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Well, sometimes judging a book by its cover can be quite misleading. In this case I don't mean the cover of the record, but the image of the band. I had many times escaped listening to Horna for no other reason but just for the fact that they look plain ridiculous. I see why in the early 90s black metal musicians wanted to be provocative and etc. but these days it's just stupid (my humble opinion) - on the contrary, with the excepetion of a few black metal posers, no one will take you seriously. So, enough with the image, because it does not do good to these guys. The cover of the release is much more appropriate if you have to judge Horna's music on the basis of the image - raw, unpolished, looking pretty vintage and sunken in dust.
Just like an ancient book left in the library and never cleaned from the dust, this music sounds in the traditions of oldschool bands from the dawn of Black metal. I even thought that they were from Norway at first - but no, I was mistaken as the band comes from Finland. There are some improvements in the sound quality. Fortunately, this doesn't sound like the Beherit demos or early Death stuff which in my opinion are very much ruined by the sound recording. Here you have mediocre sound - not too modern or polished (NO, not in any way) still it is pretty decent so you can enjoy the music.
On the part of compositon/songwriting Horna have what to offer. All the songs in this album are quite varied - you can't mistake one song for another, meaning that all tracks have their own character. Therefore, this band has escaped the problem of most second wave black metal bands - producing albums that sound like one big river with no recognisable songs. I think that the highlights here are the first two tracks, because however varied all the songs on the album might be, these two really stand out. The intro is absolutely great as it really sinks you in the atmosphere. Track one sounds as if devided into two sections - the first one being really slow and the guitars low, almost doomy. The second section is much faster which will keep you interested. Kristityn Kuolema is the second track and my favourite - this is one songs that gathers pretty much all that I treasure in black metal - raw agression, great dynamics and mystery. It starts in a very upbeat way with the drums pounding heavily, the starting riff evil and greatly positioned as it introduces you into a really dark atmosphere, you can almost feel the chill. The vocals are as if the lead singer is chanting death spells. At certain times there are changes in the tempo and Christian Death (forgive me if I translate wrongly) never gets boring. Even the opposite, it ends even more misteriously than it starts. The last soul of the God of light (the name should mean something like that) is very slow too, continuing in the vein of the first song - if you enjoy dark and evil guitars with drums slowly complementing, this will appeal to you. Enough with the dissection of the songs as it might start to get boring. I tried to give a hint for what this release is going to be like.
All in all, Horna is one of these bands that really bring in the hope for black metal. There should be more bands that form for making music, not for acting on stage. This band might not be very interesting on the matter of producing something new and unheardable, but the soungs really posses a soul and atmosphere. And nothing is more important in music than soul and atmosphere.
A lengthy intro starts the album, to create an eerie atmosphere, much like a horror score. After a few minutes, you hear a bass line, then the drums, then the vocals come in at the perfect moment, overdubbed with high and low, as the guitar comes in. What a way to begin an album. This is raw, oldschool Black Metal, the way it is supposed to be. The guitar sound is reminiscent of Darkthrone’s Under A Funeral Moon and you can hear influences from that (and Gorgoroth’s Pentagram) on this album. In a way, this could be viewed as a tribute to the Norwegian bands.
Horna employ a variety of tempos here. The first song is really the highlight of the album, as the rest kind of passes by without much notice. Horna's sound is very similar to the early 90s Norwegian scene. If you are a fan of raw, melodic Black Metal then you must pick this up. There is not much that is unique, but it is a solid attempt. There is darkness, melancholy and evil…no meaningless garbage such as later Marduk or something. Fans of early 90s Scandinavian Black Metal, this one is calling your name from the shadows.
The one thing that really bothers me about this is the vocalist. Nazgul aka Satanic Tyrant Werwolf is one of the biggest posers in BM and looks far more comfortable playing guitar for his club-hopping cock rock band. This guy has made a career out of ripping off Bathory (Pest) and Darkthrone (Satanic Warmaster), while being very mediocre at best. Once I get past the presence of this laughable loser, the album is decent.
Horna are definitely one of the most respected Finnish bands in underground circles, and the quality of the material they produce is the best explanation to such a status. Despite the difficulties one has to get through to get his hands on one of their releases (most of them are limited to very low quantities), the band has grown relatively popular, and this album is arguably their best known release. Chances are it might be because this album is the band's only widely available itmes, at least to my knowledge, to the point that a note on the band's website asks the fans not to consider this as part of the official discography because it got so many honourless reissues... whatever.
Whatever amount of honour can a kult fan find this release, I must say that the packaging is very good, comprehensive of lyrics paired with English translations (not too clear and not always so grammatically correct, but hey...) and cool band photos. And, of course, there's the music.
Compared to several other bands of their genre, Horna stands out for having quite a clear (although still raw enough for the spirit to come across) studio sound. The fact that this album bears the name of Anssi Kippo among the credits is a certified guarantee. Actually my only drawback is that the guitars sometimes are a bit too low compared to the drums and vocals, but anyone can get used to that quickly; neevrtheless, everything sounds really good.
The journey begins with "Prologi", whose function one can guess without any knowledge of the Finnish language: a quiet, haunting and minimalistic synth introduction to set the dark mood for the rest of the record. Things really take off with "Yhdeksän Yö", introduced by a slow and menacing bass line; this is a great opener, with a slow first part which introduces us to the band's sound and atmospheres (with a riff at the beginning which sounds very similar to Gorgoroth's "Ritual"... bt that's about the only negative thing here) before exploding into a great thashy riff and into full blasting Black Metal fury. Nazgul's vocals are pretty shrieky and sick and fit the atmosphere very well; it is interesting to note that the lyrics deal once more with a certain Ring, and the title translates to "The Night of the Nine"... not that Horna's lyrics are terribly original anyway, as the rest of them on this album deal with Satan, hell, the ruin of God and Christianity, etc.
It's interesting to not that there's never a bit of silence between the various tracks, which are linked by some noises (a bit like Limbonic Art's "Moon In The Scorpio").
"...Jesuuksen Verestä" is pure and simple fast Black Metal from the very beginning, but the guitar parts show a simple yet very effective melodic development that is one of Horna's trademarks. Variation is kept to a minimum here, and gives the song a kind of hypnotic feeling.
More blasting comes in the form of "Ylle Kuihtuneen Ajan Ajatusten", but this time the riffs consist of fast and furious power chords that aim right at the listener's throat. Within s couple of minutes, however, a complete stylistic u-turn drives us into a slow and menacing part, underlined by a sad semi-clean guitar arpeggio and whispered vocals, and even some keyboards can be heard in the distance. Pity that it lasts a bit too long, and when it's finally through, the band goes into yet another slow section.that plods on and on. The riffs are definitely strong enough to keep my attention from wandering, and near the end, an unpredicatble transition from square 4/4 into a 3/4 rhythm is a flash of inventive spirit I can do nothing but praise. Yet, during this song, some of the problems I find within this album have surfaced.
And indeed, as "Kun Jumalan Sydän On Murskattu" kicks in with a wild scream and more blast beats, I start to wonder whether "Haudankylmyyden Mailla" isn't a bit too monochromatic to be listened as a whole. The songs are great, the riffs are strong and the playing is very tight, yet there's something lacking, something that makes the different songs melt together into a rather hazy and uninspired whole. It's not the lack of inventive, as Horna have something of their own going on here, and I've heard far more derivative stuff; rather, it's a bit of inaccuracy in the arrangements, which makes the songs sound like they don't have any variations at all - between each other, but also within a single track - and a certain lack of dynamic playing, meaning that most of the time the band plays at full speed and aggression, needless to say that after a while the ear gets used to that and starts to lose interest.
Despite all this, I can't be kept from noticing the good riffs and tempo changes in this song, and when "(Kaiken) Kristityn Kuolema" kicks in without warning, I am compelled to forget my analysis and headbang the hell out of myself. Blastbeats take over soon, but are made less monotonous by Gorthaur's great cymbal work, and of course the riffs: dark, evil and yet damn hooky, even backed by basic but well placed synths here and there. Add a handful of subtle tempo changes, an echoy clean guitar singing in the background right at the end, and what do you get? A definite standout track.
"Viimeinen Sielu Jumalan Valosta" slows down the pace dramatically and shows once again that Horna is capable of being intense without going at breakneck speed. This track, however, shares another similarity with the first half of "Yhdeksän Yö" apart from the speed... there is another riff which is more or less lifted from Gorgoroth's "Ritual", and not just one riff among the others... the VERY SAME we heard in the first song!! The similarity is even more apparent here, as this passage lasts for longer and Nazgul even starts singing over it with a vocal line that is very similar to "Ritual" again (he seems to notice that, though, and soon switches to a more personal approach). Despite this drawback, this song manages to be pretty good on its own, although once again it seems to be a bit too long for my tastes.
And is we reach the title track, which has a pretty interesting moment to offer past the obligatory blastbeat opening. At first listen, this is where doubts of the band recycling their own riffs surfaces to the mind; actually this album is not THAT repetitive, but the aforementioned flaws undermine the listener's interest, and it took me several times to appreciate its qualities. Nazgul senses my thoughts once again, and tries a more varied vocal approach by including some deeper growls here and there... good move man, you gained the album a point or two with this.
"Hymni Tuomiopäivänä" begins very fast, and has that great Thrashy tempo in the verses once more. Very good. Later on the song goes into another 3/4 slower break, which is a welcomed variation even though the riffs aren't as strong as in the beginning here. The problem, once again, is that it just seems to last a bit too long, and it's not something I feel because I dislike slow breaks: it's one of the few but major problems of this album, and unfortunately it applies to the fast parts just as well. Blastbeats come in again for the finale, followed by another very headbangable verse, but I just wish they could have sticked to those opening riffs and made a shorter but more intense track.
"Peikkomaille" sticks to a 12/8 rhythm most of the time, although the patterns switch from blastbeats to more mid-paced sections. About halfway through the rhythm becomes even slower, and darker riffs come into the picture to finish the song with a higher note, especially with the instrumental finishing section kicking in after Nazgul is done with the lyrics.
Then we get "Epilogi", whihc is what the title suggests... although it's not eay to predict that this actually consists of 9 or so minutes of random noises going on. There must be a purpose in this (more than mere timing... insert the cd in your player, look at the total time and see what I mean), but anyway, you can do better by just skipping it... especially when you consider that there is one more song to find after it, although it's not mentioned in the official tracklist (you can guess it's there, though, as when you lift the cd you can read its lyrics through the transparent jewel case).
This is "Kunnia Saatanalle", and is a track that shows how more songs on this album should have been: short and strong. Anyway, it's a good way to finish off the record, despite the slightly ridiculous vocal noises at the end.
All in all, this is a very well done Black Metal record, whose only fault is to have the potential to be way better. Despite its shortcomings, the material presented here is way above average, more so if we consider what worthless samples of insipid music get labelled as "Tr00 Black Metal" nowadays. So... I'm sorry, Horna, but despite your advice for us to forget about this record I can't avoid recommending it to any fan of the genre. If you had insisted more on the album's flaws I could have labelled it as forgettable, but alas, this one is stll very solid. Please keep it like that.