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Horna has been a very productive black metal band ofter the turn of the millenium, if the productivity is measured by the number of different releases and formats of those releases: CDs, 7" and 12" vinyls, tape versions of many releases, and an impressive load of splits. However, the number of copies is almost annoyingly often limited, and the availability of the releases is rarely centered on commercial viability.
Musta Surma, on the other hand, has been releasing recordings much more sparingly, and almost half of their discography under the Musta Surma name is composed of splits with Horna. This split, Vihan vuodet ("The Years of Wrath") is the latest release in that series, and the first one without a specific limitation on the number of copies.
The split is actually more like a compilation: Horna's part is composed of two original songs and a re-recording of one of their demos, and Musta Surma provides two original tracks and all tracks from their only demo. Yes, there is recycling, but this should perhaps be seen as a public service for those who have never even had a chance of hearing the rather rare demos, rather than a cash grab. Because those demos are interesting items to the fans of these two bands, and definitely not available in the record store down the street.
Musically, Horna treads the usual, medium-tempo black metal with a slightly tinny production the band is well known for. The sound changes between the second and third track, probably intentionally, because that's the point whjere the new tracks give way to the re-recorded demo tracks. The demo has a more underground and fuzzy sound, but as usual for Horna, the sound is deceitfully brilliant, and everything necessary is perfectly audible. The vocals, this time, are a mixture of gnarling, shrieking and wailing, but the lyrics are mostly at least partially audible. Also, everything, both the new tracks and the demo re-recordings, are quite excellent stuff, riff-driven traditional black metal.
Musta Surma, on the second half of the album, adds more fuel to the fire by increasing the tempo, but essentially treads the same paths as Horna: very traditional, riff-driven black metal, with gnarled vocals that are still clear enough for a native Finnish-speaker to understand pretty much completely. The production is slightly less underground, and the basswork, for example, is quite audible. Again, there's a change in the sound when the new tracks give way to the older demo tracks, and again, the change is noticeable enough to be most likely intentional, but not disturbingly so.
Both bands have obviously aimed for a more or less garage-y sound, and succeed extremely well. Naturally, Musta Surma's demo tracks, with their original demo sound, are bound to have that quality, but that's beside the point. The split/compilation is a balanced package, and the way the album could be divided to four parts with different sound actually serves it well. The name of the compilation, Vihan vuodet, reveals the basic idea behind it: to give a snapshot of the old days, the Years of Wrath, and to reinforce the older material with the new tracks. The concept works like black magic.
What's more, if taken simply as a generic split between two black metal bands, the album is well-balanced and enjoyable throughout. The bands work well together, first and foremost because they are representatives of the same school of traditional black metal with a finnish twist.
This split is easy to recommend as a split, as a compilation, and as a window to the past. It's definitely easier to get that the demos it's based on, and wonderfully well executed, with a nearly perfect production for the genre, and nothing that could be called filler. It could even be called a good introdution to both bands' music, so there's no reason not to get it.
Off to the record store, stupid!