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Moonsorrow are something of a mainstay within the pagan/folk scene, boasting a history that stretches all the way back to the mid 90s. At that time they were much closer to a straight up black metal outfit in the mold of a keyboard heavy, symphonic character more readily associated with Emperor and early Dimmu Borgir (think pre-“Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”). But as with a number of bands hailing from Finland at the time, an increasing interest in incorporating folksy influences that can be partially accredited to the likes of Windir, and Moonsorrow was among the many that sought to broaden their horizons. However, unlike Ensiferum, this changeover was much more incremental, and found the band right in the midst of a truly transitional state in their 1999 demo “Tämä Ikuinen Talvi”.
Contrary to some accounts, the folk elements at play here are fairly subtle, almost to the point of being meager. There’s a passing section here or there amongst the blackened thrashing and symphonic pomp, and there isn’t anything that’s quite as blatant as the pluck-string period instrument and accordion flings that were thrown out as an effective gimmick by Windir, but more of just a brief melodic strain that reminds more of a folk tune than a post-classical orchestral idea. Even by the standards of the semi-folksy, Viking oriented Enslaved album “Eld”, which this album is occasionally reminiscent of, this album actually seems more interested in the somewhat progressive and definitely keyboard oriented “Vikingligr Veldi”, which was almost as influential on various melodic death bands like Children Of Bodom as it was for the Viking oriented black scene.
To be fair, while this demo sounds remarkably similar to the early studio offerings of Enslaved and very much superior to most of what was passing for a demo in the black metal scene at this time, it is definitely a greater venture into original territory than “Metsä” was. The songs are much longer, the points of contrast are much more numerous and repetition is much less of a factor, and most of this still takes the orthodox black metal approach insofar as the guitar, drum and vocal work goes. The closing instrumental also reminds of the occasional ambient influence a la Burzum in all its dreamy glory. Perhaps the only thing separating the instrumental and keyboard elements here is a slight film score tendency, all but going a similar route of the Danny Elfman inspired material that often found its way into Rhapsody (Of Fire)’s early works, though the presentation is darker and not quite as formulaic.
While “Metsä” was an impressive yet high derivative first effort by a still young band, this shows a band that is very ambitious and finding its own distinct identity. It’s partially puzzling that this is referred to as a demo when it is structured in very much the same fashion as what passes for full length albums these days under the Moonsorrow label, and compared to the mid-90s full lengths put out by the similarly symphonic Norwegian scene, the production is equally as crisp and clear. But be it demo or LP, Tämä Ikuinen Talvi” should definitely be on the shortlist of anyone who is looking for a Finnish adherent to 2nd wave principles that is still very accessible and willing to bend the rules of early 90s black metal orthodoxy.
What is this? What do we have here? No handlebars! I don’t even have to steer! Before hitting the big leagues, Moonsorrow released their last official demo, housing what appears to be black metal with strong folk influences. In fact, after hearing the first track I was reminded of a forested, wintry landscape and Zelda: Ocarina of Time, specifically when Zora’s Domain is frozen over and you’re hanging around Zora’s Fountain. The amount of keyboard support, much like Catamenia, also gives the music a more sinister atmosphere, with Mr. Sinister wearing a fur coat to keep himself warm.
Overall the production is less stellar in comparison to the full-lengths, but it clearly has no effect on the music at all. For a demo, its actually pretty average in comparison to many black metal albums, aside from the fact that there is a lot more melody (that’s where the folk comes in, foo). Tremolo-picked, distorted riffs are the majority here and make the songs feel simplistic, while the screams / yells / clean vocals don’t really differ all too much from those of the first couple of albums. Most of the songs span over eight minutes, but they literally feel like four or five minutes apiece. Bass is negligible almost everywhere and the drums are rather secondary and quiet, but still audible at respectable volumes.
Regardless of this demo’s instrumental flaws, there’s no doubt that the songwriting will blow you away. Well, don’t expect to be mesmerized by anything, but you’ll definitely be coming back to this one for repeated sittings.