tonality-wise, too, her range impresses. I have to admit, I've never heard Kurkela sing before 'Auri' arrived for review (at least not that I recall), but she has one of the most beautiful voices I've had the pleasure of hearing in a long time.
Auri really have created something quite unique with their debut. Sure, there are elements of Loreena McKennitt, Clannad and Enya that can be heard throughout, but only in passing stylistic references. Auri's musical palette is far wider than any of the aforementioned acts. Film scores seem to be an influence here, too... notably for the intro to 'Savant', which sounds like it's going to burst out into a piece from Wojciech Kilar's perennially wonderful soundtrack for 'Bram Stoker's Dracula'. Elsewhere, some Tangerine Dream styled keys creep into the compositional pot midway through 'Skeleton Tree'; some exotic melodies have been crafted for 'See'; and a few moments that bring to mind Afro Celt Sound System.
Ultimately, though, Auri have succeeded in crafting a unique and timeless masterpiece with their debut, where songs travel a varied emotional path across a heterogeneity of different moods. Dark passages and moments of melancholic sorrow are contrasted against uplifting, buoyant folky instrumentations, on an album that is a delightful, gentle, absorbing and, at times, ethereal listen.
Review by Mark Holmes
23rd March 2018
1) The Space Between
2) I Hope Your World is Kind
3) Skeleton Tree
4) Desert Flower
5) Night 13
7) The Name of the Wind
8) Aphrodite Rising
10) Underthing Solstice
11) Them Thar Chanterelles
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Dark passages and moments of melancholic sorrow are contrasted against uplifting, buoyant folky instrumentations, on an album that is a delightful, gentle, absorbing and, at times, ethereal listen."