VIRTA - Horros

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LP (crystal clear)

Horros, the third album by Finnish sonic voyagers Virta, is set to be released on Svart Records on October 6th

With Horros, Virta build on and take into new terrain the questing, jazz-tinged electroacoustic adventures of their last album, December 2016’s Hurmos, and its predecessor, their November 2012 debut Tales From Deep Waters. Still recognisable as who they were, the Virta of 2023 now delves further than ever before into their inner world to craft their most affecting, most atmospheric and most cinematic music to date.

Even so, Horros does not need to be accompanied by images – it envelops so much that signposts are unnecessary. The music itself is the guide through this sound world.

The creators of this environment are Antti Hevosmaa (electronics, flugelhorn, trumpet, vocals), Erik Fräki (electronics, drums, percussion, vocals) and Heikki Selamo (bass, electronics, guitar, lap steel, vocals). Together as Virta – which translates from Finnish as electricity, energy or stream – the trio were acclaimed as a “cornerstone of Finnish experimental music” by Finnish daily by newspaper Savon Sanomat in 2016. Horros will ensure this status becomes the case internationally. Beyond Finland, Virta already have dedicated listeners in Canada, France, Germany, Poland, the United States and the UK.

Reflecting on Horros, Antti says “We’ve always made music we want to listen to ourselves. We’ve asked what is the sound we want to listen to? We are digging deeper now, with new elements – more vocals. Lyrics too, which we haven’t done before.” Without sacrificing who they are, Virta now have a wider scope than ever.

“A key idea with Virta is to make the music you hear in your head and share it with people,” adds Heikki.

“Yes, to share what is in our heads,” agrees Erik. “But also, it becomes live music, that’s the point – to make music we share, to make connections.”

Practically, some things have changed. Erik and Heikki are supplementing their traditional instruments with more electronic gear than before. The band formed in Kuopio and had moved to capital city Helsinki. Nowadays, they are dispersed across Finland. Nonetheless, they remain creatively and spiritually united as Virta.

Coming together on Horros, Antti, Erik and Heikki have fashioned an album with a flow, which, although not explicitly stated, has a narrative drive. “It is as if you are arriving on a strange planet,” explains Erik. “It is quite solitary at first. The opening track ‘Aelita’ feels like entering some kind of unfamiliar atmosphere which you come through to see a landscape. Then, with ‘Tunneli’, exploring begins. It’s quite chaotic, you don’t know where you are. With ‘Sola’, the landscape starts to open up a little. When the album’s second side is reached, the mood is warmer, you understand where you are.” The album’s cover image portrays how the seemingly impenetrable atmosphere appears on reaching this world.

The Finnish-language lyrics and title reflect this voyage of discovery. Horros translates as hibernation – which has two meanings: Virta have reawakened, and the album’s journey is an awakening too. The opening track “Aelita” asks “Ei kai oo valoo ilman varjoo?” – “I guess there’s no light without a shadow?” The album ends with “Aamu”: “Hei aamu, Tummuu, Yön kaipuu” – “Hey morning, Getting dark, Longing for the night.” This place has become somewhere comfort can be found, where the coming of night presents no anxieties.

When they began composing what became Horros in early 2020, Virta already had the rough drafts of some of the building blocks. Elements of “Aelita” had been performed during a live performance film soundtrack project. “Toukokuu” grew from improvisations Erik and Heikki had undertaken in 2018. Virta had performed for weekly live streams in 2019, some themes from which also fed into Horros.

And although Virta did not discuss the music they were currently listening to – in the past, they would say “hey, have you heard this?” to each other – when they began recording at Erik’s summer cottage in the middle of 2020, there were some subliminal, long bedded-in touchstones: the original animé film of Ghost In The Shell and its soundtrack, seminal Finnish cross-genre outfits Nuspirit Helsinki and RinneRadio, the pioneering 3D video game Metroid Prime and the earlier role-playing video game Chrono Trigger. Mostly, the trio talked about immersion in music and sound.

Once they had assembled, they spent two weeks recording Erik’s drums and Heikki’s guitars live. All the while, Antti worked out where to play and sing. Then his contributions were recorded as Erik finished his drum tracks. What was captured was shaped and reshaped – Erik says “we all threw ideas in to help the music find its final form.”

“There were happy accidents which ended up on the album in post-production,” adds Heikki.

Antti stresses that “It’s organic, we wake music together as a band. We started making music in 2011 and we already knew each other before then – the music comes from all three of us, Virta is never the one person.”

Such empathy means that when Horros is played live, room is there for improvisation. “We may expand the sonic palette live, stretch out,” reveals Antti. “We might do some jamming to fit the ambience of the show.” The journey taken by the album is not over.

Horros is more than an album for Virta. It is also an expedition into fresh territory for Antti Hevosmaa, Erik Fräki and Heikki Selamo – creatively, musically and metaphorically. The spell it casts instantly captivates. Once this world is entered, it is not possible to depart.

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