The third album from Finns Minutian has been a long time coming, but it’s absolutely been worth the wait. I first became aware of the band after the release of their second album, Inwards, which has remained a firm favourite of mine ever since. After quite a few listens, I think this new album, Magical Thinking, might be even better. The band, while still showing their influences (Oceansize, Tool, King Crimson), seem to have settled into a sound that is more their own. There is a fullness and richness that, while not exactly lacking on Inwards, is more evident here.
Of the three bands I mentioned as influences above, Oceansize is the most obvious for me, its shadow remaining over Magical Thinking, but it is nowhere near as overt as it was for Inwards and debut album Repercussions. But Minutian never sounded derivative of Oceansize, so much as you could hear how that band informed some of the sound and structure of Minutian’s music. Having said that, they are not a band you’d ever mistake for Oceansize anyway. The vocals alone would put paid to that, with a distinctly Scandinavian sound (yes, I know Finland is technically not a Scandinavian country) that I suspect would make it impossible for someone to listen to and not guess their approximate origin.
Inwards was quite a melancholy album, which is perhaps not so much down to the Oceansize influence as the circumstances surrounding its creation. Minutian’s guitarist Jaakko Jernberg died in 2012, the band dealing with their loss by writing new material describing the “inward” journey of grief and loss, and dedicating the results to Jernberg’s memory. The album closed with Redeemer, with both lyrics and music by Jernberg. It was obviously a very personal album, and Magical Thinking still feels personal to an extent, but not specifically to the band so much as universally. Yes, universally personal might seem a bit of an oxymoron, but bear with me here.
Where Inwards was melancholic, Magical Thinking is more anxious. Indeed, if I did not know from their frequent Facebook updates how long this album has been coming, I might think it was a direct response to the events of last year and how they have affected the collective mental health of society. The songs of Magical Thinking seem to describe the anxieties, frustrations and worries that people have experience over the past year or so. There are lyrical descriptions of anxiety attacks, of feelings of guilt and uselessness; and of second guessing how others are thinking of you. It’s hard to imagine there won’t be at least one song that resonates with any listener of this album.
Opening song Alien Reflection does an excellent job of both introducing the nebulous concept of the album and the updated sound of the band. This is a heavier, groovier Minutian, and the band let us know from the very first song. A feeling I always had with Minutian is only reinforced by this song, and this album. I don’t know if it is actually the case, but the songs feel like they are built from the rhythm section up. The drumming of Antti Ruokola, especially, dominates, and feels like it was there before anything else, with the song built around it. Regardless, I love Ruokola’s drumming, and it contributes a lot to why I enjoy Minutian so much. Alien Reflection is almost a musical description of an anxiety attack. It’s brutal and brilliant.
Suspicious Smiles slows down the pace, but has the same anxious feel. My take on the lyrics here are that the smiles themselves are not suspicious, rather the person seeing them views them suspiciously. The paranoia of an anxious mind second-guessing what the people around them are thinking. Again, something so close to home for many people in the last year, and I love how the song builds and builds, just as the anxiety and paranoia can build. It all comes pouring out in crashing drums to end the song, to be followed by Doublespeak.
But it’s the song that follows Doublespeak, Supersymmetry, that is possibly my favourite on the album, and it’s an absolute treat. It’s perhaps sonically the closest to Inwards, with a sparser and more minimal feel than anything else so far on Magical Thinking, but it is still clearly more of this album than the last. Jouni Mikkola’s bass playing is awesome, and I’ve already said how much I like Antti Ruokola’s drumming. The pair lay down a slow, almost laid-back groove, but the song is no less heavy or intense. A lot of this is down to the vocals of Mikko Heino, who has a fantastic and emotive voice. Heino’s vocals on this track almost seem to be running at a different speed to the music. I’m not sure how to explain this, but this track has a really odd tempo, which almost seems like it is too slow for the song, with Heino’s singing dragging it into line. That probably only makes sense if you listen to the song, and even then, I don’t think I’ve described it well. All I can really say is how much I love this song.
The title track is next, and is something quite different. It almost reminds me of some of Ulver’s electronic exploits, except with the drum attack of ConstruKction-era King Crimson. It’s wonderfully atmospheric, which is something Minutian has always excelled in. Minutian has shown from the offset that they can successfully create an atmosphere appropriate to their lyrical content. Debut album Repercussions perfectly echoes the desperation and lack/loss of faith that makes up the concept of that album. Inwards piles on even more melancholy, as mentioned near the beginning of this review, and Magical Thinking continues the trend, with perfectly placed passages of music alternately unnervingly quiet or explosive and bombastic. The sense of anxiety is palpable, and sometimes deliberately overwhelming.
The hits keep coming, and occasionally punching you in the gut, until the triumphant sound of final track, The Grand Scheme kicks in. My favourite guitar passages occur on this track. I’m not sure if it’s Pekka Lopenen or Jesper Johnson, but whoever it is, it’s marvellous. The guitar on this track is also an example of what perhaps works particularly well for this album: just how tight it is. Minutian’s grasp of restraint and subtlety has always been obvious, with a knack for knowing what notes NOT to play, and when to leave space, but Magical Thinking really ups the ante. And the band shows judicious restraint with the running time, also. Given the length of time between this album and Inwards, it would probably have been easy to put out a much longer album, and I’m sure many bands would have done. But Minutian have instead given us a 45-minute, eight song album that needs nothing more. This neat and concise package, along with the particularly topical lyrical content, makes Magical Thinking both an easy and uneasy album to listen to, and one I find myself returning to often.
01. Alien Reflection (4:53)
02. Suspicious Smiles (4:09)
03. Doublespeak (6:21)
04. Supersymmetry (7:33)
05. Magical Thinking (4:39)
06. Vacant Eyes (6:53)
07. Scarefire (7:55)
08. The Grand Scheme (4:11)
Total Time – 46:24
Mikko Heino – Vocals
Pekka Loponen – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Jesper Johnson – Guitars
Jouni Mikkola – Bass
Antti Ruokola – Drums
Record Label: Inverse Records
Country of Origin: Finland
Date of Release: 12th March 2021