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H.C. Slim - "The City Is Burning" (premiere)

Photo: Joose Keskitalo

Finnish singer-songwriter H.C. Slim preaches a fatalist gospel in his darkly pastoral video for "The City Is Burning".

Grasses grow wild in eastern Finland, filling in a landscape dotted with lakes - some small, others the largest in Europe - birch trees, and the occasional human inhabitants. Straddling the Russian border is the transnational region of Karelia, historically a point of occasional conflict between neighbors and now divided between them. It is here that the Finnish singer-songwriter H.C. Slim sets his video for "The City Is Burning", a track from 2018 album Sings.

With a melancholy twang to his voice, Slim proclaims that "all things must burn" between haunting shots of rusted farm equipment, snowed-upon roads, and dead animals. His sparse guitar is the only other instrument, the spaces between notes a chance to reflect on life, death, and their inextricable link.

If it sounds gloomy, that's by design. "Dark songs are cleansing," says Slim of his work. "I go through the rocky roads for my listeners." In doing so, he follows in the footsteps of other Finnish artists inspired by the forest, like Mirel Wagner and Paavoharju, but he fits in just as well with visionaries from across the globe, ones who can stand alone and at ease in the shadows - Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Laura Marling.

As quintessentially Finnish as a minimalist walk through nature may be, there is a universal appeal to H.C. Slim's fatalism, and his descriptions of troubled waters and the destructions of skylines are peaceful rather than mournful. This, too, is by design. "I don't feel like I am singing about dark things," Slim continues. "When the songs are dark, some sort of light starts to shine from strange places."

H.C. Slim is an artist who plays with dualities, be they as clear-cut as light and dark or as ephemeral as the infernal heat of his lyrics against the weary softness of his voice. On "The City Is Burning", he shows us the spaces of Finland in which all those things can come together into a bigger picture, and sings with one foot in the ghostly and one in the rural and very real.

Sings is out on 24 May via Svart Records.

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