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After Kokko, their trip into the barren land of neo-pop, it seemed as if Värttinä had shot their creative wad. That makes this all the more welcome, since Vihma, if not a return to the way things were, is at least a definite way out of the cul-de-sac. They lay their manifesto on the line with the opening title track, which crams in samples, programmed beats, a strong studio feel around an in- your-face attitude, as if to say, "We're back." And they certainly are, expanding the boundaries from the traditional music of their past to draw far more heavily on original compositions and a couple of tracks which utilize the Tuvan throat-singing tradition of Yat-Kha members Albert Kuvezin and Aldyn-ool Sevek (one of which even draws in the string section of fellow Nordic band JPP). "Kylän Kävjiä" revolves around the drone of a jew's-harp, mingling with the Yat-Kha overtones, while "Maa Ei Kerro" rests on a bed of keyboards provided by producer Richard Horowitz, who also contributes "Vihmax (Viha Remix)" to close out the album -- a revamp job that's surprisingly not as radical as the original track. As always, the singing is powerful, with high, keening harmonies. But on Vihma, the instrumentalists feature more; instead of backup for the vocalists, they're now an integral part of the sound, with cunning, complex arrangements that add weight to the songs. It might not be a classic, but Vihma shows that Värttinä remains a force to be reckoned with.

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