As I started listening to this album I was instantly reminded of Iona, and their classic Celtic stylings, but for some reason, I also kept thinking of elements of Nightwish, which didn’t make any sense to me at all. It was only when I finally read the press release that I realized what was going on, as what we have is in many ways a collaboration between the two. Troy Donockley has long been seen as the “go to “ person when pipes are required: I first came across him when he was in Iona, and since then he had made his name featuring with many great bands before becoming a member of Nightwish. Of course, Tuomas Holopainen is the musical mind behind that band, and he and Troy are great friends, seeing each other socially as well as when Nightwish are working. They are also both friends with Johanna Kurkela, and back in 2011 the three of them recorded a demo of Troy’s, “Aphrodite Rising” (the finished version of which appears on the album), which led them to believe that they should undertake some further work together. But, Nightwish was in ascendance and incredibly busy so there was just no time, although in 2017 when the decision was taken to have a break, it meant that they could get back together, write some more material, and Auri was born.
The trio of Johanna Kurkela (vocals, viola), Tuomas Holopainen (keyboards, backing vocals) and Troy Donockley (guitars, bouzouki, uilleann pipes) are joined by various unnamed musicians, and they have created a mostly acoustic album that can truly only be described as “beautiful”. Iona, Clannad, Enya and early Nightwish have all had their part to play. Tuomas plays far more piano than keyboards, while Troy has a deft approach to anything he touches, and Johanna’s vocals are simply stunning. No effects, just a little reverb, and she is always front and center – no need for autotune here. The music at times is incredibly simple, almost naked in its naivety and clarity, yet there are also layers of complexity and the arrangements are perfect in the way they combine melody and dynamics yet never detract from Johanna. I am a huge fan of Nightwish, and have pretty much all their albums, yet would be happy for that band to be on hiatus for just a little longer if that means that we can get another album from Auri as I could listen to this all day.
by Kev Rowland