Nimbus - Obus. 1974 Finland

Nimbus' sole album is quite a revelation, and certainly one of the better Finnish albums from the early 1970s. The vocalist uses a narrative style of singing, all in wonderful Finnish (which apparently puts me at odds with many reviewers on RYM anyway). The music is more typical of the Scandinavian tradition of mixing hard rock with progressive rock - and maintains a somewhat dour atmosphere throughout. From an instrumental perspective, the nimble fingered electric guitar, soaring violin and - in particular - Hammond organ are the dominate protagonists. Nimbus are definitely recommended to fans of Sweden's Trettioåriga Kriget (first album), and Norway's Host, though not quite as kinetic as the former. 

Personal collection
LP: 1974 Satsanga
CD: 2013 Rocket

Like many Finnish albums, I first heard Nimbus while spending a full day in 1993 with some of Helsinki's most knowledgeable collectors. And, in this case, I received the album as a gift in the mail a few months later from one of the fine gentlemen I met that day. I really like the negative image photography (I would not be surprised to hear this album was an influence on Anekdoten's Vemod artwork). It also comes with a multi-page lyric insert. Of course, everything is in Finnish, so I have no hope of translating any of it (see below for translation). The original LP is certainly rare, though a persistent search will net you one if you have some extra coin. Because I've had the LP since 1993, this title has been in some variation of the CDRWL from the very beginning. After nearly 20 years of only existing as a bootleg on CD, Rocket Records once again comes through with a fantastic reissue. They have proven over and over to be the de facto standard for CD reissues of Finnish albums (and now Svart has entered thge fray which is much welcome). This reissue features superb sound, two excellent unreleased live bonus tracks, and a full set of liners. The latter are in Finnish of course, but as we have been so fortunate with other Rocket albums in the past, our friend Kai has provided a full translation which I have included below.

April 26, 2014 update: As if the translated liner notes weren't enough of a task for our friend Kai - he's gone ahead and translated the lyrics for us too. Wow! See below for the translations.

Translated liner notes (immense gratitude to Kai for these!!): The roots of the prog band Nimbus can be traced back to the small city of Salo in the southwest of Finland in 1967. It was there and then that guitarist Harri Suilamo (born 1954) founded his own band with three friends. They included bassist Hannu Vuorisaari (born 1952), rhythm guitarist Juha Jokiranta (born 1954) and drummer Matti Jokiranta (born 1955). At the time all the members were between 12 and 15 years old. Their initial repertoire comprised rock hits of the day, with songs by The Beatles, Cream and Procol Harum among others.

The band began gigging around the turn of the decade. They chose Mafia as their name, and played instrumental versions of global hits.

Mafia hadn’t played live for long, before they experienced their first line-up change. Bassist Hannu Vuorisaari left to serve his military service. At the same time, Juha Jokiranta switched from rhythm guitar to bass. Harri Suilamo, particularly, was pleased with the change, as he had felt a rhythm guitar wasn’t a right instrument for the band.

Having become a live band, Mafia now felt they needed to add a vocalist to their ranks. Suilamo and the Jokiranta cousins found the right singer from a band from Halikko. Pasi Saarelma (born 1955) was recruited into Mafia in November 1971. By this time, the group were gradually but persistently replacing their repertoire of contemporary rock hits with progressive rock songs. They would play both covers and songs by Harri Suilamo. With the evolution of their musical style and incorporation of original material, the group had to step up their practising. Mafia would play together nearly every day and along with honing their songs, do half an hour of pure improvisation.

Mafia received substantial support from Seppo Pietikäinen, a local man involved in many aspects of the music scene. He began to manage the band, sold their gigs and would later sort out details related to recordings.

Mafia also started getting noticed outside their native Salo. In 1972, the group won fame and recognition on several occasions. In the spring, they won the jazz and pop series at the Youth Art Happening, first on a local and then provincial level. Near the end of the year, they did well on the national level at Jyväskylä. This won them the invitation to play on the television programme Mafiasta Maarian kuoroon (“From Mafia to Mary’s Choir”) on December 12th 1972. They performed parts of their composition “After the Origin and Evolution”, which they had played in the competition. Seppo Pietikäinen later called the performance “hot stuff”. According to Pasi Saarelma, Mafia’s performance was “about weird as you could possibly get” and without a head or tail. He thought Mafia had been playing modern art music rather than rock.

THE FIRST RECORDING DEAL

One of Mafia’s most significant performances was at Salo’s Bio Jännä cinema in the early autumn 1972. They opened for the giants of Finnish progressive rock, Wigwam and Tasavallan Presidentti. The latter’s bassist and Love Records’ producer Måsse Groundstroem was impressed by what he heard and suggested that Mafia should cut a record.

Mafia began working with Love Records, and travelled to studio in March 1973. However, the ten-hour recording session only yielded a half-completed version of Suilamo’s composition “Myrskyjen välillä” (“Between Storms”), which was never released.

In May 1973, Mafia changed their name to Nimbus. In August they headed for the two-track Microvox studio in Lahti for a recording session financed by Love Records. With Groundstroem producing, the band recorded two English songs written by Harri Suilamo, “Heretic Fool” and “Ode to Eagle”. These were slated for a single release, but those plans were soon scrapped. Next the songs were going to be included on the compilation Rock & roll juhlaa 4 (“Rock & Roll Celebration 4”), which was released in March 1974. This didn’t happen either, and the songs remained unreleased.

It’s likely that as Love Records had started scoring hits with the less complicated rock of Rauli “Badding” Somerjoki, Hurriganes and Juice Leskinen, among others, a nationally almost unknown Nimbus was put on the back burner. “Ode to Eagle” would finally be released in 1996 on Siboney’s Love Proge compilation.

From November 1973 on, Nimbus could also be heard playing Harri Suilamo’s compositions in the Salo Youth Theatre’s production of the rock play Vapaan maailman laitamilla (“On the outskirts of the free world”). “The play tried to dramatise how difficult it is for a young person to balance between normal life and the so-called youth culture with its pop music, trendy clothes and discos,” a local newspaper described the show. The play’s score was lauded and it brought Nimbus victory in the 1974 national Youth Art Happening in Kouvola.

In late 1973, Nimbus became a quintet with the addition of keyboard-player Pekka Rautio (1955 – 1995). In January 1974, Nimbus gained wider recognition with a 40-minute session recorded for the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation, which was aired in the Popstudio radio show. Among the six songs were “Heretic Fool”, “Ode to Eagle” and “Myrskyjen välillä”. Also included were the Greenslade cover “Feathered Friends”, the instrumental “Aamumaa” (“The Morning Land”) and “Pessimistinen dialogi” (“A Pessimistic Dialogue”), which would later be recorded for the group’s debut album. Harri Suilamo considers “Aamumaa” as one of Nimbus’ best songs and has later regretted that it wasn’t included on the album. He thinks the song was dropped because it was too long for the album or didn’t fit in with the rest of the material.

Nimbus’ live repertoire matched their radio set list, consisting mainly of their own compositions. They would still play an occasional cover, including Frank Zappa compositions.

OBUS

After Love Records had lost interest in Nimbus, manager Pietikäinen sent the group’s demo tape to Satsanga. Satsanga Records was Jukka Kuoppamäki’s small record company that was active from 1973 to 1978. Satsanga released mostly records from iskelmä artists, including Kuoppamäki himself. [1] It also put out a few rock records during its short history, including albums by Haikara and Castanja. Their rock albums tended to get little attention, however.

Sending the demo tape paid off, because Jukka Kuoppamäki and his brother Mikko loved what they heard. The brothers went to the Salo fair in June-July 1974 to check Nimbus out. That clinched the record deal. Nimbus were booked to the Microvox studio, where they had recorded their unreleased single the year before. Even as the contract was being finalised, it was clear that Nimbus would be making a Finnish album based around Suilamo’s song suite which took a rather pessimistic view of the future.

One couldn’t just march into a studio in the 1970s. The demand was so high that the studios might be fully booked for months ahead. The latter part of the year was a particularly busy time, as all record labels were racing to produce their artists’ songs for television’s annual Syksyn sävel (“The Autumn Tune”) song contest. The peak years saw hundreds of songs recorded in the few studios Finland had.

Nimbus got to the studio in October 1974. They were given whopping three days to complete their album Obus. [2] That wasn’t much time to make an art rock album. Even singer-songwriter Kari Peitsamo, once called Finland’s fastest recording artist, couldn’t finish his three-chord band albums in that time.

Though Obus was recorded quickly, the process was far from easy for the group. They pulled out all the stops rehearsing their material. Obus contained six compositions, five by Harri Suilamo, one by Pekka Rautio. On a few tracks the group were supported by Rautio’s brother Matti on violin. Mikko Kuoppamäki co-produced the album.

Seppo Pietikäinen also left his mark on the album, for he took its stylish photograph. The picture was shot in Halikko in front of the Vuorentaka Manor, the oldest still inhabited stone mansion in Finland. The album’s graphic design was by Martti Lehtonen. His Nimbus illustration was nearly identical to the group’s concert poster at the time.

The hastily recorded Obus made it to the shops before the year’s end. Some copies included a four-page insert with the song lyrics and photographs. In Salo the album was hailed as a milestone, as it was the first ever album release by a young local band.

Progressive rock fans and music media also approved of the album, but the record-buying masses remained indifferent to it. This was most likely partly due to poor marketing, but also due to the fact that the album was released by a label with little brand value in the rock market.

Later the album has received considerable attention, both domestically and abroad, becoming one of the most sough-after and valuable Finnish progressive-rock records. A good-condition copy with the insert will set you back several hundred euros.

CONFLICTS

Soon after the album’s release Nimbus went through line-up changes. First military service took Juha Jokiranta away from the group for nearly a year. The other members became bitterly divided over the direction the band should take. While Harri Suilamo and Matti Jokiranta wanted to take further steps into a more ambitious direction, Pasi Saarelma and Pekka Rautio favoured a more straightforward and less serious approach. An anecdote demonstrates their division. On the song “Ennustus” (“The Prophecy”) Harri Suilamo had listed “three heavy Ps” that he feared would be defining humanity’s future: “pakko, pelko ja pariton luku” (coercion, fear and odd number). Pekka Rautio mischievously rendered them as “pillu, pilvi ja pitkä tukka” (pussy, pot and long hair).

The band’s inner conflict finally came to a head with Harri Suilamo leaving the band he had founded. The group replaced him with the singing guitarist Jussi Blomqvist and simplified their music somewhat in hope of getting more gigs. Those gigs didn’t materialise, however. With the departure of the Jokiranta cousins, the last founding members, at the end of 1976, the book closed on Nimbus. The break up inspired several articles and letters to the editor in the local press. Insufficient support by home audience was put forward as one reason for the break up.

Nimbus remained inactive for over thirty years. In 2007, they reformed for a single gig at Salo’s K-40 Rock Show event. They played in the Obus line-up, except for Pekka Rautio, who had died in 1995. His place on the keyboard was filled by Harri Suilamo’s daughter Sanni Suilamo.

After Nimbus, Pekka Rautio and Pasi Saarelma played in the band Motelli. They recorded a single, but for some reason it was never released. [3] From the 1980s on, Pasi Saarelma has worked as a music teacher. He has also had parts in many opera and musical productions. The most successful post-Nimbus musical career belongs to Harri Suilamo, who is now a respected art music composer. Juha Jokiranta became a taxi entrepreneur, while his cousin Matti ended up as a technical designer for Nokia. He has also played drums in the Salo group Piazza Brass.

A CD version of Obus has been on the wish lists around the world for a long time. The album has already been bootlegged by a South Korean label. The Rocket Records CD edition is the first legitimate re-release of this cult album. The CD also includes the songs “Myrskyjen välillä” and “Aamumaa” from the Popstudio performance in January 1974.

The career of Nimbus and its predecessor Mafia is covered in more detail in the book Koit ny rauhottu! (“Try to Calm Down!”) by Mikko Vienonen and Timo Lähteenmäki. The present liner notes [and translation] were based largely on this excellent book on the history pop culture in Salo.

[1] Iskelmä (literally “a hit song”) is the Finnish equivalent for Schlager, generally denoting the more traditional Finnish popular music. Though it originally simply meant any kind of song that was popular, in the early-1970s iskelmä was seen more as its own genre and distinct from the new Anglo-American pop or rock music. Jukka Kuoppamäki was a popular purveyor of typical iskelmä. [2] Apparently, the spelling was designed to rhyme with Nimbus. [3] Motelli’s single “Oscar Wilde” / “Akka akka” was produced by Wigwam’s Pekka Rechardt. It seems that the band were designed as Finland’s first punk band by manager Pietikäinen on a Malcolm McLaren mode. However, as none of the musicians had any clue what punk rock was suppose to sound like, their songs ended more as “theatrical rock inspired by The Tubes”. 


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Here are the lyrics to the album in English, with some initial commentary from Kai."So for the hell of it, here’s my English translation of all the song texts from the CD version of Obus. I’ve followed quite closely the format in the booklet, too close in some cases perhaps. I’ve checked the texts against the record, and the two versions seem to largely agree with each other. As in the booklet, the italicised lines are not sung. The exception is of course “Myrskyjen välillä” which I transcribed off the record. Therefore there is a greater chance that errors in performance or transcription may have garbled the original intent of the lyrics somewhat, but I think you’ll get the gist of it.

Apart from rampant pessimism and weapons-grade Weltschmerz, the lyrics show a tendency towards neologisms and syntactic ambiguity for the “wow, that’s deep, man” effect (I would guess that Jukka Gustavson’s original Finnish texts would be the inspiration). I’ve had to simplify a few things and choose between interpretations at places where English and Finnish don’t really agree. Since the lyrics are largely free verse with few sound devices, I have stuck to straightforward semantic translation. Anyone interested in the rhythm or sound of the words is better off just listening to the recording in any case. However, just remember that accurate meaning has been the primary objective here, not the most idiomatic text."


I'm removing the italics only, as Kai has mixed straight print and italics due to the following: As in the booklet, the italicised lines are not sung.


WHATEVER LEADS TO WHERE EVER

A certain immortal whitebeard’s
(who got to experience the prophecies, the testaments,
the changes, the end, all that by eating just that
brand of yoghurt) tale of future,
pain, hopelessness (three useless things).
A report that sped at twice the speed of light
into the historical present
and reached its destination in 1974.


THE PROPHECY (February 9th 19XY)

Things experienced and read,
childhood memories.


Who understands time?
Do you, Amenophis? The clock hands and its imperishability?
A leaflet on the street handed out 40 days
to each depressed passer-by
(and no one was left without).
The witnesses are afraid of the dog.
They keep the date to themselves.
Better kept secret.

Truly, there is a sense of a great farewell party in the air.
Nature issues a serious warning.
To each individual


imagination are left
the details and channels of chaos.
The place is predestined.
The point that promises the most,

keeping

hands behind the back

fidgeting with mistakes and problems,
with physical-mental mass murders.


Even scientists cry to the best of their abilities,
longing for the trees.
Even computers lapse into pessimism.

Frankly irreversible!
I have watched, wandered, experienced
(three tough things!).


Outside-inside I feel, friend:
I’d like to dig the starting holes with you
and wait for the sanctions, hiding with our thoughts
which we only whisper in fear of getting the boot,
for tomorrow is:
coercion
fear
odd number
(three heavy things).

I hope the prophecy won’t come true.


THE TESTAMENT (September 15th 2YXZ)

The things that the master of the world and I
realised too late.


I think about
what He promised in the elections before the chaos.
What His country thought when it caused
the era of three heavy things.
Of the ebb tide
that is seeping completely out of the leaking sea,
its first drops already green with red poison.

A new colour,
for everything was very secret.


How complacent everyone was
about tomorrow!
Promises of better things,
but the testaments felt so useless,
those that no one was going to read
without the insights, the improvements
which many already craved for yesterday.
HELP, I need help, I can’t make it alone.
I start imagining all sorts of things.
I start going crazy.


THE CHANGE (April 12th XZYX, X>2)

Descriptions of a new state of being,
of brainlessness,
of lifeless matter,
of the non-existent reason’s limitless possibilities
in hindsight.

It’s nearly time to depart.
Questions occupying the mind.


Will the world become infinite?
Will space become the Void?
Where the oscillators’ artistic figurines
hover around me.
With copper horns on my head, I sit on one of them
and experience everything as green.
Grass I can no longer remember.
The subconscious stimulus is too weak.
NO!
Cosmic smogs have simply paralysed
my ability to receive.
My plastic skin does not feel the cold.
A hand I can at least remember: a hand
that silently pleaded for help and waited. A platinum hand!
Thoughts of revolutions still occupy my mind.
What do they matter now when I’m alone?
What do carrots matter?
What does overpopulation matter?
There is room!
What does love matter?


EPILOGUE (November 11th 1974)

How terrifyingly lucky!
Some strange INVENTOR is whispering in my ear
of the chance to salvation.
I suppose I finally better start listening.


Miraculously I’ve made it back to earth,
to this year.
Gyro Gearloose with his time machine rescued me
from beyond the deeper than deep sleep.
Brought me back from the frontiers of lunacy land,
from a journey to eternal despair:
a journey you too may end up on
through brute forces, ambitions, pride
or other hallucinations.

Which include more things
than anyone thinks.


And your only redemption will be through humanity,
with luck.


A PESSIMISTIC DIALOGUE

It is the age of rust, of heavy earth.
Where does the child’s cry come from?
Far away is the verdant age.
Are you aware of the present and its too
deviant ideals?
How could I release myself from behind the bars of today’s prison
and among the subjects of clean nature,
to circulate wisdom,
to take in knowledge?

I was born in the wrong era,
to envy the stone age.

I pity the five-year old.
Will he get to live to the end of his book?
How could I journey beyond the painless frontier?
Taking everything with me,
my friends,
who can only be saved by the dreams of an optimist?
Don’t be born again.
Make no wishes for the future.
Shit is already raining out of the mouths of the verbose.
I’m afraid.

Let us flee beyond the mountains,
to find the roots of the brook!
We shall forget the past:
in any case, by thinking
we cannot help.
How could I fall asleep on the moss, in the shadow of the rock
Without feeling that I have achieved serenity.
Don’t answer.
Never think back.


THE LONELY SAILOR

Has shut out
himself.
Has stepped into loneliness
alone.
Like Heyerdahl
the only difference is
he doesn’t search but runs away.

Let’s get him away
before he disappears!

Let’s be together, show him the gate,
the earth’s smell
despite and because of that
we can give him peace.
When peace is needed.
Joy when joyfulness is needed.
Love when love is needed.
Always.
I don’t know, he says.
We don’t know either.
We say, but that doesn’t prevent
Prevent anything.


BETWEEN THE STORMS

Winds, birds of bad weather, waves
have ceased.
The sky’s dark, cruel clouds
have disappeared,
making room for a new strange dawn,
another silence.

Dawn and all its sounds,
echoes of chirps announce their gratitude,
that fear has fled faraway,
under the trees,
to the great roots, cliffs.

In the mirror of dew drops,
reality forms an image
of a smiling, calm stream.
The outlines of a rocky shore
accentuate this deep sleep
with their straightness.

And peace reigns over the creation.
The lifeless, the living, nature
are in harmony as long as there is
a weak wind, light clouds,
the aspen leaves are silent.

Guided by instinct,
the frightened bird of prey
looks for shelter.
It is the time to wait for the storm.
Nature’s lifelessly savage forces
gain control.
It is the time for another kind of fear.

The sky portends a new storm.
Nearness of the grey cloud offers no safety.
Ripples on the surface of the sea,
rays, winds, broken streams by the shore.

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