In an excellent gesture, Ritva Nero restores the vital connection between music and dance. This music is clearly made for dancing – but in what way? That is for the listener to decide. Most of the tracks occupy two levels as far as dancing goes: one can dance Finnish and Karelian folk dances with their familiar steps to this music or listen to the metal sounds and make a mosh pit out of it.
The recipe here combines traditional fiddler dances such as polkas or quadrilles with a heavy metal rumble laid on with a trowel by Jani Snellman on bass and Patrik Fält on drums. The drumming is particularly fascinating, considering the layered rhythms: e.g. a slow schottische on the bottom, virtuoso fireworks on top. The band uses the hashtag #headbangingfolk, which pretty much says it all. Instead of just adding a nice, tidy drum kit to folk music, the metal element here certainly makes its presence felt.
Sax player Sanna Salonen wrote most of the pieces on the disc. She is a musician firmly rooted in traditional music, and in a way these pieces could very well date from the 19th century. The melodies are energetic and straightforward, and very catchy. Because the band has no harmony instruments, melody and rhythm are very prominent. This lends the music a certain archaic flavour that for the most part works well, although it is a slight detriment to the upbeat major-key flavour of a mazurka, for instance.
The bright soprano sax is balanced by two idiosyncratic folk instruments, bagpipes (Petri Prauda) and keyed fiddle (Emilia Lajunen). One feels they should be given more exposure on their own, for enjoyment of their rough-edged tone. Rahapolska Helsingistä does just that, providing an enjoyable change of sonority in the middle of the disc.
I wrote my first concert review of Ritva Nero four years ago, and the band have gained international attention in the meantime, but only now have they released their début disc. It is a carefully matured album produced to a high standard, up to and including the informative liner notes. It is well worth a listen, although it is always preferable if one has the opportunity to hear the band live – it is quite an experience to see folk dancers and headbangers side by side. It remains to be seen how far this format can be taken and whether there is room for growth within it.
Ritva Nero: Immortal Tradition
Bafe's Factory / Nordic Notes, 2022
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi