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Darkness is a difficult thing to describe. In physics and the physical world, it's the absence of light, of course, but as an abstract, allegorical concept, it turns into a more challenging thing to define. But darkness is where Moonsorrow turned on Verisäkeet, and ever since they recorded this excellent album, their journey has taken them deeper into that allegory.
After Suden uni, Voimasta ja kunniasta, and Kivenkantaja, they made a departure from the folk metal with an epic tint and atmosphere that felt powerful enough to seep out of the speakers. There was a readjustment of the direction, and a sudden strengthening of the trends that had been, in hindsight, seeded already earlier. The ingredients they poured into the cauldron were black and dark, and they seasoned the stew with a heavy dash of their own songwriting methods that make the pieces of art explore the musical wilderness much, much further and wider than what would be necessary, were they happy with simple, short tunes.
The obvious changes start with the song lengths. Just one of the five tracks is less than 14 minutes long, and even if "Kaiku" seems like a quick blurt next to its brothers, it still clocks in an impressive length on over 8 minutes. While a quick glance would make the excessive durations seem like pretentiousness and feeble attempts at simply appealing to certain demographics infatuated with the superficial features of progressive metal, the songs are that long out of necessity: there is no filler, and the almost unnoticeable transitions between the different song parts are evidence of high skills in songwriting and conceptual integrity.
The subject matter, the most descriptive source of creative fuel on the earlier albums, has gone through very tangible changes, and the darkness is evident in the lyrics at least as much as in the music. While the sound has turned closer to black metal while shedding the folk metal trappings, and the scattered acoustic and other tranquil parts serve more as a source of heavy contrast against the rest of the music than any other purpose, the same pagan feel still underlies the whole. Moonsorrow sounds different, but it still sounds like Moonsorrow, just gloomier, and the melancholy and yearning to the earlier times on the earlier albums has been replaced with a more fundamental wrath and dark depression.
Gone are most of the heroic, epic choruses, and gone are most of the folkish sounds; both are there, but the darker metal parts have taken the front of the stage, and the earlier main ingredients are now more in support of the evolved vision than the main theme. The sound is more like a stony wall of a mountain range than an autumnal forest with lush undergrowth, and there is coldness and restrained aggression in the sound and atmosphere. Even the trademark mouth harp manages to sound distant and sad, and the yearning for the age of legends has turned to a pale, ghostly and somehow ethereal. The sound is still thick and layered, but some of the instruments and passages have an non-palpable feel of ghosts appearing in the mist above a frozen lake. In other words, the production is perfect, and captures the essence of the music as well as the compositions themselves.
Sometimes the guitars play hard-hitting riffs that could well be off a pure black metal album. The vocals have much fewer clean parts, and their character is angrier. They are also much harder to make out without written lyrics, but those lyrics are worth a look, and the band has been thoughtful enough to provide their own translations to English. Those surely conserve the original shades of the lyrical works better than any amateur doodling, and as far as poetry goes, manage to keep the feel of the originals almost perfectly.
Verisäkeet is a turning point, a reinvention of Moonsorrow, but it still keeps the essence of the band, and builds on it. It does not discard what was good and defining about the earlier works, but it uses the material for new creations. This is A Song of Fire and Ice to The Hobbit of the earlier albums, a more mature and serious work, and just like the comparison between the different brands of fantasies, whether or not the audience likes one or the other more is a matter of taste. But whatever the palate of the listener thinks, the shift to the new darker style was taken at the right time, and the band skillfully avoided turning stale and repeating themselves to eternity.
This is a more complicated, more demanding album than the earlier works of Moonsorrow, but still worth a lot of effort to understand. Verisäkeet shows a new side of the familiar band, and while the joyous, epic stories are gone, and the first spins of the album might leave a pale gray feeling and mild desperation in the mind, there is much to discover and understand. And it will provide food for thought. Oh, yes it will! If you have the album, and you haven't enjoyed it as much as the earlier works, give it another chance. Verisäkeet, like fresh blood, is not easy to digest, and takes a bit of effort, but it will reward you.