I was challenged into writing a primer on one of Finland's primary songwriters of all time by u/Zhanteimi
at the LetsTalkMusic discord
. So here's an album-by-album runthrough of his career! Context
No artist's career begins with the first album, so naturally nor did Alanko's. Long story short, he was born in a highly artistic family (mother a poet, all siblings musicians), picked cello as his instrument of choice, found rock (especially the Hurriganes debut
) and picked a guitar, wrote his first song 'Suck and Fuck All Night Long' (no recordings of this exist, but apparently one of his bands named itself after the song), and formed a number of bands with varying levels of success. His most succesful pre-Hassisen Kone band was a prog band called Sight, which got on the second place in the prog section of Finnish Rock Championship competition (in 1977 or 1978). After he finished high school in the spring of 1979, he moved to Stockholm for the summer. This turned out to be the decision that became the catalyst for huge parts of his career, including... Hassisen Kone
- Täältä tullaan Venäjä
While in Stockholm, Alanko caught wind of a new wave of rock beginning in Finland. A breath of fresh air in the previously stale rock scene. He returned to Joensuu and put together a band from his bandmates from Sight (Reijo Heiskanen and Harri Kinnunen), and Harri's then 17-year-old brother Jussi. They eventually named the band Hassisen Kone, after a sewing machine store in town (the deeply religious shopkeeper was not amused).
The band recorded an album-length demo in 1979 and were signed on a label relatively quickly. They were also qualified to enter the 1980 Finnish Rock Championship competition (even though the judges nearly disqualified them, for they thought they might be professional musicians performing under fake names), which they won, gaining reputation preceding the recording of their debut album.
In August of 1980, the band released Täältä tullaan Venäjä
. Propelled by arguably the biggest hit single in Alanko's career, Rappiolla
[which was hilariously
covered by Metallica
recently (which was spontaneously responded to by Ismo Alanko
himself)], the album became a smash hit. The album provides variety from straight-up new wave punk to talkingheadsian grooves, schlager punk, simplified swing jazz, ska-infused rock, to whatever you'd categorise 'Viimeinen rock ennen aivokuolemaa' as. It's an ambitious yet consistent whole but, in my opinion, the weakest of the three Hassisen Kone albums. The youthful anarchic feel it has can be refreshing every now and then, but this burst of energy from an obviously young (only two of the bandmembers even in their 20s, band only half a year old) band is redirected better on the follow-up. Hassisen Kone
- Rumat sävelet
Following the release of their debut, the band found themselves in a position that many acts today would both fear and envy: they played hundreds of gigs in the second half of 1980 and the first half of 1981. The gruesome touring around the country took a toll on the young band, but that's only barely comparable to the toll that the audience took on them. For example, as time went by, the band grew tired of the audience drunkenly demanding 'Rappiolla', so they stopped playing the song altogether. This time of maturing and growing more and more cynical reflected on their sophomore effort. Rumat sävelet
should not necessarily be described as bleak per se, but it is certainly darker, tighter, and more mature than the band's debut. The band tackles sounds ranging from quasi-prog expression to post-punk, punk, psychobilly, and they take the talkingheadsian qualities into a sharper direction. The lyrics touch upon issues like love, exploitation, and sex (it's curious to think that probably the most explicit Finnish song about sex before this album was about "curly armpit hair", while Alanko dares to sing about penetration itself). I have to admit that I have a bit of a bias when it comes to this one though, as it's undoubtedly my favourite album of all time. Hassisen Kone
- Harsoinen teräs
(and High Tension Wire
In 1981, the band participated on a riverboat tour with a couple of other punk acts. During this tour, the bassist broke (drugs), Alanko met "Safka" Pekkonen, and the band was generally put under huge stress as the diet consisting mainly of alcohol began burning them down and their every move was documented by either film makers Mika and Aki Kaurismäki or the columnist documenting the tour for a zine. Despite all this, some of the better live recordings of the band come from this tour, and both the live album and the Kaurismäki documentary are worth digging up for the music.
After the tour, the band expanded into a septet with the addition of a keyboardist (Pekkonen), a saxophonist (Antti Seppo), and a percussionist (Hannu Porkka). The final form of the band was shaped during the rehearsals by the departure of guitarist Heiskanen, who was replaced by the guitar wizard Jukka Orma.
Released in March of 1982, Harsoinen teräs
is the band's most artistically ambitious work. It's an album combining the band's prog leanings seamlessly with the band's new wave leanings, a polished whole that takes cues from I don't even know where. Reggae at least on a couple of tracks, prog and new wave on most, but the general sound is unlike anything I've ever encountered. The album was re-recorded in English as High Tension Wire
later on in the year, after a tour had slightly tightened the band's sound. The decision to do so apparently came after the decision to disband the band, which makes it a very baffling addition to Hassisen Kone's discography. You'd think that they'd release an album in English as an attempt to break into international markets, right? Sielun Veljet
- Sielun Veljet
After Hassisen Kone was disbanded (in August 1982), Alanko had a schlager rock project
that eventually turned into Sielun Veljet by December. The band was comprised of Alanko, Orma, a drummer veteran Alf Forsman, Alanko's Stockholm contact Jouko Hohko on bass, Vinski Viholainen doing lighting, and a future cult legend Jouni Mömmö
doing "weird noises".
Sielun Veljet were signed in early 1983, but they refused to record a studio album because Viholainen's lighting work wouldn't show in a studio recording. Instead, as a compromise, they agreed on recording a live album where "the lighting would affect the ambiance". They set out to do this on a tour they began on March, planning on recording the first show and the last one. However, fate interfered and Orma accidentally cut tendons from his fingers during the tour while cutting bread, which made the recordings from the last show basically unusable due to his difficulties in adjusting to the situation (a very punk move to finish the tour even with torn tendons, by the way).
The live album is punk/post-punk goodness. It's noisy, no-wavey rock that really shows how the band took all the drugs in the process of writing these harsh, repetitive songs. It also shows that Alanko wished to abandon messing around with intricate compositions in favour of a more stripped and primal expression. Sielun Veljet
In summer of 1983, the band brightened up a bit to record this odd EP in a style following directly from the debut. It's angular and distorted, yet the melodies are more melodic and jamming less bleak. It's also the home of the only a capella punk song
I've ever heard. Sielun Veljet
- Hei soturit
In 1984, Sielun Veljet took their first coherent step toward a pop/rock idiom with their first studio album. Hei soturit
is the awkward outlier between the band's grimy punk era and commercial rock era. It feels like a punk band working with a producer who doesn't understand punk, but even the clumsy production doesn't entirely hide the fact that some of these songs are absolutely iconic. From punk to garage rock, general oddness, and flirting even with metal, this selection of songs does provide good variety for anyone digging deeper in Alanko's body of work. Sielun Veljet
The Sielun Veljet breakthrough album! The beginning of their rock era of albums, an only mildly angular affair with anthemic choruses and a muscular production. It was recorded after the band had toured all over Europe, honing their sound and Alanko finding a lot to say about international affairs and the human condition.
There are a plenty of anecdotes from the time of release of this album. The song 'On mulla unelma' was written by Alanko in Spain, when he was recovering from a disease (can't remember which one. Dysentery?) and bitter about nationalism, and it caused quite a scandal when the band unexpectedly debuted it on live television. They performed an impromptu Red Riding Hood play on their album release party instead of playing music. One of the members went missing in Russia for days after the band found a corpse. All of their instruments were stolen in Spain. There'd a lot to unpack from 1984-5 alone. Sielun Veljet
- Kuka teki huorin
The follow-up to L'amourha
takes the band to a funkier place. It's a minor downgrade from the previous effort, a slightly directionless and overpolished effort that has diverse variety from RHCP-like funk rock to tango-infused rock, tribal chants, and what's essentially watered down imitation of their earlier work. It's an easy album to criticise, yet I don't find ever to be outright bad. A lot of it is extremely forgettable though L'amourder
Sielun Veljet recorded a bunch of their songs in English as L'amourder
. Most of them follow the originals very closely, but there are a few surprises. The biggest change is on the translation of 'Tuulelta vastauksen saan', which has been turned into a cover of Bob Dylan's 'Blowin' in the Wind'. Sielun Veljet
- Suomi - Finland Suomi - Finland
begins the last era of the band, as this album brings more acoustic instruments to the mix and begins to flirt with psychedelia in a way that will culminate on the follow-up. It feels like a breaking point for the band, as it sprawls on multiple directions at once, the musicians seemingly having lost focus. It feels like a band slowly drifring apart, yet it remains consistently captivating as the different influences come together in this chaotic work. "Various Artists"
Sielun Veljet performed under a number of false identities on their Onnenpyörä-tour, four of which make an appearance on this recording. All of these are cover bands of sorts, and each one of them had a different repertoire of songs they played on these wildly differing sets. The most noteworthy of these personae
are the pavillion dance band Kullervo Kivi ja Gehenna-yhtye and the rock band Leputation of the Slaves, the two having the most songs on the record. Sielun Veljet
- Softwood Music Under Slow Pillars
Who would have thought that the noisy punk band in 1983 would eventually release what could be called a psychedelic flamenco album in 1989? Many factors come together here, as the band continues on their effort to sell their music internationally by making the biggest left turn in memory. Orma's fascination with flamenco combines here with influences Alanko picked up in India and what could be called a somewhat logical progression from the budding psychedelia of Suomi - Finland
. It's a weird album, that's for sure. A bit inconsistent, but easily among the strangest albums I've ever heard. Ismo Alanko
- Kun Suomi putos puusta
In 1990, Alanko found himself in a situation where Sielun Veljet had almost run its course and he could finally start building a solo career. He recorded this solo debut as a quasi-concept album about rural flight, combining the various interest he wasn't able to pursue with the band into a unique singesongwriter album of sorts. It's a classic album and, in some ways, an ideal entry point into Alanko's work as it feels like it's his personal expression in its purest form.
The music on the album sounds mainly like pop rock of sorts, but it also takes cues from melancholic singesongwriter stuff, joyous showtunes, post-punk akin to Nick Cave's work, and some field recording experiments. It finds a good balance between artistic ambition and catchiness, and it's home to some of the most iconic tracks in Ismo Alanko songbook. Sielun Veljet
- Musta laatikko
Do you know Tom Waits' Orphans
? This one is kind of like that. Three discs filled with random stuff recorded over years.
The first disc, "Muistinmenetys", is one third a new studio album (very weird new direction to take, something that feels like a cross between chill hippie jamming and 80s dance pop), one third music from some production, and one third short excerpts from live performances. The second disc, "Taudinkuva", is mainly live performances of late 80s Sielun Veljet songs, Tuomari Nurmio covers, and some other oddities. And finally, the third disc, "Isältä pojalle", is a full pavillion dance set, the band LARPing as a suave and jazzy house band playing waltz, tango, schlager, and anything that's really expected of them.
This album is definitely a skippable one, but there are a few gems that an Ismo Alanko fan might get a lot out of. The flamenco pieces are cool, the Tuomari Nurmio covers are nice (more about those later), and that pavillion dance set is unexpectedly fun, especially if you're not already familiar with the tradition. Ismo Alanko
- Jäätyneitä lauluja
Alanko goes electronic! This album was originally lauded as cutting edge and a sign of significant artistic growth, but it has definitely fallen in popularity over the years. It sounds extremely like a product of its time, so if you like non-industrial synthpop-y rock from 90s, this is exactly your thing. Overall, it's still very surprising how many Alanko live staples come from this album though, and how some of his live bands have improved on all of them. Ismo Alanko
If someone doesn't think that Kun Suomi putos puusta
is Alanko's magnum opus, they usually pick this one. Taiteilijaelämää
feels like a combination of the first two solo albums (acoustic, electric, and electronic joining hands in harmony), but brought into the mid-90s rock idiom. The result is an interesting album that lacks real highs but remains consistently accessible, and the one Ismo Alanko work I've heard to have resonated with Beck fans for some reason. Ismo Alanko
I made the mistake of learning that this album was written in only two weeks (because Alanko wanted to test himself), and now that's all I can think of while listening to it. This does
feel halfbaked. The accessible rock sound it has is underproduced and covers up lazy songwriting more than once. That said, Alanko has later on proven that some of these songs can be absolutely amazing live, and the demo-like quality many of these tracks have can be seen as a feature instead of a bug. Pushing its flaws aside, I feel that it is underappreciated as an album, and feel like its high points deserve more attention. Ismo Alanko Säätiö
Säätiö was an interesting group. I'm honestly still a bit unclear whether they should be considered Alanko's backing band, a band that just happened to capitalise on his name, or a fullblown collective of musicians. Alanko's statements concerning the group together with the changing lineups on Säätiö albums both point to all three options. What I do know is that the band has two distinct eras, the first one kickstarted by Pulu
I genuinely believe that the first iterarion of Säätiö is the most important band Alanko worked with. The amount of pure talent in that band is staggering with Jussi Kinnunen (Hassisen Kone) on bass, Teho Majamäki (HC Andersen, Tapani Rinne, Ismo Alanko Teholla) on percussion, Kimmo Pohjonen (you will
want to check his solo stuff
) on accordion, and Marko Timonen (Värttinä, Tuomari Nurmio) on drums giving Alanko's songwriting a fascinating folk rock spin, reeking of schlager and eastern mysticism. Pulu
is an album that seeps nostalgia, is radical enough to upset traditional folk nerds, is accessible enough to have produced multiple Alanko live staples, and is significant enough a twist on Alanko's tropes to sound fresh even in his eclectic body of work. Yet, I feel like it's so self-referential that I feel like recommending it as anyone's first Ismo Alanko album could be a mistake. Ismo Alanko Säätiö
Säätiö playing acoustic renditions from the entire Ismo Alanko songbook, from Täältä tullaan Venäjä
. An exciting set, and definitely one of the best live albums I've ever heard. The band reworks this wide variety of songs into captivating folk rock, transforming the music into forms that defy expectations. There are some duds though, but not all fan favourites can sound great with just one band. Ismo Alanko Säätiö
- Sisäinen solarium
This is possibly the weirdest Ismo Alanko album to this date. It continues with nearly the same lineup as on Pulu
, but takes the music in a radically new direction, exploring what modernised folk could
be rather than wallowing on nostalgia. This means updating the largely acoustic instrumentation with both electric and electronic instruments, and creating an unpredictable tapestry of music with influences that are surprisingly difficult to pinpoint. Some say this kind of experimentation cheapens traditional folk (which is something I can agree with regarding some songs on this album), but I'm not sure if such a clearcut statement can be made of the full album. It's certainly aiming for a sound of its own. Ismo Alanko Säätiö
This is where Säätiö's status as a band becomes complicated. There's absolutely no reason to call this anything but an Ismo Alanko solo album, so marketing it as an Ismo Alanko Säätiö album is baffling to say the least. I mean, the only constants on this album are Alanko himself, the producemulti-instrumentalist Riku Mattila, and various symphonic elements (I don't want to downplay the work the symphonic orchestra and the string section do on this album, but they have
been used quite haphazardly). There are three members from the previous Säätiö albums involved in this project: Marko Timonen on nine tracks, Samuli Laiho on seven tracks, and Kimmo Pohjonen on one track. In addition to this, there's the bassist of the next iteration of Säätiö, Jarno Karjalainen, on six tracks. Thus, there are
Säätiö band members playing on the majority of these tracks, but never as a full band.
That all being said, I believe this to be the best Säätiö album. The melancholic pieces are beautifully fragile, the pop tracks are catchy, the massive songs are massive
, and the atmospheric pieces are chillingly well-arranged. And even the weaker songs here are excellent live, making this album probably the richest one to mine for a live set of any kind. Ismo Alanko Säätiö
- Elävää musiikkia
Honestly, this feels like a bit of a throwaway live album. On one hand, these rock renditions of a great setlist of songs are unique but, on the other hand, none of these performances improve on the studio recordings. 'Kansallispäivä' and 'Julkinen eläin' come really close though, both being sharper and meaner than the 80s versions. Ismo Alanko Säätiö
- Minä ja pojat
The first album with the second iteration of the band. Fuzzy rock in similar vein to Smashing Pumpkins and their kin, but played through the lense of Alanko's style of songwriting. It's never as hard-hitting or catchy as an album by a great rock band would be -- all of the songs soften up during the chorus -- but the youthful and slightly naivistic touch is welcome after a string of artistically ambitious albums. That said, I'm only attached to a single song on the whole album, which is definitely not a good sign. Ismo Alanko Säätiö
- Ruuhkainen taivas
The second (and last) studio album of the second iteration of Säätiö is a different beast than the first one, taking the rock approach to a slightly more complex direction. It's more mature and chromatic than the first album, yet I personally find it to sound slightly less inspired. However, at the same time, it does have more tracks that I would consider keepers and the general sound is harder to define. Thus, it's definitely a divisive album, conflicting.
I'm not sure how to describe the sound of this album. It's unmistakeably early 2000s rock, sounding like an average Finnish rock band from the era, yet the songwriting and the production also remind me of the band Wire out of all things. It's a digestible alternative/indie rock sound, whenever it doesn't abruptly go in a new direction. Sielun Veljet
- Otteita Tuomari Nurmion laulukirjasta
Remember those random Tuomari Nurmio covers on Musta Laatikko
? Turns out, Sielun Veljet recorded a full album of those in (I assume) late 80s. They didn't end up using those recordings for anything, so they were packed away and stored somewhere. Years went by and a good portion of those recordings were destroyed due to poor storing conditions, but someone was eventually inspired to put the surviving songs to good use.
You'll be in for a treat, if you like Sielun Veljet and have never heard anything by Tuomari Nurmio. Most of these covers are originally from Nurmio's early 80s albums, his strange new wave turned into the angular rock Sielun Veljet perfected. Some of these songs only barely work, some sound like Sielun Veljet originals, but most are just serviceable covers. It's still a good album though. Ismo Alanko Teholla
- Blanco spirituals
After putting Säätiö on hold (perhaps indefinitely), Alanko joined forces with Teho Majamäki, the first iteration Säätiö percussionist. Together they stripped down a number of Ismo Alanko songbook staples to a form they could perform as a duo, essentially bringing the strengths of Alanko's live performances alone together with the strengths of him performing with a small ensemble. This endeavour proved succesful, so the two recorded two albums of original music as well.
The music of Blanco spirituals
is surprisingly full. The two musicians fill space well, with Alanko singing and playing chord instruments (mainly guitar and piano), while Majamäki stretches himself as thin as possible, working a drumset, vibes, an array of percussions, an oscillating delay pedal, and singing backing vocals. It's usually at least two of those at the same time, often three. Him working in a live environment is a sight to behold.
This is honestly one of my favourite Ismo Alanko albums. The stripped down arrangements bring the most out of Alanko's songwriting. The selection of songs highlight very different sides of his style, from theatrical piano ballads to singalong acoustic guitar romps, silly pop songs, and trance-inducing rock. It's by no means a perfect album, but these simple songs all work in one way or another. Sielun Veljet
- Kansan parissa (1-4)
Archival live recordings of sets recorded around 1989-1991. The first one is a typical Sielun Veljet set, the second one filled with Tuomari Nurmio covers, the third one is material from Softwood Music Under Slow Pillars
, and the fourth one is a mix of subtle experimentation, new tracks, and deep cuts. Quite a comprehensive collection of live music. However, only few tracks are really worth keeping, including the electrifying high-tempo performance of 'Lammassusi' and the prototypical version of Alanko's 'Don Quiote'. Ismo Alanko Teholla
The simplicity of the previous album is gone, replaced by a polished and highly produced pop sound. The DIY duo sound gives way to a more layered style, where synths, samples, and doubled vocals are added to the band's sound. Acoustic instruments are largely replaced by electric guitars and synths, turning the folksy garage band sound to a sleak and radio-friendly beast. If the fact that I just phrased the same exact thing in three ways didn't clue you in yet, I'm not particularly fond of this change of direction. However, I've seen this ridiculously often called the best Ismo Alanko album since the 90s, so it does appeal to the masses.
If you like 2010s pop and are looking for a decent gateway to Alanko's music, this could be the album to start with. It's accessible. Hassisen Kone
- 20 vuotta myöhemmin
Hassisen Kone had a reunion in 2000. They played a show that was both filmed and recorded. It's an interesting document of musicians playing music they wrote 20 years earlier. However, it ultimately sounds a bit tired compared to both the tight playing on their studio recordings and the energy levels on their 80s live recordings. Ismo Alanko
- Maailmanlopun sushibaari
Remember when I said that most pick between Kun Suomi putos puusta
as Alanko's magnum opus? Well, this is that one for me. I'm not saying that to imply that it would be his best album, but it's the album where he finally brings his disparate influences together in a coherent but eclectic way. If Kun Suomi putos puusta
is where Alanko's artistic voice is at its purest, this is where it is at its maturest and most representative of the multi-faceted artist he has become during his career.
More or less incidentally, this is also Alanko's midlife crisis album. It's not entirely thematic -- who even knows what 'Kuusilmä' is about? -- but it does touch upon themes like growing old, dying, passing the torch, losing one's touch, and liking the colour grey. It's not quite on the nose, but you don't exactly have to dissect the lyrics to find those undercurrents.
So what does the album sound like? It's lighter than you'd imagine based on the central themes. There's rock, funk, subtle latin feel, a capella, pop, traditional folk, and even an ambitious rock opera about what sounds like a zombie apocalypse. It's fairly eclectic, making it a nice first solo album to release in nearly two decades. Ismo Alanko
- 33 1/3: Kolmannesvuosisata taiteilijaelämää
This is the Ismo Alanko live album I recommend people to start with. Are these performances as exciting as their studio versions? No. But I'd argue that they don't have to be. The main strength this recording has is its uniformity. The songs are played in a generic rock band style, but it doesn't change the fact that the setlist is good and diverse. There's no compilation that would dive this deep in such a digestible manner. Essentially, this is the middle-of-the-road pick that gives an excellent cursory look into a prolific artist's entire body of work (up until 2013). Ismo Alanko
- Ismo Kullervo Alanko
Considering how introspective and self-reflective the previous album is, it's surprising that Alanko decided to name this one after himself. It works though. The songs are produced sparser and airier than on any other Ismo Alanko album, making the music feel intimate and almost confessional. It feels like you're sitting in the same room with him, as he opens up to you. Amazingly produced album. Ismo Alanko
- Pannaanko pakasteet pieneen pussiin?
To be frank, I don't think this EP is an essential release. It's noteworthy for the modern hobo blues feel it has, and for having one of the very few covers Alanko has recorded so far, but none of these songs have an iconic feel to them. The best I can say about it is that none of the songs are bad
, but neither are they memorable. Ismo Alanko
- Yksin Vanhalla
I wish more band-focused artists performed live alone every now and then. An arrangement stripped down to just vocals and an instrument (in Alanko's case, usually acoustic guitar, piano, or cello) turns every song into something entirely different. However, the lyrics grow in significance as instruments are dropped, so your mileage may vary with this one. I still enjoy it though. Pohjonen Alanko
- Northern Lowland
Alanko collaborates with Kimmo Pohjonen and Tuomas Norvio to bring us an electronic neon-shamanic album. Primal chants and vocalisations blending together with beats ranging from harsh to chill and breakbeat-y. It's a fascinating EP, even if highly gimmicky and lacking a sense of direction. Besides, this stuff will always be better live than on a studio recording. Ismo Alanko
- Minä halusin olla niin kuin Beethoven
And finally, the latest Ismo Alanko album, where he takes yet another left turn. This one was mainly recorded by Alanko alone in a studio, but eventually a drummer and a keyboardist were brought in to round up the sound. And what a sound it is! Youthful indie rock with a production that's stuck somewhere between the 00s and the 80s. If it were not for 58-year-old Alanko's vocals and eccentric riffing, I could very well believe this to be a debut album by ambitious 20-somethings. Summary
Since Alanko's full albums are not readily available on many countries (especially the US), I'll provide a summary that's somewhere between a longish TL;DR, a series of recommendations, and a quick-glance overview of his career. Album:
: Täältä tullaan Venäjä
(1980) [new wave punk] Representative track: Rock ehkäisyvälineitä vastaan
(a bouncy high-tempo punk track) Album: Rumat sävelet
(1981) [new wave/post-punk] Representative track: Jurot nuorisojulkkikset
(a gloomy post-punk-infused rock track) Album: Harsoinen teräs
(1982) [new wave/progressive rock] Representative track: Kupla kimaltaa
(a well-flowing new wave track with a progressive song structure) Album: Sielun Veljet
(1983) [punk/post-punk] Representative track: Pieni pää
(a noisy punk track with groovy tribal drumming and metallic guitar playing) Album: Lapset
(1983) [punk/post-punk] Representative track: Elintaso
(an angular punk track) Album: Hei soturit
(1984) [post-punk/alternative rock] Representative track: Tää on tää
(a straightforward punk track with a catchy hook) Album: L'amourha
(1985) [post-punk/hard rock] Representative track: Peltirumpu
(a hard-hitting rock song with dissonant guitars) Album: Kuka teki huorin
(1986) [post-punk/funk rock] Representative track: Kristallilapsia
(a funk rock track with screechy guitars and an unfunky bassline) Album: Suomi - Finland
(1988) [post-punk/psychedelic rock] Representative track: Totuus vai tequila
(a ferocious folk punk track) Album: Softwood Music Under Slow Pillars
(1989) [psychedelic rock/flamenco] Representative track: Life is a Cobra
(a psychedelic track combining flamenco rhythms and Indian string sections) Album: Kun Suomi putos puusta
(1990) [singesongwriter] Representative track: Kun Suomi putos puusta
(a gentle organ-led track with subtle folk influence and field recordings) Album: Jäätyneitä lauluja
(1993) [electronic rock] Representative track: Pornografiaa
(a slightly industrial-tinged electronic rock track) Album: Taiteilijaelämää
(1995) [art rock] Representative track: Nuorena syntynyt
(a 90s sounding rock track with a freeform looseness to it) Album: I-r-t-i
(1996) [alternative rock] Representative track: Kriisistä kriisiin
(a rock track with a steady dance pulse on the actual rock sections) Album: Pulu
(1998) [folk rock/art rock] Representative track: Rakkaus on ruma sana
(a track with pseudo-shamanistic verses and catchy choruses) Album: Sisäinen solarium
(2000) (art pop/folk rock) Representative track: Kirskainen hyvätyinen
(a largely electronic and pulsing track that feels one part a strange rock experiment and one part a traditional Finnish folk song) Album: Hallanvaara
(2002) (art pop/symphonic rock) Representative track: Paratiisin puu
(a smooth pop track with significant classical influence) Album: Minä ja pojat
(2004) [alternative rock] Representative track: Joensuu
(a straightforward and fuzzy rock song) Album: Ruuhkainen taivas
(2006) [alternative rock) Representative track: Paskiainen
(a rock track alternating between manic psychobilly and catchy radio rock) Album: Blanco spirituals
(2008) [minimalistic art pop] Representative track: Päästänkö irti
(an acoustic rock track with an interesting chord sequence) Album: Onnellisuus
(2010) [art pop] Representative track: Onnellisuus
(a danceable and atmospheric pop track) Album: Maailmanlopun sushibaari
(2013) [alternative rock] Representative track: Vanha nuori
(an accessible pop track with a funky brass section and theatrical choruses) Album: Ismo Kullervo Alanko
(2015) [art pop/singesongwriter] Representative track: Lintuperspektiivi
(a melancholic and sparsely produced track with airy ambience) Album: Northern Lowland
(2018) [glitch hop-y tribal electronic music] Representative track: Northern Lowland
(a track with primal chanting and glitchy beats) Album: Minä halusin olla niin kuin Beethoven
(2019) [80s flavour indie rock] Representative track: Transsioletettu tanssi
(a funky rock track with a somewhat generic 2000s rock chorus) Discussion
What is your opinion on Ismo Alanko? I personally enjoy how prolific and eclectic he has been, and I find it a shame that most of his work has never left Finland. I can especially imagine punk fans easily getting into his 80s work.
"To me you are the most hateful of all gods who hold Olympus. Forever quarrelling is dear to your heart, wars and battles." - Zeus, Iliad, Book 5
Our story begins in Olympus in the time of the old gods but it could be anywhere at anytime. Hera, Queen of Olympus, Goddess of Marriage and Women had a son with her older brother and husband Zeus, the King of the Gods. They brought forth Ares, God of War and personification of the primal carnage of men. Not just war, the brutality of it. He would wage a war against love and unleash death where death need not be.
But Ares was not the only name used to invoke war. Not even the first. It's actually not clear where or when it first manifested. In the long prehistoric infancy of our species large scale conflict was likely not even possible. Contact was probably limited to fights over game as small bands or tribes followed herds, staying close to fresh water and foraging grounds. One of the earliest cemeteries called Jebel Sahaba in the Nile river valley near the border of Sudan and Egypt dates back at least 11,600 years. Of the 61 individuals found, 26 skeletons had arrowhead fragments near them or in some cases still embedded in them, causing speculation of a massacre. There was also evidence of healed injuries indicating persistent raids.
In 2005, excavation work began in Hamoukar, a large archaeological dig near the Iraqi and Turkish borders. The settlement there dates back to the 5th millennium BCE, but it was destroyed about 3500 BCE. Slings and thousands of clay bullets have been found among the ruins, possibly evidence of the earliest urban warfare discovered so far.
Then finally, writing began in Egypt and soon after the Palette of Narmer is inscribed. It tells the story of the 1st pharaoh of a unified Egypt vanquishing his rivals. This marks the beginning of the first dynasty about 3100 BCE in the mythical, as yet undiscovered capital city of Thinis which worshiped the Egyptian God of war, Anhur, the slayer of enemies.
The rest, as they say, is history and there is a lot of it.
The causes of war are simple. Simple needs. Simple desires. Desperation and greed. All seven deadly sins. All four horseman. Some call it the devil, temptation and evil. Bad thoughts, bad words, bad deeds.
And the story begins again around 850 years before the common era. A man of myth and his followers establish a city of mostly male bandits. Shortly after they throw a festival and announce it to the neighboring cities as a celebration. During the festival, the myth tells of 30 young women, all but 1 a virgin, who were abducted by their hosts and later implored to marry their abductors. The mythical man is known as Romulus and the newly founded city was Rome.
The scene becomes popular among artists and sculptors and is known as The Rape of the Sabine Women. The resulting hostility with the surrounding tribes erupted into the invasion of Rome which they fought back. Rome was quickly becoming a powerful force and defeated 3 neighboring tribes. It was soon on the offensive against King Titus Tatius of the Sabines, fighting against the fathers of their abducted wives. Intervention finally came, according to Roman historian Livy when the women,
"from the outrage on whom the war originated, with hair disheveled and garments rent, the timidity of their sex being overcome by such dreadful scenes, had the courage to throw themselves amid the flying weapons, and making a rush across, to part the incensed armies, and assuage their fury; imploring their fathers on the one side, their husbands on the other, "that as fathers-in-law and sons-in-law they would not contaminate each other with impious blood, nor stain their offspring with parricide, the one their grandchildren, the other their children. If you are dissatisfied with the affinity between you, if with our marriages, turn your resentment against us; we are the cause of war, we of wounds and of bloodshed to our husbands and parents. It were better that we perish than live widowed or fatherless without one or [the] other of you."
- THE HISTORY OF ROME. BY TITUS LIVIUS, or "Livy"
A treaty was struck, and the Sabines united with the Romans as one nation. Titus Tatius ruled with Romulus until his death five years later and as we all know, Rome was just getting started. Like the Spartans and Egyptians before them, the Romans had an affinity with their war God, this time known as Mars.
There are many other war gods and goddesses as well such as Agasaya, Agrona, Agurzil, Ah Chuy Kak, Ah Cun Can, Ah Hulneb, Ahulane, Alala, Alaisiagae, Al-Qaum, Alke, Amphillogiai, Anahita, Anann, Anath, Andarta, Andraste, Androktasiai, Anhur, Ankt, Anouke, Apedemak, Aray, Ares, Ashtart, Ashur and Athena. And that ladies and gentlemen, is just the A's.
The longest conflict in history is the Reconquista on the Iberian Peninsula between the Christians in what is now Spain and the conquering Muslims who invaded in the year 711. It lasted 781 years, finally ending with the 10 year long Granada War. Christian forces made a massive offensive push, recruiting farmers to swell their ranks, destroying enemy crops and pushing the Muslims towards the sea. It ended on Jan. 2nd, 1492 with the surrender of Islamic rule. 7 other wars or conflicts lasted longer than 500 years. Another 106 wars lasted longer than 50 years. But the God of war is insatiable and humanity was about to manifest the most destructive incarnation the world had yet seen.
In 1162, in a desolate place where food and luxury was scarce, a baby was born in exile from a disgraced family. He would go on to become a warrior and unite the Mongol tribes as Genghis Khan. His conquest was fueled by fear. He readily employed brutal tactics like spreading disease by catapulting the dead over walls. So many people died that weather patterns were disturbed and forest grew back on previously populated land. The Mongol horde trampled empires, handing down ultimatums of death or alliance. Fear spread like a plague, and the horde rode in behind it destroying some to tame the rest. Khan would promise protection and relative normalcy in exchange for complete surrender and regular tributes. Those made subordinate became sources of income, fueling the Khan’s engine of war. For a brief moment in time, Genghis Khan and the Khan's that followed carved out the largest contiguous empire on Earth.
Perhaps the deadliest confrontation in history took place under Hulagu Khan during the Siege of Baghdad in 1258, which lasted only 13 days. At the time, Baghdad was the capital of the Islamic Abbasid Caliphate. Their leader, Al-Musta'sim, was either overconfident or incompetent or both. When the Mongols had overcome the city's defenses they executed Al-Musta'sim and massacred the people leaving it greatly depopulated. Contemporary accounts state Mongol soldiers looted and destroyed mosques, palaces, libraries, and hospitals. The Grand Library of Baghdad, called the House of Wisdom, containing countless historical documents and books on medicine to astronomy, was destroyed. Priceless books torn apart, their leather covers used as sandals, their contents dumped in the river with the dead. Its said the Tigris ran red from the blood of philosophers and scientists and then turned black from the ink of their wisdom. The siege is considered to mark the end of the Islamic Golden Age.
This level of carnage would not be unleashed again in so short a time until the 20th century during WW1 and again just 1 generation later in WW2. The Siege of Leningrad alone, which lasted from 1941 to 1944, would leave 1 million to 5.5 million dead. Then the Battle of Stalingrad began in August 1942. It lasted into the winter and added again to list of bloodiest battles in the history of warfare. Air raids dropped bombs on civilians as fighting devolved into close-quarter, house-to-house combat. Both sides poured reinforcements into the city and by the end, as many as 2 million were dead. After five months, one week and three days of fighting the Axis forces had exhausted their ammunition and food, finally forced to surrender in February 1943. It was a turning point in the war that began pushing the Nazi's back to Berlin.
In the middle of this hell on Earth, in July 1942, Wonder Woman issue #1 - The Origin of Wonder Woman is released by DC Comics. In it, for some reason, she's carrying a parchment in her outfit which tells the history of the Amazons. Of course, she loses it and obviously someone at the Smithsonian gets it and translates it so we all get to learn what's happening now.
The story returns us to Olympus, Aphrodite is arguing with Ares over who will rule the world - men and violence and hate and war or women with love. Their argument spills over onto Earth. Women throughout the world are enslaved by Ares. Aphrodite turns the tables with a magic girdle she gives to the Amazons. The girdle is eventually stolen by Hercules who enslaves them. Aphrodite intervenes again, granting the Amazons the power to break the chains and remain free for as long as they refuse to submit to men. Their strength lie in the bracelets they wear as reminders of the chains that enslaved them. Away from the influence of men, they create a utopian civilization called Paradise Island.
But back in the real world on a different island in the Pacific theater of WW2, Ares was about to transform the meaning of war and place humanity's very existence on a knife's edge.
bellum omnium contra omnes (Latin phrase meaning "the war of all against all")
On July 16th 1945, the US detonated the first atomic bomb in New Mexico as part of a test. 9 days later the decision to drop one on Japan was made and Allied forces issued the Potsdam Declaration on July 26th which handed down an ultimatum of complete surrender or "the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland". The bomb wasn't mentioned and it ultimatum was rejected.
On August 2nd, Truman and other high profile US officials boarded the USS Augusta, headed back home across the Atlantic. A group gathered in Secretary of State James Byrnes’s cabin the first night at sea to watch a movie. It was called Wonder Man. A nightclub owner is murdered by gangsters but comes back as a ghost to haunt his killers. Truman stayed in his cabin, perhaps thinking about the explosion that was coming and the weight of his choices. He had written in his diary the day of the decision that, "the target will be a purely military one". It's hard to imagine he didn't know better.
About 3 days later, on the other side of the world, Tsutomu Yamaguchi was going to work at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for what was supposed to be his last day in the city. It was 8:15 AM, on August 6th, 1945 in Hiroshima, Japan and an estimated 70,000 people were about to die. Yamaguchi heard a plane overhead, he looked up and saw The Enola Gay B-29 bomber and he saw the object drop and the parachute attached to it. What dropped was an atomic bomb equivalent to 18,000 tons of TNT. It was more powerful than the previous largest bomb ever used in warfare by more than 1,500 times.
Yamaguchi described the blast like “the lightning of a huge magnesium flare.” He had barely been able to dive into a ditch before the boom ruptured his eardrums and the shock wave sucked him into the air and tossed him into a nearby potato patch. His face and forearms were badly burned and he thought he might of fainted for awhile but he was alive. He described everything like the start of an old film before the picture begins, "when the blank frames are just flashing up without any sound." The morning sun was blotted out by dust and debris and falling ash. A mushroom cloud of fire was rising over Hiroshima. He was less than two miles from ground zero.
A mile and a half away, half a mile from ground zero, Shigeyoshi Morimoto was luckier than 95% of the others within the same blast radius. The master kite maker was part of a secret military study to use kites against American planes. Suddenly he found himself under the rubble of his cousins home where he was visiting but Morimoto, his cousin, and his cousin's son all survived.
He said in an interview by Robert Trumbull in 1956 that it was like a lightning flash, then "the house collapsed and we were pinned beneath the fallen ceiling and roof." When they dug themselves out they couldn't believe level of destruction. Every building was flattened within a mile of the explosion, and fire would soon destroy every building within a 4.5 square mile radius. Within weeks, another 70,000 would die in the aftermath.
Sixteen hours after the explosion, a video was released of President Harry Truman revealing the existence of the atomic bomb to the world for the first time. “It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe,” he said. “The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.”
Truman was actually still aboard the USS Augusta in the Atlantic ocean. He was having lunch when a navy captain delivered the message. Truman turned to his Secretary of State James Byrnes and shouted, “It’s time for us to get on home!” He then addressed the sailors in the mess-hall, calling for attention by banging silverware against a glass. The sailors went quiet and Truman made his announcement to an explosion of applause. Morale was soaring all over the Augusta. A sailor's quote summed it up best saying, “I guess I’ll go home sooner now.”
Yamaguchi was thinking about home too. In a daze, he found a couple coworkers who also survived. After taking shelter for a night, the three began making their way toward the somehow still operational train. They trekked through a desolated city of smoldering fires, crumbled buildings and the charred and melted corpses of the dead. Yamaguchi was forced to swim through floating bodies at a river crossing because the bridges were twisted wreckage. All to reach the station, where he boarded a train full of other burned and bewildered passengers.
Morimoto had gone back to the hotel he was staying at for work. It was badly damaged but still standing and three of his colleagues were alive. They got permission to leave the city on August 8th. The four men along with Yamaguchi were trying to get back home, to Nagasaki.
At least three trains made the 190 mile trip from Hiroshima to Nagasaki and arrived there by August 9th, the day that city would be bombed. 165 survivors from Hiroshima are thought to have traveled to Nagasaki and lived through the 2nd explosion as well. People who experienced both attacks are called “nijyuu hibakusha,” or “twice-bombed person.”
Yamaguchi reported for work at Mitsubishi’s Nagasaki office and at about 11 a.m. he was giving a full report on Hiroshima. He recounted what he could, the blinding light, the deafening boom, the devastation—but his superior didn't believe it, didn't believe a single bomb could destroy an entire city. Suddenly, another white flash exploded outside. Yamaguchi dropped just seconds before office windows were shattered by the shock wave and debris blew through the room. In his panic, he thought it had followed him but he had just survived a 2nd atomic bombing in 3 days.
He ran out of the wrecked building and past the ravaged city to get home to his wife and son. When he got there part of his house was a pile of rubble but they were alive and barely hurt. His wife had left to buy burn ointment for him, and she and the baby were near a tunnel when the bomb dropped. If Yamaguchi hadn't been burned in Hiroshima, his family might have been killed in Nagasaki.
Morimoto, the kite maker, had just finished describing the atomic bomb to his wife when their house was suddenly flooded with the same blinding flash. He was shouting as he shoved his wife and son into their air-raid shelter and pulled the heavy door shut behind him as their home was destroyed. Morimoto and his family were also uninjured.
But many others were not lucky. Roughly 200,000 people died after four months, about half on the first day, from the effects of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It remains the only nuclear bombing used in warfare and although Hiroshima had a sizable military garrison, most of the dead were civilians. After the immediate aftermath, people continued to die in the thousands for months from burns, radiation sickness, and injuries, made even worse by illness and malnutrition. Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 15th, six days after Nagasaki and the Soviet Union had also declared war on them. Japanese government officials signed documents on September 2, effectively ending the war and beginning occupation.
It is generally thought the casualties from the bombings is at or near the low estimates for casualties had the war continued on the ground. It was feared the number of dead could reach a million or more if the Allies invaded the Japanese homeland. Americans were also war weary, the massive operations were expensive, and military strategists were worried about the Soviet Union expanding its influence in the East. However, the debate over the ethical and legal justification for the bombings in still debated today.
But it didn't matter then. The war was over and America was celebrating. Humanity began to rebuild but there was little time to reflect. The full implications of what had happened were still coming into focus. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, William Leahy once decried the use of atomic weapons as "an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages", but in 1947 he reported a military requirement for 400 atomic bombs . The Soviet Union detonated an atomic test in September 1949. Oppenheimer, concerned about the devastation that future nuclear war could bring, was stripped of his job and commission. Despite his opposition, the U.S. had developed and tested a Hydrogen bomb by 1952. Ordinary fission bombs like the ones dropped in Japan would henceforth be regarded as small tactical nuclear weapons, a thousand times weaker than the new versions. The US had 23,317 nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union had 40,159 by 1986. More than 90% of the world's remaining 13,865 nuclear weapons were owned by Russia and the United States at the start of 2019. Over 2,000 nuclear tests have been conducted in over a dozen locations around the world by 8 different countries. 9 countries have nuclear weapons.
A team of researchers studied 1,024 species of mammals, and found the rate of lethal violence between Homo sapiens is 7 times higher than the average among all mammals. A different study found that although there are 7.6 billion humans we make up just 0.01% of all living things. In other words, humans are statistically insignificant, not only in the universe but on Earth as well and yet since the dawn of civilization, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants. And now our seeming dominance has put us on a path quite possibly to our own destruction. Unwittingly in some cases, proudly in others and cynically in some.
When Yamaguchi's son died from cancer at 59 in 2005, he went public with his story. After remaining silent since his 1950's interview, he began speaking out against nuclear war. Of the estimated 165 people who experienced both attacks and lived, he became the first and only survivor to be officially recognized by the Japanese government as “nijyuu hibakusha,” the “twice-bombed person.” A year later in 2010, he died at the age of 93. He said he got through the many years after the bombings with poetry.
It may seem as if the God of war is at his most powerful, feeding constantly on the chaos in the world and now humans have amassed the potential for total destruction. In the myths and the comics, Ares had done his best throughout the years to destroy the Amazons, sending Hercules against them and sacking their island but he had another plot for all humanity. To spark a war between the United States and Russia, provoking World War III. His ambitions were only thwarted when he was finally forced to face the truth that without the chaos of men he would cease to exist, having no one to worship him.
However, there would be survivors in this nightmare, like the Ginkgo biloba. A ginkgo tree survived in Hiroshima less than a mile from ground zero. It's nicknamed the Tree of Life and it happens to be the oldest species of tree on earth, dating back 270 million years. It also smells like vomit, helping it to survive thousands of generations of grazing animals. Along with the Ginkgo tree, other survivors would probably include rats, cockroaches, ants, scorpions, flies, wasps, worms, bacteria like E. coli, amoebas and the seemingly indestructible tardigrade. It wouldn't be the most pleasant world, but it would still be alive.
And the story begins again, one more time. There was once a utopia. At least that's what outsiders had come to think. It made sense from far away. It had been mostly forgotten, cut off from the world and for a long time no one questioned this supposed utopia. It had achieved an almost mythic, paradise lost status until finally an explorer came to stay there for awhile. At first it seemed the view from the outside was correct. But one day their leader died leaving a power vacuum and a tyrant emerged to fill it. Not all were willing to follow. A group of dissenters separated, forming a smaller group but this did not bring peace. A member of the new group was ambushed one day without warning, beaten badly and was never seen again. Over the next four years the smaller group was picked off 1 by 1 and systematically destroyed. The victors ate the flesh and drank the blood of their victims. They celebrated over the dead with hoots and screams. The explorer was horrified. There was no mercy. But it wasn't men that did these things, not this time. These were the events observed in the jungles of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania from 1974 to 1978 during the Gombe Chimpanzee War. The explorer was Jane Goodall. By the end, 10 were dead or missing and only 3 females remained. They were beaten and kidnapped and in that way the two groups became 1 again.
Goodall discovered the systematic hunting strategies and aggressive nature of chimpanzees, exposing their cannibalism and taste for smaller primates. She turned conventional wisdom upside down and found it difficult to come to terms with what she saw herself. But she also observed peaceful and affectionate behaviors, intelligence, emotions, social bonds and forced man to redefine itself, "or accept chimpanzees as human".
In 2019, there were at least 29 conflicts or wars where more than 100 people lost their lives including 17 minor conflicts, 9 wars and 4 major wars in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and the Mexican drug war. But despite the headlines. Despite the violence. Despite the tragedy and chaos and the potential destructive power Ares or Anhur or Mars could unleash on humanity at any minute. Despite how things might feel right now. Overall, things are getting better and can get better.
Because something else happened in the 20th century. It was said that a soul of an unborn daughter held back from creation when the first woman was murdered by a man, was put inside a baby girl made out of clay from paradise island. The baby girl was given life by the Greek Pantheon of Goddesses and named Diana. She grew up among a legion of sisters and mothers and became the champion of the Amazons and emissary to the world of men. They would call her Wonder Woman.
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