Auri by AuriRelease date: March 23, 2018
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Auri is a new project from Nightwish members Tuomas Holopainen and Troy Donockley, and Holopainen’s wife, Finnish vocalist Johanna Kurkela. Born from writing sessions Donockley, Kurkela and Holopainen began some time ago, the project slowly took on an identity and life of its own. Over the past year, as Holopainen and Donockley took time away from Nightwish, Auri’s eponymous debut has taken shape in the studio.
Auri is named for a recurring character in Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles novels – a character that has also been given her own story, The Slow Regard Of Silent Things. It’s an unusual story because, in a sense, little actually happens. The reader follows the shy, reclusive Auri’s routine over a period of time as she moves around the hidden underground labyrinth where she lives, away from the hustle and bustle of the everyday world. Rothfuss takes time over every small detail, poetically describing each sight and sound in loving detail. As the reader spends more time with the reclusive young woman, the overriding sensation is one of timelessness, and a new-found joy in the most insignificant minutiae.
This new project is well named, for in a way listening to this album has a similar effect. Those hoping for something akin to the dramatic Gothic metal of Nightwish, or even the symphonic sweep of Holopainen’s solo outing, Music Inspired By The Life And Times Of Scrooge, will have those hopes resoundingly dashed: this is a very different proposition. Those familiar with Donockley’s own music and area of musical expertise are probably the best equipped to understand what’s on offer here, as his array of folk-oriented instrumentation – notably his uillean pipes and assorted whistles – is very much to the fore throughout. That’s not to say that Auri are a folk band – but there’s a much greater folk influence here than in the other bands these musicians have been involved with. For Nightwish fans, the most obvious touchstone is the song ‘The Islander’, from 2007’s Dark Passion Play. Whilst the songs are lushly arranged where required, a lot of the music on offer here is stark and unadorned, often taking the form of Kurkela’s sweet vocals duetting with a single instrument. There’s a strong celtic tone through much of the record.
Lyrically, however, the album shares a lot of DNA with latter-day Nightwish. Mortality, always one of Holopainen’s favourite themes, is tackled several times here, as is the idea that people should be free to live as they choose, unshackled by convention or by oppressive governments or controlling personalities. There’s also some lovelorn balladry in the form of the touching ‘Desert Flower’, beautifully sung as a duet between Donockley and Kurkela; there are also some decidedly experimental left turns, like the simmering instrumental ‘The Name Of The Wind’, and the slowly evolving ‘Underthing Solstice’, which begins and ends in near-silence, its hushed, meditative feel deeply evocative of the Rothfuss-devised environment that inspired it. There’s even room for some gentle humour, in the shape of the closing ‘Them Thar Chanterelles’, which has the euphoric feel of a traditional celtic reel. It makes for an uplifting finale.
Whilst it’s not necessary to have read Rothfuss’s dense but immersive novels to appreciate what Auri have created, listeners that have will be able to tell that some of the material here carries extra significance and references – lyrically, as well as in the track titles themselves – to places, characters and themes from Rothfuss’s work. To the band’s credit, this intertextuality is subtly accomplished, and the material never relies on it to carry its message. If anything, it could – and should – encourage more people to pick up Rothfuss’s excellent books.
This is a record that’s best approached without the weight of preconceptions. It lacks the immediate drama and theatrical flourishes of Nightwish’s music, and almost entirely eschews the grandiose symphonic feel that Holopainen typically brings to his music. As is the case with Rothfuss’s much-loved character, with whom it shares its name, Auri is softly spoken and understated almost to a fault. This record has a big heart, and its message is simple. All you have to do is listen.