Squeezebox Brutality: Murder Ballads From Finland

Two legendary 19th century Finnish murderers grace the cover to Kimmo Pohjonen's Murhaballadeja.

hide captionTwo legendary 19th century Finnish murderers grace the cover to Kimmo Pohjonen's Murhaballadeja.

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Murhaballadeja features a striking photo on the cover: Two beefy, big-jawed men with cruel eyes are in prison garb, shackled with heavy chains at the neck, wrists, knees and feet. Turns out they're legendary 19th century murderers from Finland. These are the kinds of characters you'll find in a collection of murder ballads from Kimmo Pohjonen.

Pohjonen is kind of a punk accordion renegade. He sports a mohawk, and his other projects mix accordion music with wrestling, or farm tools and animals. It's all songs about murder, which he says are deeply embedded in Finnish culture: "There's even a saying that if there was a wedding and three people were not killed, it wasn't a good wedding."

The Finns have a dark sense of humor, to say the least.

"These murder songs are, at the same time, they are frightening and they are also fascinating," Pohjonen tells NPR's Melissa Block. "Sometimes there is admiration towards the murders. It's a true fact that we have songs that are sung a funny way, and we're putting less fear there."

Finns like to sing these songs at great length, some closing in on 12 minutes long. That's a lot of murder. Pohjonen says he actually shortened these songs, because some of these murder ballads go on for hundreds of verses.

"Our national epic, 'Kalevala,' is something like 23,000 verses or even more," Pohjonen says. "In old days, people were singing for days and days. That's why the stories used to be really long."

Why glorify brutality and murder like this?

"I think we have beautiful, sunny days. We have sometimes very ugly days," Pohjonen says. "And, of course, murder — that's something really, really extraordinary. But as a musician, I think that it's great to make music that is beautiful. But on the other hand, I want to put something interesting about those other days to music, also. I think, for example, my music is like Finnish weather — it can be sometimes ugly and sometimes very beautiful."

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