Dust Mountain: Bonded by blood and obscure sounds of the 70s
Dust Mountain's debut album is a mature work of psychedelic and progressive art which takes the listener to magical and mythical realms. The record's maturity may stem from Dust Mountain's refusal to rush, as the band was already formed in 2015 by members from bands such as Oranssi Pazuzu and Cats of Transnistria. And the songwriting duo of Toni and Henna Hietamäki have known each other their whole lives: they're siblings.
Performing at Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands is a milestone that almost every band in the global heavy and psychedelic underground scene wishes to achieve. Only a handful of artists actually make it. And then there's Dust Mountain who played one their first gigs, before releasing a single song, at the aforementioned festival's online edition Roadburn Redux in April 2021.
It was hardly a leap of faith to put our trust in them, told Becky Laverty from Roadburn's Publicity & Communications. Yes, the festival had relations with the band. Dust Mountain's Toni Hietamäki had performed at the festival on several occasions: three times with his psychedelic black metal band Oranssi Pazuzu and once as a part of a commissioned project called Waste of Space Orchestra.
Toni Hietamäki describes what makes Roadburn so special among both artists and attendees: "The whole ethos of that festival is to let musicians do their art without a single compromise."
We are a new band but thanks to Roadburn our target audience knew us already when our debut album was released – Henna Hietamäki
"It's an appreciative environment to be part of. It was easy to answer when they asked us to play."
An unknown billing might go overlooked at some other festival, but the Roadburn audience trusts the festival for its stark vision and tastemaking abilities. Dust Mountain drew a nice amount of viewers for their pre-recorded stream and caused a buzz in the chat box. Harry Holmes from the Sleeping Shaman webzine wrote months later that the show left a mark on his mind.
"It felt extraordinary", the band's singer Henna Hietamäki says.
"We are a new band but thanks to Roadburn our target audience knew us already when our debut album was released."
Dust Mountain's Hymns for Wilderness was released in October by Svart Records, the herald of Finnish psychedelic rock and metal. The vinyl pressing was sold out in advance and a hefty portion of the cardboard mailers were shipped to Western and Central Europe. Coincidence? Unlikely.
Like brother like sister
Toni and Henna Hietamäki spent their childhood in Seinäjoki, a city located in South Ostrobothnia. Toni is the eldest of four siblings, Henna the second youngest. Their parents weren't musicians but used to sing and play acoustic guitars on different occasions. They encouraged the youngsters towards music. Toni picked up the trombone at a music school at the age of 10. Rock music and involvement in bands came in his teens.
"I'm five years younger so Toni's record collection was an interesting treasury for me when he still lived with our parents before moving to Tampere", Henna says.
Henna played the piano and sang in a choir. She dreamt of being a singer since she was a kid, but now she reflects that she probably lacked the confidence. As she grew up her musical taste slithered towards darker and heavier stuff. Over 15 years ago Henna moved to Helsinki, the capital of Finland, and founded Cats of Transnistria, a hypnotic and atmospheric pop duo which has released three albums to date.
It took a while to accept that wanting to be a singer is OK. I had to work on my confidence and I felt like I needed some kind of validation. – Henna Hietamäki
"It took a while to accept that wanting to be a singer is OK. I had to work on my confidence and I felt like I needed some kind of validation. But the longer I've made music the more serious I've become about it", Henna says.
They might live in different cities and not talk weekly but they've followed each others musical ventures with pride. Eventually their mutual love for darker folk and prog from decades ago led to conversations about a joint venture. The birth of Dust Mountain dates to 2015.
"We were both excited to try stuff that we couldn't do with other projects of ours. It felt fresh and invigorating", Henna says.
There was a possibility of a Gallagher-esque pitfall hanging in the air as they both knew themselves to be hard-headed and strong-minded individuals – especially when it comes to music. Toni and Henna both laugh when reminiscing over Dust Mountain's studio sessions: there were some minor clashes regarding some seemingly trivial issues but the siblings seem unsure which one of them got the last say.
The sound of the 70s meets the technology of today
After composing tunes for Dust Mountain it was soon obvious that Henna and Toni Hietamäki needed more company. First came the drummer, Jukka Rämänen from doom titans Dark Buddha Rising and the cherished psychedelic folk act Hexvessel. Toni has played with him in the big band line-up of Waste of Space Orchestra.
"I've always said that a door to a different world opens when Jukka Rämänen hits a drum", Henna professes.
And when gate to Dust Mountain's universe was open, like-minded people turned in. A mutual friend suggested Riku Pirttiniemi for bass duties. Pirttiniemi, from psychedelic rockers Death Hawks, found Dust Mountain's music instantly exhilarating. Pauliina Lindell's path had crossed with the Hietamäki siblings before: she had sung in a choir with Henna as a kid and played with Toni in her own folk rock band Vuono – she was quickly recruited as second guitarist and backing vocals. The last piece of the puzzle fell in its place when Rämänen brought Jaakko Niemelä to Dust Mountain's rehearsals ex tempore.
"We hired him on the spot for our live line-up. He's an excellent musical handyman. From keyboards to percussions to flutes, he can pick up any instrument I can think of", Toni says.
To capture their debut album, Dust Mountain booked Tonehaven Recording Studio. Located in a barn in the countryside in the Finnish Lakeland and operated by Tom Brooke the studio has become a go-to place for bands playing underground metal and rock. There were personal affiliations once again: Oranssi Pazuzu recorded their breakthrough album "Värähtelijä" (2016) there and Brooke has toured as Oranssi Pazuzu's sound engineer.
Our references are from the 1970's but it would be pointless trying to fake that we're not living in the 2020's. We've enhanced the immersiveness of our soundscapes by sound engineering tricks that weren't possible 50 years ago – Toni Hietamäki
"Tom has a stellar inventory in old school recording equipment and he's a real sound geek: he for example knows exactly what kind of Soviet microphone works with a specific bass drum", Toni says and Henna completes the sales pitch:
"And Tom is a top notch chef. There are bands that go there for his upkeep."
"Hymns for Wilderness" is a beautiful and harmonious album filled with magical atmospheres. While the obvious influences are for example Fairport Convention, Pentangle and Linda Perhacs, Dust Mountain also builds hypnotic tension akin to Oranssi Pazuzu.
"Our references are from the 1970's but it would be pointless trying to fake that we're not living in the 2020's. We've enhanced the immersiveness of our soundscapes by sound engineering tricks that weren't possible 50 years ago", Toni says.
Fantasy and fictive storytelling mingle with Henna's own beliefs in her lyrics. Mystic and mythical themes merge seamlessly with folklore and everything becomes one with the nature. And finally "Hymns for Wilderness" is wrapped in Valreza Collective's ethereal art. The Finnish art collective formed by Tekla Vály and Tereza Holubová were named as visual artists for Roadburn Festival 2022.
Coincidence? I think not.