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Heikki Laitinen & Kimmo Pohjonen

Murder Ballads

(Siba; US: 1 Aug 2012; UK: 1 Aug 2012)

From the couple of extremely scary looking murderers, shackled and awaiting execution, on the front cover, to the otherworldly music emanating from the speakers, this Finnish album by the vocalist Heikki Laitinen and accordion player Kimmo Pohjonen is one of the weirdest things I’ve heard for a while. Part folkloric chanting in Finnish, part gothic choral music, Murder Ballads demands repeated listening in order to let the sonic sounds ingrain themselves into your consciousness, and to appreciate the curveballs the couple throw into the mix.


After the funereal opener “Keisari Aleksanteri” we get the jaunty sea shanty-like “Rekilauluja Murhamiehista”. Unfortunately my Finnish is nonexistent so I have no idea what Heikki is singing about but he sounds happy as the accordion accompanies him. Perhaps death and murder are met with a resigned shrug as just part of life’s rich tapestry in Finland. Who knows?


The most intense song on the album is the eleven minute opus “Itkuvirsi Sodissa Kaatuneille” with what sounds like (again my rudimentary Finnish cannot help me here) a conversation between a mother or wife and the killers. The plaintive cries of the female voice crashes against the deep sonorous male vocal who appears to be making a mea culpa for the heinous crimes committed. Underneath this is a long and simple but emotive accordion piece highlighting the desperate plight of all those involved. It is genuinely moving as the male voice breaks down into sobs of anguish.


This album would normally be way off my radar but is one of those delightful discoveries. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an album you’ll put on to set the mood for a dinner party (umm well you might but that doesn’t bear thinking about!) but as an insight to another culture’s approach to murder, death and retribution it is oddly beautiful.

Rating:

Founder of the Birmingham Popular Music Archive and Exec Producer of the documentary Made in Birmingham: Reggae Punk Bhangra (you may discern a common theme here!) I get way more pleasure than is acceptable from uncovering obscure facts and stories about music from my home city. The sight of some long forgotten band performing on stage, captured in a crappy in 1970's photo, is likely to send me over the edge! In my spare time, I work with some fellow popular music and radio fanatics in the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research at Birmingham City University in the UK.


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