Mar 212024

The image on the cover of the debut album from the Finnish duo The Bleak Picture is striking. It shows a group of people paused in their normal daily movements (except, perhaps, for the police) and staring at a dark hunched figure, or maybe two of them, on the precipice of some catastrophe, lost in either horror or mourning or both. The origins of the devastation are hard to decipher, but the ruination is apparent.

Gazing at the image, it does seem to connect with the title of the album — Meaningless — but the exact nature of the connection, even though it feels right, is as mysterious as the exact nature of the catastrophe in the cover image.

Well, it would have been an interesting question to ask composer/instrumentalist Jussi Hänninen and lyricist/vocalist Tero Ruohonen what that image depicts and why they chose it, but alas, the thought came too late. But maybe it’s for the best, because there are mysteries in the music too — and catastrophes and mourning and something like a search for meaning.

Meaningless will be released on March 22nd by Ardua Music. There’s an interesting story about how it came to be, and about how a side project of Jussi and Tero‘s main band, Autumnfall, took on a life of its own. We’ll get to that, but we ought to focus on the music first, since it’s a full stream of the album we’re presenting now.

The album’s first song, “Prisoner of Your Own Sins“, provides an expansive introduction to The Bleak Picture‘s musical ingredients. It’s rare for a band to open an album with its longest track, especially one that almost reaches 11 minutes (where none of the other songs even come close to that duration), but that’s what The Bleak Picture have done. Maybe a risky decision, but it pays off.

Over the course of those nearly 11 minutes, the music provides brittle scratchy notes, the reverberation of eerily shimmering sonic mists, as well as gigantic, boulder-like rumbling and harrowing abyssal growls, ethereal ringing waves and massive heaving chords.

The mood of the music is weighted with sorrow that elevates into agony, but it’s also daunting in its upheavals and near-celestial in its shimmering sweep, as if revealing some kind of brilliant glory that might be within reach if only a stricken protagonist could break free of chains that drag them low.

The musical contrasts in the song are dramatically wide-ranging, but work together in transfixing fashion, welded together with a changing but repeating array of memorable melodies and big, head-moving rhythms. They include an elegant keyboard interlude with a glittering ring, vehement spoken words, scarring screams, haunted and strident singing, and enormous jagged riffs that loom like barren mountain crags. The magnitude of the music ebbs and flows, but reaches breathtaking heights of dark grandeur.

So yes, a big song, maybe a big risk, but a big payoff, such a big payoff that it puts the remaining six songs at risk, because how do you follow something as stupendous as “Prisoner of your Own Sins“?

The Bleak Picture follow it with songs of more conventional length, but every one of them turns out to be almost — almost — equally astonishing.

They band continue to create alchemical interactions among enormously heavy and brilliantly ethereal sensations, while also continuing to present the wide array of vocal expressions (all of them excellent) that the opening track introduced.

Some of the songs are more electrifying and uplifting than others (for example, the glorious and massively hard-rocking “Meaningless Nonsense“, though there’s fury in that song too), and others are more depleted and desolate (e.g., “Misguided (Fortuna’s Hand” and “Stained“, though they also reach towering heights of tormented splendor), while still others sound more distressingly catastrophic (like “Truth Divided” and “Broken Balance“, both of which also include some of the most striking singing on the record).

Throughout these wide-ranging and perpetually dynamic experiences, the drums hit like boulders or cannons, even when they’re making your head pump like a piston, and you’ll continue to encounter riffs of humongous weight but with jagged edges all ’round (they’ll often get your head pumping too), as well as introspectively forlorn piano melodies, seductively glittering keys of a different tone, beautifully wailing solos, and the vast sweep of shimmering and searing synths.

For those interested in genre-labeling, this music is a big hybrid. We’d venture to list doom, melodic death metal, “synthwave”, and post-punk, but you might come up with a different list. Suffice to say, it’s not easy to brand this with any conventional labels.

Well, we could go on (and on, and on), but it’s time to let you hear this remarkable album for yourselves, while again recalling the impressions of the cover image — mysterious, mournful, catastrophic, a quest for meaning, and altogether gripping.



We promised that we’d provide some insights into how The Bleak Picture came to exist and how it evolved, and we do that by sharing comments from each of the two participants. First, from Tero Ruohonen (pictured above):

What to say about Meaningless? I believe it was in January ’22 that we started the work on this album.

The first track we did is the actual opening track of the album (”Prisoner…”) and the last track we wrote became the closing (”Broken Balance”). For me this was by far the hardest album I have been involved in. We had done new music non-stop ever since the first Autumnfall demo (’20) and at times I felt like anything I did on my part was pure shit. I was out of ideas for lyrics, I went back and forth with different vocal lines and still wasn’t happy. The lyrics of the title track pretty much sum up how I felt during that time.

Fortunately, I had distanced myself from the project for a few months so by the time I started to record my vocals (Spring/Summer) everything sounded somewhat fresh again. When I laid down my vocal tracks, I had a new kind of fervor and I hope it can be heard in the end result. Now that the album is finally done and about to be released, I can honestly say I am proud of how it turned out.


And now from Jussi Hänninen:

Songs of Longing was The Bleak Picture’s first release and I must say we were on a shaky ground with this one. The point being is that when we did Songs of Longing, all those songs on that EP were unsuitable for the other projects I was involved with at the time and it would have been such a shame to waste this material. So we came up with The Bleak Picture and it served a purpose as an outlet for these songs. Strange thing happened – people seemed to like this stuff. This gave us a signal that it was time to take this thing more seriously.

So, when I started to write songs for the Meaningless album, I had a much clearer vision of what The Bleak Picture was all about. No more misfit songs but each and every song is 100% written for The Bleak Picture. We are standing tall and proud on our feet now.

And they should be proud. We should also credit (as the band do) T.Tuominen for lead clean vocals on tracks #2 and #7, and O.Pirkkanen for backing clean vocals on track #6.

Ardua Music will release the album on CD and on all major digital platforms. They recommend it for fans of old Katatonia, Paradise Lost, Swallow the Sun, Counting Hours, and Killing Joke.



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