I know Elmo Karjalainen as a metal rocker, but he is a musical chameleon. He is an amazing musical arranger, composer and player. You could put a banjo in his hand and he’d make it sound like an orchestra. Elmo is one of those players that you need to know about if you’re a guitar player – acoustic or electric. It’s hard to add anything but another positive note to the chorus of Elmo Karjalainen accolades. His latest album “Back Where We Belong”, is incredibly generous in the amount of music and love of music. Elmo is obviously focusing much more on songwriting as opposed to performing on this album, and there are some real gems here. Elmo is an amazing musician, his extraordinary technique could potentially overshadow his incredible writing and arranging skills, but with “Back Where We Belong”, they all fuse into a glorious panorama of organic guitar sound.
“A few years ago I wrote the album ‘Where We Belong’, kind of as a therapeutic thing during a hectic time. This album is definitely a follow up, it didn’t come about in one go. Much of this material was written when I was practicing for other things with an acoustic. One idea here, one idea there, and then suddenly I noticed I had a bunch of songs,” explained Elmo.
As the opening title track opens, it soon becomes clear that Elmo has infused this album with more calming melody than he has ever done before. His opening refrain is haunting and yet clear and precise, setting the tone for the rest of the album.
An undeniable visionary with his instrument, Elmo not only explores different melodies, but evokes a spectrum of distinctive emotions with visceral rawness. From comforting optimism on “A Dream”, the rollicking wonder and joy of “Kindness”, to the ethereal echoing notes that swathes “A Moment”, and the wounded, but resolute, “Sorrow”.
And that’s that just the first 5 tracks from a total of 12. From the opening notes of “So Far Away” Elmo Karjalainen bowls you over with his amazing technique and his ability to craft a melody that sticks in your head.
On “A Cooling Shade” he shifts the emphases more towards harmony and technical complexity, bringing in a palpable organ accompaniment, and allowing himself some blazing fretboard runs in mid-song.
Playing tunes like “Waves” and “Shadows”, or any other composition on this album, on acoustic guitar, could easily result in a stripped-down feel, but these songs never feel like bare creations. They sound every bit as rich and complete as fully orchestrated versions, owing to the inspired arrangements and playing that capture their sonic textures in full.
Creating the sonic textures of his songs only represents one level of the depth of “Back Where We Belong”. That Elmo Karjalainen focuses as much on fidelity to the emotional core of the songs, can again be clearly heard in “April Sun”, “Peace”, and finally, “Promise”. Melodic, thoughtful, evocative, and emotional all at once.
Whether composed of scattered pointillistic thrusts or sweeping held notes, each tune remains coherent. That’s the compositional edge of this album: unmistakable and efficient, without wanting to be perfect in every sense. Rather than falling into traps of genre and style, these songs lope along through acoustic amalgamations of both earthly and atmospheric spectrums. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
MORE ABOUT: Born in 1979, Elmo Karjalainen is a guitar player from Finland. He has won some fame as one of the best rock guitar players in Finland due to his work in the Finnish metal band Deathlike Silence, and also with his solo albums ‘Unintelligent Designs’ and ‘The Free Guitar Album’, both of which received much critical acclaim. Currently Elmo plays in the nationally famous band Kilpi, plus Seagrave and Helena & Kalevi. He also won the Finnish Tilulilu shred guitar contest in 2015, and featured in Yngwie Malmsteen’s Guitar Gods competition among the top 10.