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Any major criticisms I have towards folk metal require an exception be made in the name of Moonsorrow. Despite the surface similarities to other similarly folky, similarly Finnish bands, each of their records offers a level of depth and quality that's virtually unprecedented elsewhere in their style. A big part of this distinction, I think, stems from the fact that Moonsorrow have long been a progressive rock group in folk metal disguise. In an interview I conducted with Ville Sorvali a few years back, he mentioned the influence bands like King Crimson and Jethro Tull had on him and his cousin from an early age. You can definitely hear that influence in virtually everything Moonsorrow has done.
From what I consider to be Moonsorrow's golden trilogy, beginning in 2003 with Kivenkantaja and ending with Viides Luku - Havitetty, the "middle child", Verisäkeet, may be the best album they have ever done. That's not a judgement made lightly either; even if they weren't already my favourite folk metal group, the consistency with which they've dished out records is astounding by itself. On some days I find myself going to other Moonsorrow records, but I'm hard-pressed to think of another folk metal album with replay value like Verisäkeet. Four mammoth pieces of music (not including the folk-ambient outro "Kaiku") make this out to be the metal equivalent to Tales from Topographic Oceans. However, unless the Yes classic, there's never a moment on Verisäkeet that feels overindulgent or drawn. If Moonsorrow distinguish themselves from other folk metal on the merit that they embrace a prog influence, they certainly distinguish themselves in turn from other proggers, for the fact they can make such long tracks worth every blissful minute.
Verisäkeet looks like a long album from glancing at the track listing, and I suppose 71 minutes is pretty long. Maybe it even feels that way too, but for the way they deftly handle the songwriting, you'll be left happy they blew up these tracks as far as they could go. Some listeners will have a chosen favourite between the four behemoths on Verisäkeet. I think many more will find themselves torn between two or more. On most albums where there is some kind of epic, a band usually pours their best ideas into it: look to Rush's 2112 or Agalloch's The Mantle for proof. Of course, there's no such sanctuary for a band that opts to build an album from nothing but the cream of the crop. I had been thinking of trying to describe these track one by one, but erased my work, realizing there was so much variety from one to the next. What good would referencing the black metal parts on "Karhunkynsi" be, for instance, if I didn't also acknowledge the dreamy Floyd-ian passage halfway into it? The more I listen to Verisäkeet, the more I realize that the four tracks, big as they are, are parts of an even greater whole. Is that a cheap way of summarizing four involved, multi-layered pieces? It would be cheaper still to define them with a sentence each. It also would run against the experience I've had listening to this album. Veriakeet feels seamless between tracks. It's always felt like a single, encompassing piece of work. That's why an 8 minute winded denouement in "Kaiku" makes sense.
Even if Verisäkeet can be seen as the result of a genre fusion, part of the album's joy lies in how well these sounds are seamlessly combined. I've seen the album referred to as Moonsorrow's dive into stricter black metal territory. I don't think they're black metal any more than they are strictly progressive. Verisäkeet is harder-edged than Kivenkantaja, but it's still cut from the same proverbial cloth: rich, epic and multi-layered. Moonsorrow's sound has the "Finnish melancholy" I've heard in so many of their compatriots, but their tone is remarkably triumphant. Nonetheless, I wouldn't be surprised if Moonsorrow had intended this record to be more blackened than the rest, if only for certain parts of it. I hear very distinct nods to black metal classics in passages on Verisäkeet. Riffs on "Pimea" are backed by the infamous Burzum synth tone from "Dunkelheit". Even he last few minutes on "Karhunkynsi" sound like a hi-fi rendition of Mayhem's "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas", complete with Atila-type operatics. Although the Burzum is subtle enough, hearing Moonsorrow throw in a passage like the Mayhem mimicry feels forced. Most of their navigation between sounds is incredibly smooth on Verisäkeet, so the few exceptions stand out as a result.
Folk metal tries to evoke feels of epic triumph, history and whatever else but only Verisäkeet feels like a veritable hero's journey. There are so many things in this genre that could potentially appeal to me. Moonsorrow conjure the best folk metal can offer by bringing it to its most ambitious conclusions. Viides Luku - Havitetty arguably took that ambition further in certain ways by upping the ante to the point of near-half hour epics, but Verisäkeet still sounds like their best-realized record. I wouldn't say this for many albums, but try to give this your fullest attention the first time you hear it. Listen and see if you can glean a story from the music. Give it time and patience. For an album that struck me with awe from the start, the depth has kept it fresh for all the years since.