Caressing us with a hint of Americana infused between keys and guitar strings in “Poison Woman.” Brushing up against an optimistic harmony with delicate vocals in “Shades of Gray.” Getting emotional without shame in “Thin Line of Understanding.” Crushing us with barebones honesty in the title track of Dreams of a Middle-Aged Man. No matter which of the ten songs we’re listening to on the debut solo affair from Mauri Dark, this is an LP that will use its most minute of intricacies to win the attention of listeners this winter season. Mauri Kosonen started out as a metal man, but as Mauri Dark he’s returning to his roots and adopting the stylings of a singer/songwriter for what is possibly his most forward-thinking project ever.

Dreams of a Middle-Aged Man attacks us clandestinely in tunes like “Hymn for a Wanderer,” “Love Will Prevail” and “Worst Enemy,” and while it’s definitely not the only folk record I’ve listened to that I would recommend to fans of the genre around the globe this December, I personally have to rank it as one of the most affecting to have landed on my desk in the last month-plus.

Emotion bleeds through every element of the music here, and in the case of songs like “X-Renegade” or “Thin Line of Understanding,” it’s reflected from the tone of the guitar strings-up. The guitar parts in this album frequently sound and feel like the star of the show, but only in a manner that allows for the vocal Mauri Dark is offering us in “Chains of Solitude” or “Love Will Prevail” just as much of the limelight.

There’s a beauty to the relationship between the singing and the strumming we find in this LP that doesn’t remain tethered to a lyrical narrative in “Hymn for a Wanderer” or “Up to Us;” it’s independent, almost giving us a unique layer of passion that isn’t accessible if exploring the verses alone. Complex emotions are everywhere we look and listen here, but the compositional technique is, more often than not, simplistic at heart. You don’t need fluff when you’re being this real, and Mauri Dark’s is definitely an example of a modern record being as real as it gets.

You don’t have to be a longtime fan of Mauri Kosonen’s ongoing career to understand and appreciate what he’s trying to do now as Mauri Dark, but for those who have been keeping up with his output through the years inside of the heavy metal community, Dreams of a Middle-Aged Man is a foray into the soul of a songwriter you won’t want to skip. If this is a glimpse into what other albums from this project are going to feel like, the concept started in this LP will likely be revived a lot sooner than later. I didn’t think I was going to walk away from this review feeling as touched by the content as I am, but fairly enough, 2020 has been a year of constant unexpected developments in every area of life.

Sebastian Cole