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Track By Tracks: BURNTFIELD - IMPERMANENCE (2021)


1. Empty Dream:

Empty Dream was among the first songs I wrote for the album, alongside Back Again. These two tracks also became the first two tracks on the album, as the kind of journey the album makes pretty much aligns with the songwriting process. The album makes its way from a dark place to some sort of a resolution in how all the sadness is eventually dealt with, becoming one with the concept of impermanence. Hence the album title.

Empty Dream was one of these songs that the main melody just came to me, and writing it happened very organically as it was really about pouring all that emotion of loss and longing in a song; sad and melancholic in a raw and honest way.

Later on in the pre-production phase our drummer Steven came up with the time change of the verse, where the bars alternate between 6/8 and 5/8, and all this improved my initial drum demo idea significantly.

The melody of the chorus stuck with me and I reused in one of the instrumental sections of the title track Impermanence, so it kind of echoes back towards the end of the album. I did a similar thing on Burntfield's 2018 debut album Hereafter where the opening instrumental Now was a paraphrase of the closing title track Hereafter, so in that sense both albums now have like a “main theme” connecting them conceptually. Like Hereafter on the debut album, Empty Dream is that one song in the album on which I play the blockflutes (recorders) - my professional main instrument - the verses and the bridge actually have melodies played on medieval tenor and alto blockflutes.
 
2. Back Again:

Born out of the same emotional turmoil with Empty Dream, Back Again was the logical second track to follow in the track listing. Like the first song, Back Again was written when I was going through the worst heartbreak ever: writing them was kind of my initial response to the breakup. These songs came out intensely honest and sincere, as songwriting somehow represents the purest means of conveying that feeling of loss into something beautiful.

Initially the song had a slower instrumental build-up after the first sung chorus, but during the pre-production this section was cut out, and as a result after the chorus the song kicks off right away with the heavy riffing of the verse. Back Again features a killer synth solo (actually kind of a duel with the player himself), virtuoso yet wonderfully expressive and soulful, from Arttu Vauhkonen of the Finnish melodic metal band Arion, who lent his keyboard and sound design wizardry for the Impermanence album, just like every other Burntfield release from the very beginning (2013 and the first self-released EP)! The long- term collaboration with incredible musical minds like Arttu is something I’m constantly grateful for and genuinely inspired by.

3. Trust In You:

Trust In You started out as the melody of the chorus, which I played around with for a while before the song began to take shape into the groovier/funkier direction it eventually evolved. There’s something reminiscent of The Pineapple Thief of the recent years on the rhythmical side of things, and the name TOTO has come up too (perhaps the most in the bridge section and the vocal harmonies)… A song like this felt natural and logical to go for thanks to the fact that I had played with Maarten and Steven for a number of years since the recording of Hereafter in 2017, when the back then new line-up was completely fresh.

As professional pop/jazz/gospel etc. musicians, I knew to expect that they would really immediately get it and make it groove steadily.

The keyboard parts on this particular track are courtesy of Arttu Vauhkonen and his equally amazing colleague Heikki Neuvonen, who collaborated together to take my initial funky keyboard ideas to a completely different level - all those little fills here and there that are subtle yet essential parts of the arrangement.

Trust In You was the third and final single to be released before the album. A music video for it was shot by Eddie Dimitrov of Gingeremprod, with whom we also collaborated on the music video for The Failure in 2018. Shot in Amsterdam, it features the band and the contemporary dance artistry of Lien Baelde, which really supports the more up-beat, effervescent and energetic vibe of the song.

4. Something Real:

Something Real was also mainly written in that same dark period, so it still belongs to the beginning of the album. Unlike Empty Dream however, I recall the lyrics for Something Real took a bit longer to write, but the certain melancholic and bittersweet tone, both musically and lyrically, was there from the beginning. Approaching the halfway of the album, with some time having already passed, yet with the heartache still strongly present, the lyrics reminiscence about the past and reflect on what could have been, had there been a chance to heal.

I think part of the challenge in writing this song was that I knew from the beginning that it was going to be a duet - rhetorically symbolizing the impossibility of reaching out to each other when it’s too late, and the painful yet somehow comforting thought that both might still, to some extent, feel the same.
The Anathema reference that’s repeatedly been made in previous reviews of Hereafter too, always humbles me very much, and I’m aware that Something Real has a bit of an Anathema vibe to it, melodically, harmonically as well as in how the arrangement builds up towards the end. The duet with a female vocalist perhaps underlines this even more, which is yet again not intentional but it’s just how the song organically came to be, so any Anathema influence present is completely genuine.

I’m very pleased with the heartfelt and soulful vocal performance by Veera-Selina Lajoma, which I think fits the atmosphere of the song well and felt as natural as I had always pictured the duet to feel and sound like. In particular the outro refrain with its close- harmony choirs (for which thanks to the recording engineer Eero Kaukomies for the patience in fine-tuning the arrangement) and Veera-Selina’s expressive and spirited improvisation full of emotion on top of it stands out for me as one of the special moments on the album.

Something Real was the first single from Impermanence, released back in September along with a music video made by Topias Kupiainen (who also contributed on the sound design part of the album) and shot on a summer’s day in Helsinki. The video features me playing and singing in different locations in the centre of Helsinki, aiming to illustrate the feeling of loneliness amidst crowds and a constant motion of unidentified people passing by.

5. The Light:

The first one of the two lengthier songs on the album, The Light marks the middle of the album and represents transition and a turning point. The theme was perhaps the most inspired by my experiences in meditation, and speaks of how we keep hiding from our inner demons and focus on the past, while gradually becoming increasingly aware that the true work lies within ourselves, and in the present moment. The title, and how each chorus ends, hints at a concrete idea of resolution and hope for the first time: “the road is long but in the end I will find the light”.

Musically the extended structure of the song features an instrumental section with a soaring guitar solo - the only actual guitar solo on the album - which I really wanted to approach with melody, feeling and atmosphere first, a little bit in the spirit of the moving lead guitar work of Nick Barrett on the recent Pendragon albums (another great and important influence right there!). The solo leads up to a big middle part with heavy riffing, extended choir harmonies and several synth layers (thanks again Arttu!), representing the depths of the mind during meditation and all the discoveries made on the journey within, before returning to a last chorus, all growing in dynamics and intensity, thanks to the great work of Steven on the drums, whose drumming I find especially creative and inventive on this track.

6. Thank You For Everything:

A ballad accompanied by just piano and strings, these are perhaps the most heart-rending, honest and emotionally open three minutes of the album: here I am, broken, hurt and destroyed, having failed in what once was the cause of deepest joy - love. Following on from The Light right before, it sort of confirms the coming to an understanding of how the painful memories, too, have their purpose on the (still long) way to healing and rebuilding. The text is like a letter, a closure that never was - wanting to thank the person for everything for one last time, knowing there will never be a response.

Topias Kupiainen, the drummer of Arion and a true musical multi-talent in everything audio-visual and music technology, programmed my string arrangement for this one, and with his top sample libraries and dedication, made it sound gorgeous. Unlike on 2018’s Hereafter, where we recorded a live string quintet for a warm and intimate chamber ensemble sound (Kupiainen was coincidentally assistant engineering at the Sonic pump Studios on that very day too), and which prominently featured the string section on 8 out of 9 tracks (vs. Impermanence with strings on two tracks only), this album needed a different sonic approach and so the arrangement became this rather large string ensemble, making all those subtle dynamic swells even smoother.

7. Impermanence:

The title track represents the eventual arrival at the essential realization that everything is impermanent, and will change. The lyrics serve as a statement of this realization, with inspiration again derived from meditation, and spoken out at this point in the most convinced tone possible.

A simple piano melody starts developing from the “ashes”, as the previous song finishes on the fourth degree chord. After 30 seconds of gradual build-up we get a minor “explosion” bursting into full power on the main riff/melody. The choruses feature again relatively heavy riffing and fast-paced double bass drumming (actually a first for Burntfield!) reminiscent of modern prog metal. Arttu Vauhkonen’s keyboards on this track, fully embracing said modern prog metal overtones, are completely on point and really enhance the atmosphere of it all.

At 9 minutes, this is the longest track on the album. The heavy first part gives way to an ambient middle section with piano, clean guitar and synth pads, which then develops into a post-minimalistic rhythmical pattern built on continuous 16th-notes. As mentioned earlier (see Empty Dream) this part also eventually sees the main theme of the opening track reappear, as if to symbolically close the circle. The last section in a more hopeful, nostalgic yet uplifting tone, consists of multiple layers of only electric guitar and processing (Soundtoys’ fantastic Crystallizer, by far one of my all-time favorite plugins).

8. Everything Will Change:

This closing instrumental track marks the endof the journey that started from Empty Dream, and in a way confirms the previous title track’s realization of everything being in a constant state of flux, and that even with heartbreak and loss there is a prospect of resolution and rebirth. This is musically represented with a steady groove consisting of multiple rhythmical layers, one of them being footsteps walking onwards (symbolizing moving on), and the more hopeful, ethereal tones of the bells - a glimpse of light to end with.

Alongside Thank You For Everything, this is the onlysecond track to feature strings, again masterfully programmed by Topias Kupiainen, who also contributed more samples and sound effects to create an increasingly cinematic feel in the continuous build-up, before it reaches its peak and calms down for the very end, leaving only the piano and the bells left to play the last few chords, ending on an open major chord, which in a way after all the heartbreak and loss represents the potential prospect of rebirth, for everything will change.

I hope you enjoyed this track by track rundown of Impermanence and it opened some new aspects and perspectives to listening to the album!

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