Haikara IV: Domino CD

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In the 1970s Haikara (the stork) were considered one of the leading Finnish prog bands, along with the likes of Wigwam and Tasavallan Presidentti, but unlike those groups, Haikara was somewhat forgotten in the 80’s and 90’s. Considering the quality of their eponymous first album, this is a real shame. Released in 1972, Haikara is, IMHO, one of the masterpieces of Finnish prog. Long out of print, the original LP is a pricey collector’s item, so it was commendable of Warner Music Finland to finally re-release the album on CD in 1998. The band’s line up is vox/perc, guitar/keys/bass, flute/sax, bass, drums/perc; there is also a fair amount of guest strings and brass. Guitar and sax form the heart of the band’s sound, but keyboards (piano and organ) and orchestral sounds are used quite imaginatively to a full-sounding end. The album contains five tracks (one five and a half minute long cut and four in the 7-11 minutes class). All tracks have vocals, with lyrics in Finnish, but those of you unfamiliar with the language are not missing anything vital: most of the lyrics are the kind of quasi-socialist, “let’s call for universal peace and bash the bourgeois bastards” type of ranting which I guess was zeitgeist at the time the album was recorded. As for musical influences, the most obvious is King Crimson, especially in the last song “Manala” (Hades), which opens with a bittersweet acoustic guitar/flute section and then builds into a hardedged, gothic rocker with blaring saxophone and guitar. Likewise, the ghost of Van Der Graaf Generator haunts some of the sax solos and riffs. However, for most part I wouldn’t say the music is all that derivative. “Yksi maa – yksi kansa” (One Country – One People) alternates between melodic verses adorned with warm orchestral sounds, and some inspired instrumental parts, where various instruments solo and trade riffs over an active rhythm section negotiating odd time signatures. The tongue-in-the-cheek opener “Köyhän pojan kerjäys” (A Poor Boy Begging) even incorporates some ideas from Finnish folk and military marching music.

Geafar followed in 1973 and is more of a mixed-bag, though still a strong album. The 14-minute title track builds on and develops the first-album style: dark, doomy and driving with clear female vocals, bouncy, odd-time vocal sections, screaming sax and guitar solos, sparingly-used strings and a few subdued piano sections, it is definitely one of the highlights of Finnish prog in the 1970’s. However, elsewhere their sound is more stripped down and streamlined. The album’s only English song “Change” is just a straight-ahead, somewhat banal rocker with wah-wah guitar, sax, drums and a monstrously overdriven bass (which is even used as a solo instrument), padded out with jamming and extended solos. The two short songs “Kantaatti” (Cantata) and “Laulu surullisesta pilvestä” (The Song about a Sad Cloud), on the other hand, use piano, wordless female vocals, flute and subtle string arrangements to a very classically-elegant effect. Finally, “Kun menet tarpeeksi kauas tulevaisuuteen, huomaat olevasi menneisyydessä” (When You Go Far Enough into the Future, You’ll Find Yourself in the Past) in effect combines elements of all these styles and features a really weird-sounding guitar solo. The Ektro Records CD version includes four short bonus tracks recorded in 1976 and 1979. They range from funky, horn-driven fusion to catchy pop with nimble flute and synth leads.

I haven’t heard Haikara’s third album Iso Lintu (A Big Bird), but apparently it consists of nine shortish and simpler songs, though some of them still contain progressive ideas. The track “Romanssi” (Romance) at least became part of a larger symphonic rock composition called “Kuutamo” (Moonlight), of which no recording seems to have survived.

The band’s guitarist and musical prime mover Vesa Lattunen reformed the band in the 90’s with three younger musicians. Their sole release during the decade was called Haikara IV: Domino. The album contains six tracks and is generally more low-key. There are long, medium-tempo instrumental sections with alternating sax and guitar solos, all very nice and melodic, and occasional vocal sections. The compositions are well-crafted, though not particularly complex or developed, with some subtle Eastern influences; there is even some Gregorian chanting at the beginning of “Gloria Deo”. The production is very understated, perhaps aiming for the 70’s sound, but you occasionally get the feeling that there could have been more variation in instrumentation (e.g. the nearly inaudible keyboards could have been brought up to augment the guitar, which is now the sole polyphonic instrument). Overall, a very warm-sounding album. Actually, with all the unhurried tempos, clean-but-crispy guitar sounds and cymbal-heavy drumming, I am reminded of mid-70s Popol Vuh. Not as strong an album as the first one but still very worthwhile. — Kai Karmanheimo