After the frequently bonkers pop prog excesses of “Stars Aligned”, the Finnish rockers planned to pare down the songs for the follow-up. Like most plans “Nine Lives” did not turn out entirely as intended. During recording those pesky prog gremlins crept in and thank goodness they did.
The opening trio of tracks continue the trajectory of the previous two albums. Catchy and direct songwriting is offset by unexpected embellishments. The lead single, ‘Flowers and Rust’, is a rock power ballad viewed through the Von Hertzen kaleidoscope. ‘Coming Home’ with its hard-rocking chorus sounds like Billy Idol covering Queen, or vice versa; either way it’s barking mad and completely brilliant.
After this initial salvo the album takes on a more ponderous mood courtesy of ‘Lost in Time’s doomy Sabbath plod, B-movie theremin and explosions of white noise. Polyrhythmic acoustic guitars grace the King Crimson-esque ‘One May Never’. It’s easy to imagine that these songs were fully formed at the demo stage before being progged up but it’s those final dustings of magic and non-obvious instrumentation choices that make this band so unusual and loved within the genre. Who else but these brothers would perform an a capella Christian plainchant in a Finnish monastery which transforms into a Walker Brothers/Phil Spector anthemic pop tune? ‘Black Heart’s Cry’ will please the old guard as it doesn’t so much pay homage to prog legends of old, it’s a fully-realised imagining of what would happen if Rick Wakeman had joined Jethro Tull.
“Nine Lives” is perhaps the band’s most varied release to date. It doesn’t have the same consistent rush of adrenaline that was present on “Stars Aligned” and the slight lull in energy towards the middle seems to be a strange sequencing decision. This aside it’s another great album from the number one rock band in Finland. If only music this inventive and daring was so celebrated in every country.