I've been listening to this album on and off all day and it keeps on captivating me. It would be easy to just dismiss it as old hippie music, as we've been rather conditioned by pop culture to think that way, but chat with any old record collector and they'll regale you for hours about underrated rock, folk and psych from the late sixties and early seventies, albums that most will never hear but that resonate to the knowing. And this reminds me of those in general and one of them in particular.
I'd be very surprised if the folk behind Dust Mountain haven't heard Parallelograms, the album by Linda Perhacs that was almost universally ignored on its release in 1970 but which has become an important influence to many, including Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth. It's overt in the opening track, Harvest Maiden, and it's overt in Holy Equinox, which feels like Perhacs singing for Hexvessel.
And, talking of Hexvessel, the last time I mentioned Perhacs at Apocalypse Later was in my review of their wyrd folk masterpiece, Kindred, my album of the year for 2020. And, looking at the line-up of Dust Mountain, I see drummer Jukka Rämänen of Hexvessel among members of a who's who of bands from the Finnish psychedelic and avant-garde scenes. Organist Toni Hietamäki performs for Oranssi Pazuzu and the Waste of Space Orchestra; guitarist Pauliina Lindell hails from Vuono; and bassist Riku Pirttiniemi is part of Death Hawks.
The most obvious presence as we begin is Henna Hietamäki of post-rock/dreampop outfit Cats of Transnistria. She's an ethereal presence, her soft voice inviting us into all sorts of things we know nothing about and might enjoy but come to regret. Never accept a gift from the Fae, right? She's a dreamweaver of a singer and we tumble headlong into the worlds she conjures up without even thinking twice. She isn't kidding when she sings that we're under her spell. She opened her mouth and that's all it took.
I mention Fae gifts because these songs initially seem sweet and innocent but gradually reveal an acutely dark side. The longer we listen, the darker we realise it all really is. It was there all along in the lyrics, hiding in plain sight, telling of dancing with the devil, of burning down villages and of casting spells over people. It's there in the music as well, if we pay a little more attention, though it becomes unmistakeable by the time we get to Apollo, the album's eight and a half minute epic.
Before that point, there are jarring moments in some early songs that shake us momentarily as if we're waking up from a dream, before they shift back into comforting, deceptive beauty. They're warnings, just like the final note in Village on Fire to return us to reality from the trancelike state we've just spent the previous five minutes and forty-nine seconds. And then Apollo, with its overt and dark chords and, well, we can't be helped at that point. We've already committed ourselves to being willing sacrifices.
There's a lot to digest here in an album hiding behind its bright and cheerful hippie demeanour. It isn't bright and cheerful, or, if it is, it isn't for everyone. There's folk here, of course, with a neatly psychedelic edge, but that's not all that's to be found on these grooves. Under My Spell features jazz beats. A number of songs betray the rock and metal roots of many of its musicians. It's never just one of those things either, because it's always mixing things up.
It isn't this year's Kindred. I frankly wasn't expecting anything to be that good, while lying in wait like a panther for something that is. It's a damn good album though and it underlines just how we should be paying very close attention to what's coming out of Finland lately, especially what can't be easily confined in a single bucket.