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I tend to consider myself hard to disappoint, sure I find things underwhelming and less than I'd hope for often, but genuine and heartfelt cries of "You have failed me" are something I naturally avoid. I'm a pessimistic, hope-for-the-worst sort of guy when it comes to new albums from bands, and my demands for a band to be "expected" to perform are extremely high, requiring many superior quality albums without fault. As such, the feelings of disappointment I've managed to experience from Moonsorrow's sixth full length effort is foreign and decidedly unpleasant. Over a career spanning over a decade, Moonsorrow had developed as an increasingly interesting and exciting band pushing the boundaries of folk metal. They've been the only band that's been able to take the typically lame bombastic folk metal sound and actually make it respectable through a mix of strong melodic black metal harmony work, outbursts of violent black metal, intense vocals and a generally darker mood than their contemporaries. Ever since Kivenkantaja they've been pushing up the black metal and the darkness, with each album being darker and better than that last (Although the Tulimyrsky EP was a bit below the two preceding albums); they were a band that had a unique sound and was constantly pushing it into a direction I found even better. I had high hopes and there was no reason to doubt that they would fulfill them...
Well, no need for suspense, obviously they didn't, I gave it a 43% and spent a paragraph talking about the concept of disappointment after all, but what's interesting is how they managed to disappoint me. They didn't divert from the plan, adding in a bunch of Korpiklaani jigs or dubstep breaks, they did exactly what I asked; they kept getting heavier, they kept getting blacker, they kept getting darker, and yet, it blows. How exactly? They've managed to get so dark and powerful that they've swung right back around to sounding weak.
I find that the boundaries between styles, particularly those based around extremity and darkness can be quite risky places for bands to exist. Adding in elements of a more brutal style of music can make an artist stand out from their peers and demand attention and respect, but it also leads the risk of eventually pushing over from being an extreme style X band, to a weak style Y band when the balance goes out of whack. For example, look at something like the thrash and death metal boundary; to me deathy thrash metal is a wonderful over the top orgy or riffs and spastic shredding, standing out miles above the primordial thrash licks from where they were spawned, but when the death metal gets pushed a bit too far, suddenly a band is a thrashy death metal band. Now they are no longer a softer genre punching out of it's weight class, they're now a weak death metal band which pales in comparison to the meatier efforts of the style. This is the same as an easy to listen pop metal band that tries too hard to be tough and adds in too many weak "heavy" riffs, or a power metal band which adds too much thrash, or a death metal band that plays just enough slams to be BDM, the result is always the same, a band goes from excitingly extreme for it's niche, to being on the weak end of the next one up the heaviness tree. This album is Moonsorrow stepping over their border.
Specifically that border is going from a serious and extreme bombastic folk metal band, to a bombastically folky serious extreme metal band. Not a huge difference on paper, but it is in practice, indeed it has changed the entire foundation of the band. No longer are they a lively, thrill based band with the substance of brooding extreme metal act, they've now changed to a brooding, dark black/folk band with some lively little flourishes around the side, and Christ is it boring.
What makes Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa so unenjoyable is most likely the pursuit of the concept of darkness in their music. The tempo has been slowed, but not to the point of a truly depressive doom or morbid crawl, just slowed to a tedious mid-pace, they cut back on the number of big triumphant hooks and produced it in a flatter, less bombastic fashion. This approach can work for some bands, indeed it is usually my preferred direction, but it doesn't suit Moonsorrow at all. Obviously change doesn't automatically mean negative things, they've changed drastically over the course of their career, the problem here is how bland everything sounds. They're too dark to be boisterous and fun, yet not dark enough to be moving and emotional and they're too laden with heavy, low register riffs to deliver awe inspiring scenes of grandeur, yet they're not heavy enough to be imposing or destructive, the album exists in horrible rut of half committed mediocrity which they struggle to break free of.
Thankfully, the band has been kind enough to easily demonstrate the committed focus on mediocrity by making the album a direct follow on from the magnificent V: Hävitetty album, which means they reuse some riffs, demonstrating exactly how far the mighty have fallen. For example, first half of opener "Tähdetönis" is heavily based off the riff at 6:15 in the previous album's opener "Jäästä Syntynyt Varjojen Virta", and it's many different variations give a good insight into exactly what has changed. Sometimes the melodic guitar harmony has been removed so as to keep things dark and meaty, so the drums have been pushed up to fill in the space, pounding along in what is supposed to be some kind of primeval rhythmic hook not dissimilar to how Summoning put their cheesy over-echoed drums up there to produce an apparently "epic" soundscape. To go along with this, the guitars lose their folky or black touches to become meaty and chunky, obviously channeling something along the lines of "Shores in Flames" from Hammerheart, but with a less addictive riffs and no where near as much driving groove, and with a few half-assed little keyboard sounds to add some dimension in place of the soloing skill of Quorthon. Other times acoustics are used instead of the metallic harmony, ripping the once powerful riff of it's power, and what few added effects are used are uniformly drab and a restrained, so as to not get too lively in the apocalyptic landscape.
This sort of mindset applies to most of the album, whether it's the restrained use of only three fiddle notes in the starting riff in "Muinaset" where once they would have fully committed to the lively extra instrumentation, but instead seem to merely tack on a little folk touch to an otherwise drab riff, or how the song kinda drags through it's blackened middle which succeeds in being a solid and extreme styled riff but doesn't build into anything particularly noteworthy. Even the non metal stuff is affected, all bar one song jump right into the boring riffs and dark grooves, the bands previous love of acoustic and atmospheric segments are sacrificed too. Really, outside of the acoustic rendition of the riff I mentioned earlier and the intro to "Huuto", this entire dimension of their sound is completely missing, leaving the album completely drowned in these boring midpaced riffs. It feels restrained and timid, sure, the overall mood is darker but by stripping out the moments where they just reveled in cheese, a trait they uniquely possessed the ability to not suck at, the band doesn't feel like the volatile one that could burst out of a folky jig or heavy groove into a blasted tremolo attack to knock you on your ass or a careful mellow break to bring in an emotional element; the music is uniformly safe and uninteresting.
Really this difference is the clearest way of demonstrating why this album is so unpleasant. Everything is so stripped back that the whole album feels like the introductory five minutes where they set up the scene on their previous eight songs stretched out to ten minutes, as such the album constantly feels like it's waiting in preparation to explode into the big hooks and epic movements, yet it seemingly never comes. Most of the songs actually do feel like they get to their point eventually, the last couple of minutes of the opener certainly build to a classic Moonsorrow symphony of excess, but the nine minutes before it sound are unbearably lifeless which kills the mood for the eventual pay off. The second song has a more enjoyable base sound but never climbs out of it's dull rut, and the closing track has a second half which comes closest to the intensity of the bands prior works and has a nice enough epic viking hook, but drags as hard as "Tähdetönis" for its first nine minutes. The high points of these songs exist, but are so horribly outmatched by the chore it is to get to them that they may as well not.
Despite this it's not all doom and gloom, the album is saved from being truly, irredeemably bland by the solid third track, "Huuto." The albums high point is the closest the band goes to reclaiming their former glory, with a marginally quicker overall speed, some subtle acoustics, more deeply entwined folk and viking elements, and some extra use of bolder, more joyous melodies. It isn't as good as anything off the last two albums or EPs, but it is a worthy enough inclusion to the bands formidable collection of songs. It's the only song that really exists in the bands former comfort zone, and still delivers enough of the epic scope, bombastic excess and melodic flair that has been the band's calling card for all these years, although it never goes quite as far. It's really the only song that keeps a respectable quality for its entire duration, and as such, when it's better moments do eventually show up I do tend to be in a more receptive mood for it.
As it stands only a small portion of the album is interesting, and most of the interesting parts are buried underneath extended passages of boring chugging riffs and restrained melodies, it is consistently underwhelming, and just barely above being downright bad overall. I suppose if Moonsorrow had to swing too far in one direction and lose their magic, I'd have to say I'm glad they chose to become a boring extreme metal band instead of Wintersun-esque hyper slick synthphonic band with no riffs or a super cheesy huumpa jig band with no riffs, but that's kinda like saying you're glad your favourite grandparent became a dusty skeleton rather than coming back as a zombie; it's a shame that old people can't keep making delicious pudding forever, just as it's a shame Moonsorrow couldn't keep being awesome. There is a silver lining though, this album is extremely post-apocalyptic in theme, and indeed it is considered something of an ending for that particular concept, so who knows, maybe Moonsorrow, unlike Grandma, could still burst back to life as something new and brilliant once again.
Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa is a very interesting album. It may sound like a repulsive, cold and barren piece of work on the first listen, but in this case, it's easy to say that that is exactly what the band aimed for. Because the feeling of desolation is so consistent, and fills every nook, cranny and pore of the album, that it simply must be intentional.
Moonsorrow has been making a gradual, stealthy return to black metal for a long time, since Verisäkeet to be exact. But they approach the target at a tangent, and end up barely caressing it with a glancing blow, leaving their own musical creativity free of the shackles of black metal conventions. This album has an unfriendly atmosphere, heavy emphasis on skilled but rude instrumentation, and it utilizes lyrical imagery from some undefined land of the dead, but still, it sounds like a grim version of the old, familiar Moonsorrow. The folkish elements that started to give way to deeper and aggressive dark or black metal influence on Verisäkeet are still there, but they are used with consideration, keeping them in small isolated pockets and as special effects. However, most importantly, the riffing still has some of the familiar folky attitudes familiar from the days of Kivenkantaja, and the band is still easily recognizable to a long-time fan.
The album is heavy. It is heavy as the expectation of inevitable death in the mind of a depressed person. There are no bright spots, and even the fabled mouth harp sounds like a distant, sorrowful reminder of more joyous and hope-filled days. As always on Moonsorrow's albums, there is an organic connection between the lyrics and the music, and the heavily allegorical, depressive poems about a land of the dead and the people wandering around in it are a perfect fit with the heavy, hopeless and crushing atmosphere of the music. Definitely, this is the heaviest thing Moonsorrow has ever released, including the demos from the black metal days. The land of the dead, in the original Finnish form of the lyrics, is an allegory. But is it an allegory of the real world, about to die with the people who still haven't realized they are already dead? Or is it an actual land of the dead? Or is it a vision in the lyricist's mind's eyes? In any case, the same abstract, poetic ideas that surfaced on Verisäkeet and, more powerfully, on V: Hävitetty, find a new life here, and leave much to the listener to interpret.
Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa might be a culmination point of the various developments and trends Moonsorrow has gone through on its full-lengths. It is very dark and blackened, and it seems hardly possible to make a darker album with more depressive subject matter. It has extremely progressive sing templates, and there is nothing left of the joyous, triumphant choruses of the old days; the songs have absolutely no sing-along sections, and they rarely repeat anything that would stick to mind. The folk elements, once on the forefront of the old albums, are, as mentioned above, to be found in abstract and twisted forms in the riffs and tunes, but modified so extensively that they sound more like the essence of Moonsorrow itself than folk metal. And that is an achievement in itself! Moonsorrow has taken the idea of folk metal a decade earlier, and twisted, crushed and moulded it, until what they have left is something they sneak into very dark compositions as one of the ingredients, and suddenly, it is the definition of the band's essence, and no longer associated with its origin in folk metal, except by meticulously tracing its history and finding the path it has taken on the six albums.
This will be a very difficult album to digest for anyone who wishes to leap straight from the first three full-lengths to the latest item in the series. It sounds completely different from the folk metal beginnings, and has a completely different character with its darkness-filled abysmal expression and sense of despair. It might even sound barren and rude, but that's intentional. Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa is a very difficult and demanding album, even for those who have followed Moonsorrow for years and are familiar with the earlier works. But it also contains massive amounts of musical ideas and creativity. It is an expression of something abstract, and a large part of the reward after persisting with it comes from the thoughts and moods it awakens in the deepest, darkest corners of the mind.
Where will Moonsorrow go from here? Only time will tell. It is difficult to see how the next album could be any darker, but they certainly have the skill and the songwriting capacity to do whatever they wish. The run of six full-lengths and an EP has been of such high quality, and the evolution of the music so profound and logical that there surely is room for more. It is easy to expect something completely different, perhaps a return to roots, but continuing on the path of more complexity, more darkness and more originality is still possible. If they manage all of those, they certainly count as masters of their trade. As if they already didn't, but that's beside the point. Moonsorrow has come a long way, and the only way to understand the complete transformation from a folk band to this incarnation of darkness is to spend hours and days on the discography. It is a journey worth your time, but beware: it takes more than a simple spin or two of each album, and you'll need to put in plenty of effort to breach the secrets of the journey.
Recommended. But not just this album. Hear the whole line of albums, and hear them well. Only then you'll be worthy of expressing your opinion on Moonsorrow.
The wait was long and hard.. I've been craving another release from Moonsorrow since 2007. 4 years later the new album is finally here. It didn't quite live up to my expectations of a folk metal album but that's because it wasn't. But that doesn't mean I disliked the album. In fact, it was one of my favorite albums of 2011 - it was just different than what I was expecting. Moonsorrow's folk influences are still noticeable but it's obvious that they placed an emphasis on slowing down the tempo and filling the background with an atmospheric and a cinematic ambiance to create something different: epic heathen metal!
While the folk elements are still present, they don't make quite the impact felt in previous albums. For example, Suden Uni featured wonderful melodies from the accordion - while albums such as Kivenkantaja and Verisakeet featured the mouth/jaw harp. This album definitely has more of a focus on synthesizers/keyboards. The heavy synthesizer incorporation is key in creating the cinematic and epic sounding environment. This is obvious in the first three full length tracks as each contain re-occurring synthesizer lines as their main melody. The last song is a bit different as the synthesizer takes a back seat, but more on this later.
A nitpicking criticism that I have are the interludes in-between the songs. I've always been fond of Moonsorrow's stylistic transitions in-between songs. They have some of the most majestic, mothernature-esqe, melodic, emotion evoking interludes. But for Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa, it's pretty much a man (or a group of men) walking and panting. While they didn't have much musical value, they do objectively contribute to the concept of the album. So while I found them annoying, they're ultimately important for the setting of the albums lyrical theme. The most notable interlude is definitely Kuolleille. As a transitioning track that leads to the albums last song, it really sets the stage well for the finale. It begins, more or less, the same as the other interludes.. panting, heavy breathing, the sound of bitter cold wind blowing in the background but ends with an emphatic and emotional scream. The scream sent shivers down my spine and in that moment, I felt his fear and desperation.. he truly was a shadow in the "Land of the dead."
Kuollelle leads directly into my favorite and final track, Kuolleiden maa. This song is easily heaviest and darkest song of the album - and appropriately so. This song contains plenty of tremolo picking to give it a black metal feel and some features fantastic drumming from Marko (the cymbal techniques were a joy to listen to.) The final verse of the song paints a perfect picture of someone whose about to meet his demise. A demise illustrated by the hard hitting vocals of Henri, the inclusion of a choir chanting in the background, the "shipsinking" like melody often heard in movies to the eventual slowing of tempo, fading of volume and instruments; ultimately we're left with soothing sound of waves crashing in the background. The waves symbolize the dead finally being at peace while complimenting the lyrics perfectly: "Here I shall remain, without yearning, My broken spirit I shall give to the streaming waters." (eng translation.) Truly an emotionally charged conclusion.
The new Moonsorrow album offers the nostalgic feel and brilliance of their previous albums while introducing a new musical approach. Whether this is the darker, more atmospheric evolution of Moonsorrow or a mere sample of their versatility, remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, the future is bright and I'm excited to see what's in stored for their next album. Until then, Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa will be an enjoyable treat for years to come.
All of you who have read my many reviews know that I am quite the folk metal sponge, and it has been my pleasure to have had the chance to partake in as many jig-crazy acts as my bruised and soon-to-be bloody ears could handle in single sittings, and on occasion I felt the desirous twinge to head back to the roots of the genre, primarily of the Scandinavian kind. And I can say that things have only been on the upswing since the very beginning, though those first few bands set the bar pretty damn high to begin with. And after awhile, one would want to head back to they who made it possible in the first place if only to keep those interest-fed fires a’burnin’ bright.
Which brings us to Moonsorrow’s latest offering…
Going in, I had a general idea of what to expect, but thankfully a few of those expectations were dashed. Rather than the danceable notions many of their newer ilk portray, Moonsorrow this time around display a turn to the dramatic end of things, churning out slower tempos, wall-of-sound instrumentation and that forest-dwelling approach that is both bitterly cold and raging hot in approach. Once again, I am astounded by the monstrousness of the overall sound, where again the band pushes their black metal roots to the front, coupling corpse paint with warpaint with that decidedly Finnish touch that we know, love, and can’t quite nail down completely, and with “Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa” the symphonic interludes get more of a top billing in certain parts of the arrangements, adding more to the epic factor than albums past. Said arrangements also keep the listener guessing, jumping from riff to riff with the lack of breathing rooms so common with European extreme metal and with a sort of abandon that lesser bands attempt at but fail mightily as a result of tripping over their own feet.
In layman’s terms, this is the stuff fantasy buffs and sword-swingin’ barbarians dream of, where that combination of crushing guitar lines, punishing percussion, spine-tingling keyboards and wild, inhuman screams render the modern day as we know it asunder for the plentiful minutes that make up this disc’s duration, which works for me; after all, who among us hasn’t wanted the outside world to disappear for a while? Why not take some time out to enjoy days of yore sadly gone by and not to be seen again outside of novelizations and faires? Such is the picture painted on this collection of barbaric metalness, where the marathon main tracks from “Muinaiset” to “Huuto” rub elbows and shoulders with the atmospheric, sound-effecty middle tracks that actually help things move along rather than hinder (none of that 1349 noisefests, thank the All Father…) to give this listener the time of his chainmail-clad life, if only for an hour or so.
In the end, Moonsorrow’s latest is a fantastic piece of work that reminds me of the fantasticness of epic, melodic Euro-metal. Leagues better than the sad dreck of “metal” thrown our way here in the states, it’s always comforting to have these kind of bands around to fall back on when we need to get our mosh on. Recommended…and then some.
Always being classed as one of the bands with a near-flawless output thus far, Finnish folk-black metallers Moonsorrow had a lot of pressure on their shoulders with the anticipation of their 6th album. Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa (English: “As shadows, we walk through the land of the dead”) is the result, and I agree with the band in it being their darkest and gloomiest yet. It is also very heavy in an emotional sense; the native Finnish lyrics convey feelings of desperation and loss, but also hope and the beauty of solitude, with a final sense of absolution.
The album is a literary delight to describe, but almost impossible to do justice in musical terms. The band have slowed down in tempo, that much is clear, but the record still makes room for folky passages in the vein of Equilibrium, with mandolins and bouzouki interweaving with acoustic and distorted guitars. A great example of this is the fantastic opening of “Huuto” (The Scream), which starts with a jubilant folk section which is then mirrored in metal form. Tarvonen's various styles of drumming must also be commended, especially on “Huuto”. The synthesizers from Eurén are tasteful and add well to the cinematic atmosphere. However, the band certainly don't forget their more extreme metal roots, especially in the bleak tremolo section in the last track, “Kuolleiden Maa” (To The Land Of The Dead), which reflects the sentiments in the lyrics perfectly. One final interesting note is how these songs will appear in live format: there are many moments I can envision onstage, such as the fist-pumping anthem of “Muinaiset” (The Ancient Ones), so it is clear that the band focus on being concise, despite the lengthy songs.
The synopsis is of a lost group of wanderers in the cold forests and mountains, whose people have become extinct, and they are also destined to die. The group dwindles, as can be heard in the cinematic transition tracks of footsteps and coughs, but faint strains of folk to try and instill hope. By the end, the narrator is alone and lays down by a river, “thoughts flow with water/so warm is the hazy air/the sun is far hidden from the eye/in my bloody fist I close the earth/I free myself from everything”.* Admittedly, the story has been executed by other bands before, but rarely with such a film-like atmosphere; the album could be used as the soundtrack for a movie adaptation.
Henri Sorvalli, when not weaving basslines, destroys his throat in a mid-range black metal scream which works well with the Finnish language, and the lyrics are incredibly poetic: “soon the first will grab a weapon/makes an end of blasphemy and madness/when even the last is guilty of murder/on these cold paths”*. A Sentenced-like growl also appears on “Muinaiset” in great contrast to the screams. The backing vocals chanting “kuolema” (Finnish for 'death') in the last track are particularly poignant, like the dead souls haunting the dying. There are excerpts provided for the transition tracks which read as though from a traveller's diary, and also fit as an accompaniment.
Sure to please the fans, and sure to impress any lover of folk-black metal, Moonsorrow have certainly outdone themselves with a masterpiece which invokes many feelings when listening. Even without understanding the lyrics, there is a sense of mystery about the album, even after multiple listens. Time will tell whether the band are able to top this album, but for now this comes highly recommended.
Originally posted at www.blackwindmetal.blogspot.com
Perhaps it's just me who notices this, but Finland (and all of Scandinavia, for that matter) has this unfailing tendency for its metal to be monumentally epic and massive. Releases by Ensiferum, Wintersun, and Amorphis have always proved that Finland is a metal strong point of our world.
However, Moonsorrow are a band that truly redefine what the listener thinks when they think of "epic". Moonsorrow have always had an element of epicness to them as the riffs really conjure up images of war and glory. As they progressed as a band, their sound became more "epic", almost having a cinematic quality to their albums. The latest, "Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa" (which, when translated to English, apparently means "As shadows, we walk through the land of the dead", or something to that effect), is no exception, providing all of the massive riffs and folk elements that created a truly monumental soundscape that does not bore the listener, but rather, completely engages them. The band themselves have described this album as their darkest release yet, and it is indeed very moody and dark for a band usually associated with "happier" folk metal melodies.
Opener "Tahdeton" ("Starless") is an early highlight in my opinion. The riffs are heavy as fuck and indeed very "dark". The song does indeed create a dark vibe, and there is almost a vibe of hopelessness the listener feels when being absorbed by the epic swathes of sound that the band is creating. But fear not, as they of course incorporate the folk elements that they are known for towards the end of the song.
"Varjoina.." only contains 4 "real" songs, as there are brief tracks of ambiance between each song usually consisting of horse hooves, wind, and other such sounds. It's kind of a good setup because it gives the listener "breathing room" between the massive maelstroms of sound that are the main songs.
The next song, "Muinaiset" ("Ancient"), is a little shorter (marginally), but heavier; the song is more driven by riffs, I find, rather than the atmosphere and overall feeling. That's not to say there isn't plenty, but the riffs are slightly more apparent. A great fucking song, totally massive sounding and basically perfect.
It should be mentioned that each of these songs are fairly slow and heavy and a little bit contrasting as a good part of their other songs are more up-tempo, blastbeat-driven folk affairs. The sluggish tempo of most of the songs, I find, add to the overall dark mood of the album.
The epic closer of "Kuolleiden Maa" ("Death March", or something like that) is my favourite tune on the album. Clocking in at a massive sixteen and a half minutes, it's the longest song on the album, the darkest, the most melodic, and indeed the most epic. A perfect way to close the album, incorporating all of the elements of the previous songs into one.
Moonsorrow have truly outdone themselves with this album. In my opinion, it is their masterpiece and the best album they've released to date. And considering the quality of their past albums, that is no small compliment. They have created the perfect blend of heaviness, epicness, and a sense of melancholy. Ville and co. will have a very tough time topping this one.
“Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa” was by far one of the most anticipated releases in 2011 for me. I’ve been following the studio diary actively and was trying to get an idea of what the album would sound like. I have to admit, it didn’t quite answer my expectations. It was even more epic, monstrous and yet even more beautiful than I could ever imagine.
The album consists of four 11-16 minutes long tracks and three short transitions between the four longer, epic compositions. It tells the story of a lost wanderer slowly and desperately straying around in the harsh wilderness. Every step brings him one step closer to the target – his own death. Now – This story can be musically told in many different ways, but the way Moonsorrow did it on “Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa” is really unique and incredibly emotive. It expresses not only the actual journey of wandering through the wilderness, but also the spiritual and cognitive aspects one undergoes in such an extreme situation. The emotions in this record are ranging from desperation, fear of death, but also, in some way, the beauty of solitude and the spiritual journey through one’s memories and one’s own mind.
“Tähdetön”, the first song of the album, immediately transfers your mind into the soul of the tormented, lost wanderer. It starts off with a heavy, grave, doomy riff. Throughout the song, folk music approaches are perfectly integrated into the otherwise blood-curdling scenery.
After a short transition in which steps in the snow and exhausted voices are heard, the song “Muinaiset” continues with the crushingness and darkness of “Tähdetön”. Introduced by an agonized scream, it combines the gloomy atmosphere of the first song with even some melancholic nuances. This brings a whole new character to this journey. Whereas the first song only treated with the grave and heavy burden of desperation, this song seems to give first glances to thoughtful aspects of the way of suffering.
After another transition, “Huuto” surprises the listener with an Alcest-esque introduction featuring a really beautiful yet sad and melancholic melody line. Even though this mood is being weakened by the guitars coming in, it is still the essential component of the song. Cinematically this song can be seen as the pensive, spiritual part of the wanderer’s personal journey through his mind, a journey of finding himself.
The last transition track shows the wanderer slowly breaking down, letting out his suffering and pain with yells of pure desperation.
This tragic mood is perfectly conveyed in the last song, which starts off with a slightly dissonant riff. A short break with an atrabilious, acoustic riff lulls the listener into a false sense of security. He will soon be torn out of this feeling of security by another skull-crushing scream and heavy guitars fading in. “Kuolleiden maa” is the perfect ending track for this journey shaped by melancholy, suffering and thoughtfulness. It combines all of these emotions into one powerful song. This wide range of emotions is partly created by a good use of slight but noticeable Post-Metal influences which show the musical progression and flexibility of the band.
This album is an emotional metal masterpiece with a unique and cinematic approach that definitely won’t be reached by many other albums. For me this is the number one contender for the album of the year 2011.
- Originally written for Northwind-Promotion.org
When looking up the word grandiose in a dictionary there should be a picture of Moonsorrow there, or at least some sort of reference to the ever so epic Finns. Starting as a straightforward folk metal band with the now classic debut "Suden Uni" in 2001, time has seen the band develop further and further into a more doomladen direction and with this, their 6th full-lenght, they've gone all out epic on the world's collective ass. What we have here is a conceptual album based on the events following the demise of (most of) mankind. The struggle of the last survivors to find solace and hope...of which there is none of course. To carry the weight of a concept like this, one needs to fit it perfectly with the music and I feel Moonsorrow have done an amazing job with it. All four songs offered are mini-epics in their own right. Per usual with this band the tracks go well beyond the 10 minute mark, but not a second of it is wasted. There is so much feeling and soul crammed into the individual tracks and you can really hear the outpouring of energy contained within.
The opening track "Tähdetön" is probably the hardest of the bunch to get into. It kicks off the album with six minutes of repetitive doomish angst, before a more familiar tone sets in with a catchy melody and slightly heightened tempo. From there on the song reminds me a lot of what could be heard on the band's own "Kivenkantaja" album from 2003. Folkish yet progressive epic metal with a blackish touch. Inbetween the four tracks there are three interludes which steer the story towards the end. You can truly sense the anxiety of the wanderers heard. The heavy breathing, the pulsating soundscapes and finally the screams of agony as it all ends. Extremely effective and cinematic in scope!
The album has been described by the bandmembers themselves as kind of a mix between the aforementioned "Kivenkantaja" and "Verisäkeet" (2005). The most apparent example of this in my opinion is the song "Muinaiset" where the blackened bombast of "Verisäkeet" is perfectly interlaced with the more progressive and catchy songwriting of "Kivenkantaja". The song manages to be catchy in an almost poppy fashion whilst retaining a sense of aggression and suffocating darkness. Absolutely stunning! "Huuto" is probably my favourite song off the album and yet another which carries a similar feel to the 2003 album. It's probably the most "light-hearted" composition on the album and centers around a melody that'll haunt your mind eternally. I've had this song on repeat in my brain since I first heard it. Don't get me wrong now, it is definitely no Korpiklaani hitsong we are talking about here, but yet another well-composed, epic beast of a track. I'd even go as far as naming it my favourite song of all time. That's just how bloody great it is! The album then ends in dramatical fashion with the epic of epics, namely "Koulleiden Maa". From the intro and all the way to the ending the song somehow defines everything Moonsorrow is. The swarming black metal guitars run seemlessly into an Opethesque calmness and then spirals into a massive doom number with layers and layers of melody. Absolutely enchanting!
Moonsorrow continues to baffle me with every new album and I truly feel this is their ultimate masterpiece. I just can't see where they can take it from here. Wise from experience I still expect the next one to take it even further of course. If that's even possible at this stage. The word masterpiece has been defined!
Moonsorrow is one of those folk/black metal acts who seem as if they could literally gut a reindeer on microphone and reap enormous and excessive amounts of praise for the deed, but I certainly have been snared twixt the jaws of their sound in the past. This is not a band of complexity, and it never has been, but one of aural, crushing magnitude, focsed on swaggering, plodding compositions that very often cross the dangerous threshold of 10 or more minutes of your time, and often, as in the case of 2007's V: Hävitetty, far longer than even that. The burden of keeping a listener's interesting in such conditions is a heavy one, but the Finns have succeeded before. With their 6th full-length, Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa ('As Shadows We Walk in the Land of the Dead') I'm not sure the formula holds up all that well.
You know the drill by now: heavy streams of chords and rasped vocals glazed in choirs and epic synthesizer lines, occasionally transitioned into brief flights of folksier fancy, all stretched over a canvas so broad that you could probably scrawl out the Kalevala and the Poetic Edda across it in a reasonably sized font. But despite its constant power and desperation, I really did not find myself drawn into this effort until the second half, namely the 16 minute "Huuto ('The Scream')", with its gorgeous escalation of glimmering emotional resonance, and the closer "Kuolleiden Maa ('To the Land of the Dead')" which is simply intent on being the loudest crashing available on the album. The track list is actually pretty bizarre, with the band choosing to switch between 11+ minute tracks and then brief interludes that all fall around 60-90 seconds, none of which seem to do anything but brood with a few crisp, subdued samples. These are not particularly terrible, mind you, but they would have been better worked into the songs directly, because they're just too damn short to be effective of their own accord, and I doubt anyone wants to hear them in a play list, breaking up the action of glacial maneuvers that comprise the bulk of the album.
That said, I was not drawn into either "Tähdetön (Starless)" or "Muinaiset ('The Ancient Ones')" after a few spins. I recognize their bombast and measurements of aggression, but in the 23-24 minutes of their existence, I'm not sure I heard even one moment which stood as tall as the latter visions, and ultimately only "Huuto" was something I found myself anticipating. Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa is mixed and layered as passionately as anything in the band's past, and it fits the mold of the sweeping, loud and steadily paced epic that the band's core fans might be seeking, indifferent to any finer layer of compulsion or composition, but this battle seems to take far too long parlaying and too little time in the actual melee, its proud warriors spending too long staring at you across an overcast landscape than razing you. The result is the least interesting Moonsorrow to date.
No stranger to the grandiose and epic in it's most sincere form, Finnish folk metal legends Moonsorrow show no sign of slowing down with their latest album, entitled 'Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa'. 'As Shadows We Walk Through The Land Of The Dead' in their native tongue, the band here certainly doesn't seek to revolutionize their sound, but instead draws upon the existing 'epic' sound to craft an hour-long journey of music that lacks in variety or dynamic, but makes up in the sheer scale of the sound.
Firmly planted within the style of Viking metal once innovated by the legendary Bathory, and now popularized by such acts as Equilibrium, Moonsorrow plays a fairly upbeat brand of metal, incorporating catchy hooks into the soundscape and heavy layerings of guitar work underneath some typical black metal raspings. Although the lyrics here are sung in Finnish (and would be nearly undecipherable otherwise anyways through the snarl of vocalist Henri Sorvali), there is a clear narrative taking place here; detailing the travels of a voyager through snowy lands and a proverbial 'land of death'. Although the music is certainly not dark enough to reflect this naturally, Moonsorrow gives the sound a very triumphant and anthemic feel, so there's always the feeling that regardless of the lyrics themselves, the content itself is certainly of a widescale and heroic nature.
While 'Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa' may have seven tracks, there are only five real songs, the two remainders being interludes that generally entail a man walking through snow, and panting as he does so. While this may tie in well with the narrative of the music, they do become somewhat unwanted breaks after a few listens, and could have done with some actual music in them, even were it ambient in nature. Musically, there is very little to deviate from the mid-tempo epic folk metal sound here, and with songs passing the fifteen minute mark, the uniformity of the music here can wear thin, should the listener not be in the proper mood or mindset for it. That being said; what Moonsorrow does, they do incredibly well.
Although the tracks here all feel quite formulaic with one another, each is an epic composition that manages to get the grand, nature-inspired feeling across. Highlights of mine would include 'Muinaiset' for its spectacular riffs and beautiful folk moments, and 'Huuto', for having a great central theme from which to build off of. The music is not particularly technical, but all things here are quite professionally produced. Of special note is drummer Marko Torvonen, who manages to take the generally mid-tempo anthems and put some real complexity into his work that isn't quite so profound among the rest of the instruments. Vocally, Henri Sorvali can be a bit inconsistent at times, but his rasps generally do the track for the most part. The greatest vocal work here however is from the choirs and the vocal arrangements, whose ominous chants convey the Norse theme beautifully.
'Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa' is a great album for Viking metal, but there is no doubt throughout that while the musical ideas here are very strong, the music does overstep its bounds by dragging each of the particularly long compositions for a few minutes too long each time. For someone looking for a truly epic hour's worth of music without caring too much about the details however, Moonsorrow's latest is just the thing.