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This is the way folk metal is meant to be done. Most styles of music are lucky to have one or two true masterpieces that stick with me forever. As far as the oft-maligned world of folk metal is concerned, Moonsorrow's Viides Luku Hävitetty is that album. Considering my love for folk music and all it represents, I'm disappointed that so much folk metal rubs me the wrong way-- I think John Haughm (of Agalloch) said it best when he described most folk metal as "pagan-themed party music." Moonsorrow include many of the trappings of European folk metal, but their work rarely falls short of awe in my eyes. What makes them so different, then? Is it the melancholic edge they imbue their music with? Or, more likely, is it the fact that they blow up their compositions to previously untold heights of ambition? With two gorgeous half-hour epics to offer, V: Hävitetty is ravishing proof of just how ambitious, just how goddamned fucking awe-inspiring Moonsorrow can be.
There have been times where I'd point the finger towards Verisakeet, the one they did immediately before Hävitetty, as the 'best' Moonsorrow record. That too is a masterpiece, and as a 70+ minute epic drawn out over five tracks, it's not exactly a slouch in the ambition department. If I've ever had doubts that V: Hävitetty wasn't the best folk metal record ever made, it'd only be because I had listened to it so much that the awe had become overly familiar. Every time I hear it though, the same feelings come rushing back. Regardless of the genre, I'm hard pressed to think of many bands that can make a half hour epic consistently engaging, nevermind the fact that most bands lack the spunk to attempt such a thing in the first place. A feat like that seems all the more miraculous when it's doubled. On the same album. I do feel that too much attention goes into the simple fact that Moonsorrow's songs tend to be long on average, but the bold lengths they go to on V: Hävitetty virtually demand attention on their own accord.
While the four titans (not including the "Kaiku" outro) on Verisakeet felt meticulously composed, something different is happening on Hävitetty. Stylewise, the same black/folk hybrid from the last album is explored again, but their sense of composition feels like it's coming from a very different place this time around. Both "Jäästä Syntynyt" and "Tuleen Ajettu Maa" lend the impression of having been structured organically, with intuition reigning over calculated thought. That's not to say that there's any less effort behind Hävitetty. On the contrary, I think Moonsorrow were finally at the point where they were comfortable enough with their songwriting to let their ideas take lives of their own. Very often, epics of this magnitude are broken into smaller movements, as if several songs were combined. There's no overt structure to the two epics here, at least in the sense that the ideas flow together seamlessly. I can't think of another band, be they in metal or progressive rock, that's relied on intuition so well for their epics. It makes V: Hävitetty feel all the more significant when I can't think of another album that offers an experience like this.
Although "Tuleen Ajettu Maa" is easily more upbeat than the tense "Jäästä Syntynyt" and takes le time to get itself going, it's hard to pick a winner between the two. The first side of this album offers up some of the best riffs Moonsorrow have ever penned, as well as one of the most perfectly orchestrated builds I've heard in music, manifest in the first five-odd minutes of the album. V: Hävitetty's first half is replete with lumbering folk riffs held up against crashing black metal segments. The tone on "Jäästä Syntynyt" is arguably the darkest Moonsorrow have ever gone. This makes the contrast towards a cheerier (but still dark) sound on "Tuleen Ajettu Maa" all the more refreshing. The folk instrumentation that was relatively downplayed in the first half is brought to the forefront come the second. The choral chants and screams are perfectly channelled here as well; so many extreme metal bands fall short of putting harsh vocals to the best use. Only allowing the most treacherous screams to sound in the tensest moments, the vocals always hit the emotional mark they were intended for.
V: Hävitetty also ends with one of the greatest closing sections I've heard in a metal song. After an album with more than a few harrowing sections, the triumphant procession in the final five minutes feel like a gorgeous revelation. There are few bands that convey the feeling of a heroic journey the way Moonsorrow does, so the atmosphere of victory can be felt deeply, as if you yourself have just survived your greatest challenge. Even having been listening to V: Hävitetty for years now, I'm still in awe of how far Moonsorrow managed to push their sound before they finally reached the peak of potential. Had I been writing about the band a decade ago, I would have swore that Verisakeet was the most elaborate they could ever go. V: Hävitetty proved me wrong in the best sort of way. Unfortunately, having reached the peak means there was nowhere left to go, save for a return to a safer sound. The full-lengths they've released since have been great, but I don't think anything can ever compare to the perfection they conjured with this one. V: Hävitetty is forever.