Musically, there are generally two major approaches when combining black metal with Scandinavian folk music that come to mind: that of simply attempting to shoehorn folk instrumentation against the wall of sound guitars of black metal, or the more subtle (and usually preferred, at least in this writer’s admittedly biased opinion) methodology of incorporating traditional folk melodies and theory in harmony using tools more conventional to the metal genre. Paara, hailing from the always fertile metal scene of Helsinki, falls into the latter category, relying largely on their ancestral sense of musicality within the context of their chosen instruments. Their sophomore release, Riitti, is littered with these instances. Sung entirely in Finnish, Paara pulls their heritage through a blackened sieve of haunting, insidious fog to create a mesmerizing, and frankly, captivating exploration of ghastly folklore.
Throughout the duration of the album’s four songs and 42 minutes, Paara weave a tale full of hook-filled melodies across a larger-than-life sound. When the explosive moments hit, such as in the A-side climax of “Hurmeen Hauta,” everything is pushed to the front, providing an interesting contrast to the more dynamic “softer” passages on the album. The dichotomy works in the band’s favor, largely due to the songwriting: something is always happening. The instrumental passages are driven by melodious lead guitar work to keep things moving. Drummer Waara (of Paara, sorry, I had to) provides an excellent performance, serving the songs but not afraid to throw plenty of color with well thought out and executed fills. The vocals are of particular note, the band make full use of their two singers to tell their story. Paara mixes choral hymns with chanting, soothing and sorrowful cleans, as well as intense and powerful harsh vocals that hit hard at the more climatic points of the album. The band masterfully utilize the all of tools at their disposal to fill the record with color and accentuate the tension built by the music. Fans of the vocal approach of more contemporary Rotting Christ or acts like Batushka are sure to find plenty of enjoyment in moments such as the chants that close the album on “Kuiskaus pimeästä,” bringing a satisfying and fitting conclusion to the record.
Repeat listens of Riitti are rewarding; the melodic hooks dig in quickly, herding the listener in familiar territory but with enough going on below the surface to keep things fresh and interesting. The eerie folklore inspiration of the album is transcribed so well with the music; it just feels like a European ghost story based in mysticism and mythology, despite one’s comprehension of the lyrics. Being able to pull this off alone is no easy feat, and to do it within the context of catchy and memorable melodic black metal is to be commended.