From the first rising fifth, Hurja Halla set their debut album Riitti (“Rite”) in purposeful motion. Once the first piece is properly underway, the rhythm has you tapping your feet. Fittingly for the time of writing – the dim and ominous autumn days around the age-old harvest festival kekri – Hurja Halla’s music invites you to dance away the darkness.
This rich and dynamic ensemble is in fact a duo with a sound bigger than its size. Liisa Haapanen’s main instrument is the cello, which has a lot of unexplored potential in the Finnish traditional music scene. Janne Ojajärvi is a versatile musician whose instruments on this record include pitkähuilu – an overtone flute, hailing from an ancient family of instruments – Jew’s harp and harmonica. The emphasis of the album is earthy instrumental music, with added vocals to spice things up. On the last track, “Outro”, we hear kulning, or herding calls, a vocal practice currently experiencing a revival, spurred by the popularity of the Finnish artist Vilma Jää.
Instrumental tracks are where this album is at its strongest: Hurja Halla translates literally as “wild frost” and in this music we hear echoes of the untamed wildness of the duo’s forerunners who drew on archaic aesthetics – the band Hedningarna come to mind. There is more than the occasional nod to the canon of Scandinavian “pagan folk”. Next to the fine, considered instrumentals, the vocal tracks and vocal sections are more sporadic, and as the album’s sound is otherwise heavily and successfully reliant on tradition, one might have hoped for a similar connection in the song lyrics and the singing. In particular, “Rommi” belongs aesthetically to a somewhat different world from the compelling archaic sound that dominates the rest of the album.
Riitti is a well-produced, polished and accomplished album. A streamlined entity of 30 minutes’ duration, it leaves you wanting more. The cello is perfectly at home among old folk instruments. The overall ambience of the album evokes something safely European, medieval, familiar. Drones, pentatonics and harmonics, the caterwauling of the Jew’s harp – the most powerful sections of the album rely on these ancient elements which is fitting. We look forward to their next albums with interest!
Hurja Halla: Riitti
Self release 2022
Translation: Anni Heino