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  • David Bentley

Auri (Finland/UK): 'Pearl Diving' (single from forthcoming album)

I’m getting to be habitually late with reviews but this one came to me courtesy of an interview I chanced upon online, on Sunday. The interview is with Tuomas Holopainen of Nightwish and in it he discusses that band’s future following the sudden and shock departure of Marko Hietala earlier this year. But more of that later.

Auri is a sort of side project of Holopainen’s since 2017 and features another Nightwish band member, the Englishman Troy Donockley, and Holopainen’s wife, Johanna Kurkela. The pandemic, which has ensured that the April 2020-released ninth Nightwish album, ‘Human. :-: Nature.’ hasn’t been performed live yet (and parts of it never will be) apart from two virtual online performances at the beginning of May,has had one benefit in that Holopainen has been able to work on new material with other bands that are within his orbit. One of them is Auri.

Auri is described by Holopainen as a ‘prog folk’ band playing “rabbit hole music and celestial metal” with influences from folk music, Celtic music and soundtracks. The pipes-playing Donockley is undoubtedly the Celtic provider and Holopainen that of ‘soundtracks’ on account of his love of cinematic scores. Their first, eponymous, album was released in 2018, recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio and the second one, entitled ‘II – Those We Don't Speak Of’ is scheduled for 3rd September 2021. This, ‘Pearl Diving’, is the first single from it.

Tuomas Holopainen began his musical journey writing acoustic songs and Nightwish was an acoustic band for a short time before the clanging of metal called and that is why I interpret Auri as signifying a direction he feels he could have taken under different circumstances and might even do in the future. While he speaks of ‘celestial metal’ in reality there is no metal here, well certainly no known riffs, and in no way is it ‘Nightwish-Lite’.

What it is, is a gentle yet powerful piece which, with alternative arrangements, might have been performed by Yes in their heyday. Holopainen is a born composer and can’t write a song without twists and turns along the way and this is no exception. A folk ballad to start with, and with nods to ‘Sloop John B’, it picks up some wonderful harmonies from Johanna Kurkela and a multi-tracked Donockley and then fools you with a false ending around the 3:35 mark.

Thereafter, Holopainen’s cinematic score takes over, he having played a fairly subdued role so far, and rises to a crescendo, quickly eliciting the goose bumps that go with the territory in respect of most of his creations.

The musicianship and arrangement is of the level we have come to expect of Holopainen and Donockley but this is the first time I’ve heard Kurkela other than her spoken Shakespearean part on the unbelievable ‘Shoemaker’ on ‘Human. :-: Nature.’ and I’m impressed by yet another top-notch Finnish soaring vocal talent. I know that Holopainen would like to tour with Auri and had pencilled it in for 2022 (including the UK) but I guess that will be put back now.

I wrote a lengthy piece about Nightwish a couple of months ago following Marko Heitala’s departure so I’ll bring it up to date. Briefly, what Holopainen said about the situation (and might have repeated it elsewhere since) is that the sudden event had finished the band, after 25 years, but after a further discussion with the only other remaining founder member, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, a few days later, they concluded they still had new music left in them and would rise to the challenge, including recruiting a temporary bass player for the live shows and rearranging vocal parts between Donockley and Floor Jansen to cover for the missing Heitala. By all accounts it has worked out very well so far and studio space has been booked for the tenth studio album (parts of which are already written) for next year. Some good news for a change.

Now all we need are the shows (tentatively booked for November and December in Birmingham and London respectively).


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