5th Season are a melodic prog rock quartet from Finland who have released a refreshingly diverse, entertaining and enjoyable self-titled debut album that displays a range of musical styles, whilst retaining a core classic prog influence across most tracks.
Led by guitarist, composer and producer Tapio Ylinen and supported by bassist Mikko Löytty, keyboardist Arto Piispanen and drummer Jani Auvinen, these talented Finnish progressive musicians are assisted by the guest vocals of Pink Floyd’s Durga McBroom and the Hammond organ of Jukka Gustavson (founding member of legendary Finnish prog band Wigwam). The album is a lovingly created album full of the joy of making music that echoes the past, but adds its own modern twist to it.
Tapio has a real musical pedigree, including the Floyd-tribute Pulse, and more recently the prog-jazz group Mortality. Mikko is a stalwart of the Finnish rock scene, with the blues-rock band Q.Stone touring Europe extensively in the ’80s and ’90s, amongst other projects. 5th Season originally started out as a live vehicle for their solo albums back in 2017 but has now solidified into a true band and recording unit with the release of this debut album.
The album deliberately attempts to pay tribute to, and follow in the footsteps of, those classic prog rock legends, such as Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis and Procol Harum, as well as throwing in other rock influences. However, far from being a set of well-meaning, but predictable homages to those bands, Tapio and 5th Season have created music that is full of variety and individuality, with just the occasional, subtle comparisons here and there for prog listeners to pick up on. It certainly had much more originality than I initially expected to hear when I played it for the first time a month or so ago.
The 10-minute instrumental In Memorium… is a cracking way to start the album. It has a musical vibrancy and sweep despite the melancholic atmosphere it conjures up. It is essentially a lament for Tapio’s first wife, Vuokko, who sadly died of cancer back in 2015. He says the music was a better way than words for him to express his feelings of watching helplessly as someone he loved faded into nothingness (an alternative version appeared on his prog-jazz album Mortality.)
It starts with sad, folk-like acoustic guitar patterns and touches of piano, before being joined by an electric guitar which soars high in a rich melodic solo. Layers of organ chords join the musical landscape, with the drum and bass joining in. As the tempo rises we hear some expressive and improvised musical interplay which reminded me of the joys of early Focus. A mid-point, reflective and atmospheric interlude with some beautiful piano brings back the serenity from earlier and somehow a more upbeat feeling of hope and resolution is mixed within the overall poignancy. It is proof that instrumental music can express emotion as deeply as heartfelt lyrics, in the hands of consummate musicians.
Daylight’s End is a complete contrast, yet continues the story. It references Tapio meeting his future wife, Nea, and ponders the contradicting emotions of the happiness of new love whilst still mourning his loss. It’s a wonderfully uplifting and melodic pop song that catches that infectious Alan Parsons Project and Mike + the Mechanics feel so well – helped by a driving beat, nice guitar runs and some warm vocals from Tapio.
I Am the Waves is a lovely acoustic-led ballad, with Steve Howe-like guitar and plaintive vocals that hint at the quieter, more introspective moments of Yes. A love song to Nea, but reflecting on both the joys of love and also the fear of loss, the haunting, sliding electric guitar motifs add to the dreaminess, and Tapio’s vocals even have an echo of REM’s Michael Stripe at times.
The two-part On the Dark Side of the Moon, whilst clearly referencing Pink Floyd’s classic album, is more of a tip of the hat and nod to the guitar sound of David Gilmour than a full-blown homage. Mikko’s music and lyrics focus on the same dichotomy of light and dark expressed earlier in the album. Once again guitar and keyboards combine effectively, with a solid rhythmic foundation from Mikko and Jani, and appropriately flowing backing vocals of Durga. Part 1 actually has a Christopher Cross-like AOR smoothness at times, although the Peter Frampton-like talk-box guitar solo (maybe echoing Keep Talking from The Division Bell) and some juicy stabs of organ from Arto pick up the pace very effectively. After some spacey Vangelis-style keyboards, Part 2 develops into a rather funky instrumental jam that glides nicely along with some fine ensemble playing that gets quite proggy and urgent in places. A reprise of the vocals and theme from Part 1 rounds off this suite nicely. Tapio says the band were after a two-part suite structure in the vein of Home by the Sea by Genesis, and I can see what they were aiming for here.
To show the musical diversity on show on the album, Lay Down has a lazy, Americana feel and shuffle, with resonating organ and more flights of melodic electric guitar punctuating the Robbie Robertson-like Somewhere Down the Crazy River sleepy vibe. However, the music does become incrementally more complex and progressive in structure later on.
That bluesy rock vibe of The Band and Little Feat, amongst others, really hits strongly with the seamless move into Don’t Wanna Sing Your Blues. Jukka’s Hammond organ playing is a real highlight and the honky-tonk feel will certainly get your feet tapping. I honestly wouldn’t try to convince you this is traditional prog rock in the way most of us would define it – but the music gives off an infectious and sultry, West Coast feeling with a touch of Curtis Stigers & The Forest Rangers thrown in (for any of you Sons of Anarchy fans out there!).
However, we return to a more classic melodic prog sound for Desperate Measures. It takes us back to the subject matter of the opening track, with lyrics expressing a more self-reflective take on Vuokko’s tragic passing. The mournful piano and the vocals ooze emotion as musically the song opens up beautifully, with Durga’s Floydian vocals adding to the mix and the perfectly pitched guitar gradually fuelling the rise in intensity. Then Durga’s vocals take off and it’s pure goosebumps time as we get that The Great Gig in the Sky moment. The homage to Procol Harum’s wonderful A Salty Dog is unmistakeable, but it still works in its own right. It could easily have been extended and delivered an even more grandiose musical crescendo for me, but the more I play it, the more I think the band probably got the balance between the poignant melancholy and the defiant positivity correct. It bookends the album very effectively.
As a footnote, Tapio told me, “I met Durga McBroom in person in 2015 while we were still performing together at a Pink Floyd tribute show. Vuokko couldn’t attend the show since she was bedridden. Durga was gracious with her time and came to our home for a private performance after the show”. Music definitely makes some special memories for us all.
I find 5th Season a surprisingly successful and complete album which gels together the variety of musical styles so well. Musical complexity, emotive vocals and lyrics and approachable compositions make it a very enjoyable and diverse listen indeed. Hopefully we will hear more from the Finnish proggers in the future, based on this encouraging debut.
01. In Memorium… (10:33)
02. Daylight’s End (5:08)
03. I Am the Waves (4:40)
04. On The Dark Side of The Moon, Part 1 (6:58)
05. On The Dark Side of The Moon, Part 2 (6:16)
06. Lay Down (6:58)
07. Don’t Wanna Sing Your Blues (6:13)
08. Desperate Measures (6:30)
Total Time – 53:16
Tapio Ylinen – Guitars, Vocals, Additional Keyboards
Mikko Löytty – Bass, Vocals
Arto Piispanen – Electric Piano, Organ
Jani Auvinen – Drums
Durga McBroom – Lead & Backing Vocals (tracks 4,5 & 8)
Jukka Gustavson – Hammond Organ (track 7)
Record Label: Eclipse Music
Formats: CD, Digital, Vinyl
Country of Origin: Finland
Date of Release: 5th May 2023