MATTIAS LIES – Rösten Från Det Karelska Näset/The Voice From The Karelian Isthmus

The Voice From The Karelian IsthmusThe Voice From The Karelian Isthmus is a collaboration across time between two Swedish Finns. This is the seventh album by Finnish singer-songwriter Mattias Lies, and he’s described it as a collection of blue, white, and yellow songs. Those are the colours of the flag of the Swedish Finns, and on this album Mattias has embraced his heritage and family history as never before, through his musical interpretation of the poems of Edith Södergran (1892 – 1923).

Mattias Lies might be an unfamiliar name for many of you, and I’d guess that many of you won’t have heard of Edith Södergran, so introductions might be useful. Mattias drew early inspiration from Bob Dylan and other contemporary US folk artists. During 15 years of recording and touring he has drawn favourable comparisons with the likes of Neil Young and James Taylor. Edith Södergran was largely ignored during her lifetime but is now seen as a pioneering modernist and a Nordic feminist literary icon. Her life was blighted by poverty, depression, and ill-health. She contracted tuberculosis in 1916 and succumbed to this disease at just 31 years old.

Mattias clearly sees Edith as a kindred spirit, feeling that they share an outward yearning for life and an inward brooding, along with what he calls ‘a pantheistically tinged melancholy.’ This is all sounding very Nordic and introspective, and the two are also connected by the traumas of Finnish history. Caught between two larger neighbours, Finland underwent centuries of Swedish colonisation and domination, before falling under Russian rule. The fall of Tsarism in 1917 lead to a brutal civil war, out of which an independent Finland emerged. Then in 1940, the Finns had to fight off a Soviet invasion. Edith witnessed the nightmare of civil war, and Mattias’ family bore the scars of conflict while he grew up. This contributed to his troubled early life and a period of estrangement from his family. The warm, folk-pop vibe, which characterises Mattias’ music is present on this album, but given all the above, it’s not surprising that it’s infused with strong dose of melancholy.

‘Du Som Aldrig Gatt Ut Ur Ditt Tradgarsland’ (’You Have Never Stepped Out of Your Garden’) opens with a slightly haunting guitar sequence, before Mattias’ fine singing voice joins in. It’s a melancholy tune on which we also hear Daniel Fredrickson playing an offerdal pipe. This is a wooden whistle, common in Swedish folk music, which adds an atmospheric and haunting edge to a number of tracks here. The following track – the first to be released as a single – ‘Bleka Sjo’ (‘Autumn’s Pale Lake’) has a gentler feel. Jens Larsonn’s piano is added to the instrumentation.

‘6.10.1908’ is the strange name of the next track, and my guess is that it’s the date of the poem. It’s a strong track though, with a jaunty tune and a touch of menace that made me think of Weimar cabaret. Another dated track follows, ’21.7.1908.’ It has a similar vibe to its predecessor, but gentler and sadder. ‘Vi Fardas’ (‘We Travel’) is a gentle tune with a jazzy feel helped by Thommy Wahlström on soprano saxophone. The jazz vibe continues on ‘Hjartat’ (‘The Heart’), this time provided by a very non-jazz instrument, the offerdal pipe.

Despite its title. ‘Vagen Till Lyckan’ (‘The Way To Happiness’) feels sad, and the feeling continues on ‘Host & Landet Som Icke Ar’ (‘Autumn & the Land That is Not’). This time the melancholy is not surprising as it was Edith’s final poem, written as she prepared for death and left unfinished. It’s a very soulful track which includes a spoken sequence, which works well accompanied by Mattias’ guitar. This is another strong track and the second from the album to be released as a single.

There is some good guitar playing on the gently melancholic ‘Morkaste Vatten’ (‘Darkest Water’). The album then concludes with the soulful ‘Grubbelhymn’ (‘Pondering Hym’).

Now, in case anyone is admiring my skills as a linguist, I should really acknowledge the help of internet translation services in writing this review. Likewise, any criticism of my translations should be directed to those services. The fact is though, that for an English-speaking audience, an album of musical settings of poems by a poet few will be familiar with, and performed in Swedish, will inevitably be seen as a niche product. The music though, stands up well. Mattias’ soulful and sensitive compositions nicely convey the emotional power of Edith’s poetry and capture the sense of melancholy. Mattias is also a very talented musician and singer, whose voice has a warmth that draws the listener in. He has also put together a team of talented collaborators for this album.

So, what insights will I take from The Voice From The Karelian Isthmus? Firstly, next time I hear that, yet another survey has found that Finland is the happiest country on earth, I’ll remember its past and the great progress it’s made. Second, Mattias Lies is an artist worth knowing about. Lastly, I’m pleased to have discovered Edith Södergran. I doubt that her work will be easy to find on the shelves of libraries and bookshops outside her homeland. It can be read online though, on websites such as, where I found a translation of ‘Host & Landet som icke ar.’ I’ll end with these lines:

The moon speaks to me in silvern runes
About the land that is not.
The land where all our wishes become wondrously fulfilled,
The land where all our fetters fall,
The land where we cool our bleeding forehead
In the dew of the moon.

Graham Brown

Artist website: Mattias Lies, Swedish singer-songwriter

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