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MARKO HIETALA Pyre of The Black Heart

By Daniel Höhr, European Correspondent
Monday, January 27, 2020 @ 12:38 AM

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Pyre of The Black Heart

Nuclear Blast, 2020

To label Marko Hietala merely as NIGHTWISH‘s bass player, backing and occasional lead vocalist would not do him justice. A cursory glance at Hietala‘s biography reveals that he is a very busy man and the list of bands he has worked with includes names such as TAROT, NORTHERN KINGS, SAPATTIVUOSI, SINERGY, RASKASTA JOULUA and others. As a solo artist, Marko Hietala has now released his second album, Pyre of the Black Heart. Well, but is it really his second album? The information provided by Nuclear Blast is scarce but a quick Internet search reveals that exactly one year ago, Hietala released a solo album entitled Mustan Sydämen Rovio. As I don‘t speak Finnish, I used an online translator to find out what it means and – lo and behold – it translates as “pyre of the black heart“. The cover artwork of both albums is the same and there is even an official video of the second track, the balladesque “Isäni ääni“, which sounds exactly the same as the second track on the present album with the slight difference that the lyrics are in English on Pyre of the Black Heart. In other words, Pyre of the Black Heart is a re-release with English lyrics of Hietala‘s Finnish solo album released one year ago.

Marko Hietala himself describes the style of his music on Pyre of the Black Heart as “hard prog“. Well, whatever that means, the folky feel of the opening mid-tempo stomper “Stones“ with its acoustic intro and piano interludes is stylistically more along the lines of the music Hietala plays with his main band, in other words, the song could jolly well be on any NIGHTWISH album. The bass tone is unmistakably Hietala‘s, the overall sound is heavy, round and well-balanced. The balladesque “The Voice of My Father“ with its steady, hypnotising groove and crescendo at the end is an eerily beautiful song that is bound to send shivers down your spine. “Star, Sand and Shadow“ starts off with a synth orgy and develops into a multi-layered rock track drenched in prog and folk and bursting with melody. “Dead God‘s Son“ brings back the medieval folk feel of the opener but takes quite a heavy turn in the chorus. “For You“ is truly something different – slow, creepy, combining synth sounds with acoustic guitars, expressive and very originial. The slow and uber-melodic “I Am The Way“ mixes a host of different sounds and takes you on a sonic rollercoaster ride that I found a bit hard to digest initially. There‘s a piano, there are synths, there is a metal band… Frankly, less would have been more on this track, which is also a bit too theatrical for my taste but others will certainly disagree here. What is needed now is some speed, and speed is what Hietala finally provides on the next track. “Runner of the Railways“ is a well-deserved straight-in-your-face uptempo rocker with a generous dose of Irish folk, guitar virtuosity, classic rock organ and a lot of fun. “Death March for Freedom“ is a sinister song, mainly built on a relentless overdriven bass riff in the verses but then bursts out in a catchy and melodic sing-along sort of chorus. Once again the rock organ works wonders soundwise in the altogether intriguing and clever arrangement of this song. “I Dream“ is an eery ballad built on bass guitar arpeggios. The atmospheric “Truth Shall Set You Free“ nicely rounds off this album, starting off, like many a track on this record, in a slow and laid-back fashion but eventually morphes into a stunning crescendo.

Pyre of The Black Heart leaves no doubt that Marko Hietala is a bona fide artist on his own. While drawing heavily on folk influences, some of the songs are quite experimental and their combination of a host of sounds and styles leaves no doubt that Marko Hietala is a seasoned and incredibly creative songwriter and composer. Overall, the album is a bit on the slow side and occasionally overly theatrical, but that‘s nevertheless a question of taste. Its best moments are the captivating, full arrangements, the melodies, the grooves and the unexpected twists and turns some of the tracks take. The bottom line is that Pyre of The Black Heart is an outstandingly creative and atmospheric album by a musician who is so much more than the NIGHTWISH bassist.

4.0 Out Of 5.0

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