Elmo Karjalainen – Age Of Heroes – Album Review
If you’ve been following along with the SBS Podcast lately, that’s all the proof you’d need to know we’ve continued to remain a fan of guitar-virtuoso Elmo Karjalainen ever since we had the privilege of reviewing it for the first time in the middle of 2015. Just as we were reminding ourselves about the skills and talents this musical-madman has by spinning “Don’t Quit Yer Day Job” on the show, turns out, Elmo’s got an entirely new album that just came out officially this month on February 3rd this year! Welcome to the Age Of Heroes…where it is indeed the axeman that slayeth the planet…
Though…at first…through the soft & haunting piano and atmosphere of “Warm Welcome” – you’d almost believe that Elmo’s gone in an entirely different direction for about forty seconds before the guitars come in. Truthfully…I could listen to this all day long…the curious, tender and mysterious melody is pretty much everything I seek out in music as far as a real-experience is concerned. That being said…I know from previous experience that Elmo is not normally this calm and this chill…and as much as he’s audibly convinced me I could stay in this particular setting of a “Warm Welcome” forever – I knew it wouldn’t be long at all before he unleashed the beast. That beast has a name – and it’s “How Can Less Be More?”
“How Can Less Be More?” opens like it’s a song that just ended on its grand-finale moment and THEN it begins! You gotta dig that! Intense rhythm and groove allow for an extreme & serious vibe that runs through the determined course of the structure and sound, all while still blasting us off into the stratosphere with a blazing sonic-fury of guitar-solos kicking ass at every moment. The liner-notes that I’ve got for this record reveal much about Elmo personally, his approach & musicianship and also notably, his own sense of humor and self. I listen to a LOT of music all day, every day; and apparently…according to these notes on Elmo’s record here…there’s like…some playing that isn’t ‘spot-on’ that occurs somewhere in “How Can Less Be More?” – and I’ve got a shiny five-dollar bill here for anyone that’s not Elmo that can tell me where those spots might be! I mean…c’mon brother-man! If anything, you’re the only one that would EVER know that…secondly…MAN…give yourself some credit for all the amazing things that are truly going RIGHT on “How Can Less Be More?!” An extreme ride full of incredible contrast between the low-end rhythms and bright-layers of solos overtop…a song that really brings the intended storm after the calm of the album’s opening – I think “How Can Less Be More?” was a rad way to start the record with full-throttle energy ripping from every bar & beat.
Elmo brings in some fantastic guest-stars on this record to help bring these songs to life with a different vibe…which has got to be an absolute trip for him to listen to personally. For us…I think for many of us…it’s more amazing guitar-work that were you not looking to the liner-notes, you might very well assume that you’re hearing another all-Elmo track. Credit where credit is due though – Derek Sherinian steps in to lay some absolutely killer solos into the mix here – incredible textures and sounds really take this song over in the middle in all the best of ways. Amazing depth to the sounds we hear and unique to the point that they stand-out even beyond the intentions of already standing-out as a solo – it’s the texture and tones that really pull you into “The Colour Of Greed.” By thirty-seconds in, you might even assume you were getting a meat & potatoes straight-ahead rock tune until shortly after one of the most vibrant early highlights on the record happens through the incredible guitar-work laid down here.
I could easily write an entire essay or perhaps mini-novel on all I’d want to say about “Chikken Noodul” – but let me start by saying this and let it ring true with the rest of you musicians out there…THANK-YOU Elmo for including liner-notes! I grew up on the physical-album…back in the time when these things MATTERED still…and I’d sit there and read them over and over, just like I’ve been doing with this album. “Chikken Noodul” is entirely interesting to me in the sense that so much is going right here with its intoxicating & mysterious atmosphere that it was pretty astonishing to find out parts of this were improvised…and that got me thinking. When a rapper freestyles on the mic, they get ALL the credit in the world but you almost never hear about a band or artist going into the studio and doing their thing on the fly…and I’m sure it probably happens quite a bit truthfully, but it was really interesting to learn that the solo on “Chikken Noodul” was formed in that inspirational moment. Proving that some of those times can still lead to some of our best – I thought the entire experience of “Chikken Noodul” was chilled, haunting, melodic and truly enchanting. There’s a real pull into the atmosphere and sound of this song that I think really takes you away in your mind and puts you at ease; mind you, the eerie beginning eventually transforms to make it that way…but by the end, blissfully peaceful and serene.
Not to be fooled…I know when Elmo gets quiet, things are bound to get LOUD right around the corner. Lighting it up with him on “A Fertile Discussion” is Mattias IA Eklund; together they hit this one HARD and really take the song to the extremities of every direction. The massive-punch to the backing rhythm, the swift and skilled, precision-solos deftly gliding overtop…like MAN…some of these moments – listen to the exit around 2:15…love that kind of stuff! Right after a huge solo…we drop into the background to reset before another solo filled with mad technique, texture and style. There’s a part of me that knows that the consistent & relentless chops of the low-end rhythm might wear on a few people out there…but I’d argue they’re supporting this track really well and providing excellent contrast. Ending on the cheekiest of notes…you might recognize some of the final seconds of “A Fertile Discussion” from the Simpsons theme. Solid heavy groove on “A Fertile Discussion” as far as I’m concerned – I thought this one came out with real definition and strong intentions to make its impact.
Grinding & winding his way onto “The Grassy Gnoll” – I really dig the way journey this song sends us on and some extraordinary solos in this one that are played with the real passion, precision and professionalism that makes Elmo’s music amazing to listen to. I loved the transition around the three-minute mark on this cut…the kind of moment that really elevates everything we hear right into that next-level. EK plays this one so fast & furiously at times it will completely make your head spin – but it also makes moments like the fourth-minute come through even sweeter as “The Grassy Knoll” comes to a crashing halt and gentle-transition into its more delicate final gear. Perfectly leading us out of “The Grassy Knoll” to the alt-blues sound of “Blue Eyes” – you’re about to get another solid dose of where I’m at when it comes to Elmo’s music. From my first spin through the record and from there on, right up to the time I’m writing these very words you’re reading now and surely beyond – I was convinced that “Blue Eyes” represented some of the best I’ve heard from Elmo to-date. Having a look at the liner-notes, you’ll read that he actually wrote this one for his wife Sanna – and I think that beyond the shadow of a doubt, real love is truly what you hear in this track. I was blown away by the amount of emotion that “Blue Eyes” conveys and just how incredible it is to listen to; the recording & production is astounding, crisp & clear…Elmo gets the most out of each and every note here. A song that really talks to you – you can audibly hear the guitar singing “Blue Eyes” when he hits the chorus of this tune – I’d die happily if I had a song this good written for me one time in a lifetime…and I’d imagine Sanna’s probably had a few like this written by Elmo for her along the way. Lucky lady if you ask me…but as you can hear from the emotion-filled tones and love in the writing, movement and sound of “Blue Eyes” – being this inspired certainly suggests that Elmo too, is one lucky guy. Awwwwwwwwwwww! Mushy-stuff! It truly is an extraordinary song though…in all seriousness, “Blue Eyes” is a real highlight on this record.
Age Of Heroes is inspired as much by music-heroes as it does examine the role of political figures in today’s crumbling structures. “Party Political Speech” pretty much says it all…it’s a smart inclusion that helps demonstrate the inspiration behind the mechanics of this record through its short spoken-word…and then we’re back to the music with record’s title-tune. “Age Of Heroes” has the raddest & baddest grunge-guitar thread bending in its grimy, grim & distorted rhythm-line and real crunch in the background. The lead-guitars…as soaring and reliable as ever; Elmo’s created some really imaginative parts to glide his way through this one. That main rhythm is a BONE CUTTER though! Absolutely love the amount of bite this title-track has…the sounds are so immaculately well-produced, well-played, well-recorded that you can’t help but notice the sheer amount of sonic force that both “Age Of Heroes” the song and Age Of Heroes the album puts on display.
Joined by two officially-crowned & renowned Guitar Gods, Janne Nieminen and Emil Pohjalainen – the intense pace and beat of “A Meeting Of The Gods (And This Guy)” is about as furious as it gets. Love the texture and sound of the beat on this one…it’s like a construction-scene got itself organized and started really jamming it out with the hammers & nails. Lead-guitars and solos on this one will BLOW YOUR MIND right out of your brain-hole…so be ready! The breakdown just before the three-minute mark is so insanely cool, I can’t even begin to describe. Elmo and his crew of ace-talent absolutely rip, shred and blaze through this track, holding absolutely nothing back from the moment “A Meeting Of The Gods (And This Guy)” kicks-in. Never letting up for a second, this track just pounds and pounds and pounds its way to a solid victory as one of the album’s most vibrant, dynamic and all-out powerful tunes.
Being a melody/slow-jam guy myself…as impressive as songs like “Age Of Heroes” and “A Meeting Of The Gods (And This Guy)” or other examples of the up-tempo grip & grind of Elmo’s music are…it’s the songs like “Blue Eyes” and the album’s next tune “Sunset” that are always going to connect with me the strongest. The sincerity in Elmo’s playing is stunning on “Sunset” – it moves slowly, beautifully and precisely…each tone and note played to perfection with real emotion you can genuinely hear. Huge bass-tone swells rise and fall in the background as the guitar soars dreamily overtop; “Sunset” is the kind of song that can give you that authentic out of body experience and send you and your mind to wherever your imagination will lead you. Absolutely beautiful and brilliant – another highlight from the chilled-out side of Elmo’s music; still plenty of amazing & intricate solos in there to keep your attention while “Sunset” floats dreamily along, but for the most-part, quite the relaxing vibe overall.
The “Return Of The Silly English Person” sharply reminds Elmo to get back to the music – and so he does. “Falling For Falafels” has a rad choppy-beat & groove driving its backing layers and the solos overtop have incredible attitude and style. Once again assisted by the talents of Mattias IA Eklund – together, they’ve put together an extraordinary song here that boasts an insightful and inspiring amount of changes in its structure, flow and writing. You really can’t help but be entertained by a song like this – those guitar-parts have such character and really jump right out of the speakers at you; the shift into the chorus of “Falling For Falafels” is one of the best twists in sound on the entire record, taking the vibrant rock into a dreamy & melodic atmosphere. Excellent contrast and dynamics fuse these two-main parts of the song together fantastically as the guitars flex unbelievable solos you’ll be apt to tell your grandchildren about hearing one day.
Awesome switch in the timing, tone & demeanor of “Lost In A Foreign Scale” – this track really hit the mark for me on all-fronts, big-time. The massive amount of crunch in the rhythm on this one could reach out and bite your sandwich right out of your hand…not even kidding. For real metal-fans…”Lost In A Foreign Scale” is set to impress; it’s big, it’s burly, it’s BEEFY…and it means business. Not only does this track hit extremely hard, it’s insanely entertaining through both its rhythm and lead-parts…sounds like some really smartly laced synth-work in there too…maybe about five or more layers are coming together by doing their own things and interlocking & syncing-up at the perfect times & intervals to really make this mother move. And at the very least…if you’re the awesome person in the room willing to play an instrumental guitar-based album for a roomful of friends that listen to whatever normal-people listen to…”Lost In A Foreign Scale” should do well to make sure they’re all still plenty awake and paying attention – this song commands it. Elmo describes this one best through the liner-notes…”This one kind of combines Meshuggah and Steve Vai” – couldn’t have said it better myself.
Offering serenity through sound, Elmo continues on with the heavy emotions & atmosphere of “Three Days Of Peace” and enters a more traditional realm of the instrumental guitarist. Backed by swirling synth-notes…LISTEN to the tones this guy gets out of his guitar between the 1:30-2:00 mark and you’ll hear a fine example of ‘it’s not just what you play, but HOW you play it’ – Elmo shows he’s got the feel, chops & passion to compete with the best of the best. The soaring notes of “Three Days Of Peace” are audibly fantastic to listen to…the kind of notes that can run chills through your spine as they hang in the air; Elmo makes amazing use of the space and atmosphere around him in this slow-paced jam. Inspired by three-days of vacationing with his wife Sanna in a paradise known as Korppoo…again, I think you can hear the added sincerity and passion in these songs inspired by his significant other. The man has certainly found his muse…and she’s influencing some of the best in his creativity to come out into his music – I truly you can hear that powerful inspiration of love, peace & harmony on a song like “Three Days Of Peace.”
Age Of Heroes begins to wind-down beautifully over the course of its final three tunes. The smoothness of “Limiting Rationality” makes for one of the most accessible tunes on the record coming out on the album’s second-to-last cut; I think the beginning of this song and its defined bass-lines leading the rhythm are strong enough to pull the people in on that element alone. Rad effects on the guitar in this one allow the echo to drift into the space of the music…the mix on this one is equally inspiring, you get every single ounce of tone, squelch, pop and squeal from these notes courtesy of the crystal-clear production and clever spacing of the track itself. The amped-up & crunchy chorus of this one actually brought a smile to my face…that backing rhythm is so dirty, big & mean compared to how bright, cheery & victorious everything surrounding it sounds; it’s the rare form of such extreme contrast that truly works together in harmony…the kind that can only be orchestrated by someone at the helm of the project that has a real vision for the way things are supposed to sound…and that, is Elmo to a tee.
Exiting the experience in an even gentler-fashion than where it initially began – “Breathe,” the album’s final tune takes melody to an isolated & intimate, tender atmosphere. Letting the notes ring out into the atmosphere, “Breathe” is a real moment of relaxation and musical therapy for the soul. I like that Elmo’s music tends to showcase a variety of emotions and freedom of expression…that his songs are multi-faceted, real, and have multiple-gears, even in the simplest of settings like “Breathe.” I dig the sweetness that dominates the sentiment & sound of this last song…but I also like that for a brief moment it also takes a short, curious turn towards a questioning-sound that invades the middle of this melody as if to remind us that everything beautiful has a deeper meaning in behind it all. Ending on the subtlety of “Breathe” was a gorgeous way to end the record; Age Of Heroes is a seriously wild ride from its beginning to its final moments and as stunningly engaging, captivating and charismatic of an album as you’d ever hope to find in the instrumental section.
Find out more about Elmo Karjalainen at his official homepage at: http://www.elmojk.com