Monday, January 2, 2017

MMXVI

Dear blogger,

I choose to disregard the fact that 2016 was the first year in the 9-year-existence of this blog that I made no posts whatsoever. Instead, I would like to dive into what I did actually do and accomplish during the 12-month-era that now has become nothing short of a recollection. For despite the global tragedies, fear and low spirits, it was probably the happiest year of my entire existence.


January to March: The Heart Of A Cold White Land

In the first quarter of the year, I expected replies from publishing houses after sending them my debut poetry collection in November of 2015. The responses were negative one after the other, with the exception of one small publisher who already at the end of 2015 offered to print the book had I been brave enough to put a significant amount of my own money into the project, which after careful consideration I decided not to do. Coincidentally, as the new year tends to affect people, I pursued other forms of substance to fill my life with, including several culture-related pursuits, which well illustrate parts of my year afterwards. My studies began to take a bit more time than in the fall at this point, but my relationship, becoming ever-deeper and smoother, kept things balanced. I delved sparsely but meaningfully in my surroundings, switching grocery stores (an important change as anyone familiar with student finances and schedules, as well as making attributions to even the most seemingly unimportant places will know), going to Lahti for an evening, and getting familiar with a new area of my hometown where I helped my girlfriend settle in.

The year got off to a big start in the literature department, with 12 books finished in as many weeks. As most of the books I consumed throughout the year, these were classics for analysis purposes as part of my university degree. The novels were nothing special, with Stendhal's The Red and The Black and Goethe's Elective Affinities being slight disappointments even. At the same time, I read two exciting plays: the original manuscript of Jokela's Mobile Horror was just as amusing as the movie I had seen in 2015, and the Hamlet-esque Daniel Hjort by Wecksell was a pleasant surprise. After having my introduction to Kafka with The Trial in 2015, the short story The Metamorphosis continued to spark my interest in his dark and reflective works, with Maupassant's similarly psychological and self-loathing short The Horla pleasing me as well. The poetry collection Puut, kaikki heidän vihreytensä by Haavikko, a Finnish classic, awoke an ambivalent but mostly positive reaction.

Similar to books, with movies I had a peak at the very beginning of the year, as between January and March I saw 16 out of the 44 previously unknown movies that I experienced during the whole year. The mysterious and thus engaging Donnie Darko and Dark City were the clear highlights, both making it high in my all-time list with ease. The realistic relationship drama Last Night was also an enjoyable watch in the winter season.

In terms of music, January was reigned by the Finnish gothic death doom metal band Swallow The Sun. I got to see them live together with LIK and Hanging Garden (who was nearly as astonishing as the main act) on the 22nd in the Finlandia-klubi in Lahti. I also acquired their near-majestic debut CD The Morning Never Came soon after, having wanted it for a long time. The crown then passed over to Maj Karma. I bought the much underrated full-length Salama, and together with the not-so-impressive 2016 follow-up Peltisydän that still garnered several great songs, it made the soundtrack for my February. A sort of culmination to this came again with seeing the band pull off an unpredictable and energetic live show in my hometown on the 12th of March. Moving on through the personally over-hyped yet still purchase-worthy Hacktivist debut album Outside the Box, I made several discoveries again in the gothic and doom-y vein with Tribulation's Children of the Night (a fantastic record to have in the background while writing or brainstorming, I found), Lacuna Coil's In A Reverie, Rapture's Futile and last but certainly not least, Red Moon Architect's Fall, a must-have right from the first listen that indeed made its way to my shelf only 2 weeks after initial exposure.


April to June: The Seconds Syndrome

The spring was, paradoxically, a moment of stagnation for me this year. This was mostly due to the growing demands of my studies, as well as a series of disappointing experiences. The period was not necessarily something worth to complain about, just something less to talk about. This became invalid in June, when me and my girlfriend began to search for a mutual apartment and found it fast, yet still in a time period that must have been one of the most stressful in my whole life due to the anxiety caused by unpredictable phone calls, formality-filled meetings and responsibility especially associated with decision-making. Eventually, we got the apartment we wanted with very minor things left to speculate, and it was a great feeling to realize that such a wonderful thing would happen, albeit still causing nostalgia for the abandon of the place that had been all my own for two years. Finally, while the hopes of my poetry being published any time soon vanished, I took part in a writing contest and won, with the prize of having my personal text on Brave Murder Day by Katatonia published in Finland's to-go-to metal magazine, Inferno.

Although I discovered what is now my favourite poetry collection, Rekola's Minä rakastan sinua, minä kerron sen kaikille on the very first day of April, the rest of the three-month-period was not as fruitful. I still finished a fair amount of books (8), but only Boule de Suif - my second Maupassant short story that turned out to be even better than the first one - as well as the theoretical but still belletristic De Beauvoir classic The Second Sex were truly charming besides the beautiful laconism of Rekola.

Amongst the ridiculously little amount of movies I saw, the two I went to the theater to see with my girlfriend (thanks again to the two friends who gave us gift cards for Christmas) were the standout experiences, despite the fact that the latter, London Has Fallen, was quite poor. The other one, 2 yötä aamuun, was instead a perfect choice and one of the best movies I saw year-wide. Seeing the great movie Her with, well, her at my parents' house during the Midsummer weekend was also special.

This era was also possibly the biggest letdown I've felt in terms of anticipated releases. While Gore by Deftones was still a very good album, just plain average as a whole on the unfairly holy standards I've set for my favourite band, Magma by Gojira was a rollercoaster in terms of quality, and The Fall of Hearts by Katatonia remained a stale stray into clinical prog except for the sparkle of Serein. Ironically, it was with possibly my least favourite Katatonia album that I won a T-shirt through Record Store X, bearing the album theme. Furtheremore, I attended zero shows after March up until July. The positives are hence attributed to the growth of my CD collection, with long-delayed purchases of decent turn-of-the-millenium albums such as Freakshow by Silverchair alongside the joy of acquiring Pandemonium and Killing Joke (2003) by Killing Joke as well as Seventeen Seconds by The Cure. The latter two bands, both British and from the '80s, were ones I spent a lot of my year listening to in general. As an evidence of this, the spring did also lead me to discover the rather endearing pop albums The Head on the Door and Japanese Whispers by the latter.


July to September: Walking With Gods

As summer came, so did many a rush. The moving in to the new apartment commenced in mid-July and during the last week of the month we began to settle in. Psychologically, I didn't find myself yearning for the old at all, and found it easy to get cozy in the new home. The more concrete adjustments were the ones that took time and energy, especially because at the same time I was struggling to finalize my last course of the academic year, an unnecessarily perfectionistic and lonesome project that spread across the whole of July and August, leaving me no other choice but to have a break after it was done while everyone else already answered to the responsibilities of the new semester. While this had led to many future uncertainties even after resuming my university studies, I don't regret the holiday one bit, and at the very least, the course that took so long taught me to never do it again, while proving to be a stellar paper that boosted my confidence and forced me to make inspiring analyses despite the efficiency issues. I also cannot claim that I wouldn't have been able to vacation at all before September; it was just more scattered on days and weekends that would have been my only true breaks in the case of having a summer job anyway. All the while it was wonderful to occasionally go to festivals, shops, walks and to my parents' place, albeit once to attend the funeral of my grandfather, who shall rest in peace.

Despite the slight panic the summer was met in terms of studying, I didn't have to go through a single lackluster book, which made up for the small amount. Out of the four novels, the sincere yet semi-complex Beloved by Toni Morrison was the one with the most profound impact, while Mrs. Dalloway by Woolf, Season of Anomy by Soyinka and In the Labyrinth by Robbe-Grillet were less accomplished but still admirable efforts. After entering my holiday, the compilation by Lars Bugge (Konspirationsteorier - 40 populære sammensværgelser) fed my recharged hunger for conspiracy theories well.

While I didn't see that many movies over the summer either, I did enjoy them much more than in the spring. The Perks of Being a Wallflower served as a nice lead-in to the Tuska weekend. Next The Truman Show truly stole the show and had a profound impact. Cobain: Montage of Heck was the first movie experienced in the new apartment, and while biased, still an intriguing look into the life of Kurt Cobain. For my girlfriend's birthday, we went to see Nerve in the theater, which was a relaxing yet thrilling watch considering the low expectations. 

Ahead of the much-anticipated The Cure concert we were to attend in October, I finally took the opportunity in August and September to check the few albums I still had yet to hear from the band, and purchased the familiar friend Faith into my CD collection. Other acquirements were scarce, but focused. Killing Joke became the phenomenon of the summer as I dove into their discography and fell for the band's mesmerizing work more by every album, eventually buying the recent grower Hosannas from the Basements of Hell and the freshly-adored Democracy. Besides these, the buying of old semi-favourites continued through the coincidental Killjoy by Shihad. Apart from The Cure and Killing Joke, it was the shows of the season that influenced my listening habits. First there was the Tuska festival on the 3rd of July, to which I got to go to thanks to my win in the Inferno writing contest. A near-spiritual show by Gojira and a warm-hearted set by Katatonia were preceded by a signing session with the latter, where in addition to having my copy of Brave Murder Day signed by Jonas and Anders, me and my girlfriend got to give them a small gift that was well-received by the looks of it. Only two weeks later on July 17th, I felt like a little child when caught by surprise by a similar signing session at the Ilosaarirock festival including Paradise Lost. This time it was Aaron Aedy's hand I got to shake after a wonderful show, preceded by my second Maj Karma sighting of the year, one that was probably even better than the first. On September 29th, the fanboyism continued furthermore at the album release party by Eilera, who after I myself bought a shirt of hers from the merch stand not only performed an entirely fresh album (Face Your Demons) to me and my girlfriend's delight at the Semifinal in Helsinki, also met us after the show, signing my copy of Fusion accompanied with smiles and nice words back and forth. It was a lot of travelling to go to each destination, but they were all more than worth it.


October to December: Precious Moments (From Darkest Skies)

The end of the year was a renaissance. The holiday I started in September truly rejuvenated me, and I got to flesh out my several sketches for novels as well as refine my second album Romanticism while embracing the time and space around me. Thus lingering in the colours of foliage was coupled with a musical collaboration for yet another contest, this time asking for a song fusing occultism and eroticism and resulting in a quickly executed piece called Agnes that did not win but was nevertheless an intriguing lesson to make. I returned to my studies in November with a newborn grasp on my priorities and time management, and my work felt meaningful again from the get-go. This leads us to the biggest achievement of the entire year, which was being accepted to regularly write album reviews for Inferno based on a free form application. Even if there's basically no pay per se, I am so happy to work on this particular medium, which was a dream of mine for some time already and something I meant to pursue much earlier. It has already given me a lot through getting familiar with new music and the process of writing, and it's all just starting.

After the struggle of the late summer, I wished to take it more easy with reading and not pressure myself too much. Eventually, I did end up reading 5 books in the last quarter of the year, out of which the short story collection Vesiseinä by Valtonen was a remarkably inspiring and enjoyable experience, making him currently my favourite author, even if I've only read two out of the four fictitious books he's released. Another short story collection, the socio-political Noitametsä by Schildt, was despite analytical purposes the opposite of a dull read.

In the fall I watched 15 movies, with highlights falling into the middle of the season. They were the farce-esque black comedy Death at a Funeral, the well-executed and still topical drama classic American History X, the touching and beyond-F1-encompassing documentary Senna, the economically expressive animation Anomalisa and the romantic comedy gem When Harry Met Sally.

The first weekend of October is for sure something I will never forget, with double shows in Helsinki tied together by visits to my godmother's welcoming family in Loviisa. While both evenings had their blunder-y adventurous moments, seeing The Cure was unreal and even devastating, while my second Swallow the Sun show of the year, between two much less appealing acts during the same evening, was well worth the bother, the acoustic first half of the STS set making the heavy minutes that followed all the more physically and emotionally crushing. Soon after, My Dying Bride took over me for the rest of October, with one of the new familiarities, The Light at the End of the World, becoming an instant favourite and making it all the way into the top 20 albums of all-time list I compiled soon after for my 22nd birthday. There was an unintended sense of closure to the year with CD purchases such as Japanese Whispers and The Head on the Door by The Cure, Emerald Forest and the Blackbird by Swallow the Sun, MMXII by Killing Joke and both Face Your Demons as well as Precious Moment EP by Eilera, who we got to see for a second time as well, on the 24th of November at the On The Rocks venue in Helsinki. Just before, I got my second Katatonia fix in Lutakko on the 2nd of November, a show that made up for any bad blood and was a return to the sentiments of my first visit to Jyväskylä to see them almost exactly 4 years before, which was also the first show I had done with my girlfriend while we were still friends. The release of Metallica's Hardwired... to Self-Destruct caused a revisit to the band's past universe for the latter part of November. After this, the tail-end of the year was a celebration of 2016 releases including a large portion of albums I had missed, with my Inferno obligations leading me to discover the greatness of Dead End Finland's Slaves to the Greed, Alcest's Kodama and October Tide's Winged Waltz. Riverside's Eye of the Soundscape served as a great backdrop to some passion-filled moments throughout the fall, and was eventually the last CD I bought in 2016, while Christmas brought me two new band shirts, one of Drudkh I gave myself and another very special one by my girlfriend, with all the logos of my favourite bands present.


As always, I condensed my year in music to a playlist of 24 songs, which can be viewed here.
Also, for those who are interested, here's my Goodreads 2016 Reading challenge, including all the books I read during the year: https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/4750343.
My RYM profile shows a registry of the albums I heard and bought, as well as the movies that I saw: https://rateyourmusic.com/~WickedBreath.
Finally, my top 5 albums of the year list as well as the first three albums I reviewed as a freelancer will be published in the first issue of 2017 of the Inferno magazine (in Finland), out by the end of January.

What about 2017? I don't make very specific promises to myself because I know they will fail, but I will for sure commit to the effort to become more efficient and determined, but also to embrace the here-and-now. I feel like I learnt a lot about the aforementioned in 2016, and already made some adjustments to make my life more focused. While I would like to be able to make significant progress with the recording and possible band adaptation of my second album, my main focus this year - besides studies - needs to be in developing the novel ideas I have in mind, most specifically one of them, to make sure it won't take much more than a year to have again something to offer to publishers. I should also become more active with seeking for job opportunities, and brand myself, possibly through platforms such as YouTube, to make those opportunities arise while exercising my self-expression in usual as well as possibly forgotten ways. The writing I will do for Inferno will for sure continue and prove even more fruitful than it already has. Outside productivity, I should consider carefully what forms of relaxation and new experiences to pursue in the limits set by time and money, without wanting to pursue too few either. My relationship will undoubtedly remain strong and make sure that even stressful moments have a sense of calm and that true peace is achievable while my passions are shared in a way I can only remain thankful of.

Best of luck for the new year all over,
Joona

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