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There's a lot of talk as to what Moonsorrow is and what they're all about. According to their own website, Moonsorrow is NOT a Viking metal band. They are not conquering warlords, nor do they sing about conquering warlords. They would much more aptly be categorized as pagan metal, as they themselves would say. Their lyrics are indeed indicative of their spiritual inclinations toward the natural world and man's personal connection thereunto.
While on that subject, the lyrics are magnificently arraged, conveying the themes of brutal violence and the imminent submission to the power of the land and of nature itself. The name of the album, Verisäkeet, means "Bloodverses". A particularly violent story, "Bloodverses" tells of different kinds of violence: the warlike violence of man, the violence of beast as it does what it was created to do, violence of the harsh terrain. The first track, "Karhunkynsi" translates to "Bear Claw". No, it is not speaking of the delectable American pastry, but of the claws of a bear. The theme begins here but is continued throughout the album. At start, you don't really know who is the true subject of the song, the bear with his claws or the warlike tribe that rents in twain all in its path. Later, the theme transmogrifies to portray man's attempt to subdue the natural power of the beasts of the land and eventually the land itself. In a dramatic resolution, man is ultimately defeated by the blistering cold, icy winds and torrential snowfall. The lyrics are poignantly rendered in one of these final verses of "Jotunheim":
"Thus curse the giants of stone and of ice
From here none shall pass"
"No man can ever own this land"
Though the times have for the most part changed, and shows that mankind does indeed "own" the land, these verses prove that such a viewpoint is undeniably a passionately spiritual and romantic one, unswayed by time or tide in man's "civilized" endeavors. This is one of the many pagan world views.
One other aspect of their assertion of this pagan world view comes from what I'd simply call "nature ambience". It is extremely prominent on this album, embodying several of the song-to-song transitions and accounting for a significant portion of the total playing time on this recording. For instance, the nature ambience between tracks two and three lasts longer than a minute. Though it pales in broad-view comparison to the fourteen-minute length of the tracks themselves, real-time listening paints a much different portrait of its significance. Once again, between tracks three and four, the ambience lasts a full thirty seconds. In track four, however, it is no longer a "transition", but a full-blown segment of the song. Lasting about two-and-a-half minutes, the real-time experience treats it as an entirely different song. Finally, the last track, which is listed as being over eight minutes, actually contains less than four minutes of music, while more than fifty percent of the track is nature ambience.
In all, this makes the case that the real power in their idealogy comes from the power of nature over man. It is a spiritual statement above all else.
The music overall is every bit as good as on any other album. Some people say, "Where's the folk?" They're looking for certain types of melodies played on certain instruments. This time Moonsorrow has not boxed in their implementation of folk music within certain instruments. They have built it into the metal. Writing melody-rich, complex and intricate riffs, each metal song on this album (the last track is an acoustic number) contains fantastic passages loaded with epic power and beauty.
Forget for a moment that the album opener, "Karhunkynsi", starts out with a fiddle introduction. Past that, the next few minutes are dedicated to no less than three different full-bar riffs, two of which are folk-laden testimonials to the fact that Moonsorrow knows very well how to write music. Over the course of the fourteen-minute song, musical themes change a significant number of times enough to ensure the listener maintains his attention. At the six-minute spot, there's a very ethereal clean-guitar arpeggiation that stands against a backdrop of a short recitation of spoken word and a slow metal strum riff. This song also includes a return to the blastbeat not heard on their previous masterpiece, Kivenkantaja.
The second song incorporates another type of theme that they would develop more strongly on their next work, V: Hävitetty, that of a kind of arpeggiating chord that conveys a sense of impending doom. A very dark chord style opens into the song and transitions into an alternating minor-to-major chord riff played in black metal style. The "impending doom" theme returns a number of times in this fourteen-minute epic. Another element found in this song as on Kivenkantaja is the clean unison choir, which serves not so much to convey beauty but of sternness, a very strong link to the "impending doom" chords. It's times like these that serve only to impress me, a veteran of music theory, thinking only that "they had to know what they were doing." Once again, here's a folkish melody that comes in for a too-brief moment on the synthesizer in a mellotronish tone.
The third track, "Pimeä", is a very unique one for lots of reasons, not the least of which being that death vocalist Ville Sorvali issues some extremely hellish shrieks not heard on any other of their songs! The transition from second track to third is the first prominent use of the aforementioned "nature ambience", lasting more than a whole minute. The opening metal riff is a full-bar richly melodic, tightly-constructed demonstration of their talents as composers and as musicians.
The last real metal song is "Jotunheim", listed at over nineteen minutes, and contains the best riffs on the entire album. Rich with epic keyboard choruses and melodic guitar passages, it's hard not to vote this tune the album favorite. As previously mentioned, it's not actually the full listed length, as the last two minutes plus is actually more "nature ambience". Again, the opening to this song is further evidence that their folk infusion is not as sparse as some people have previously stated. They are looking for these embellishments as needing to come from folk instruments, where instead they are coming from within the core band instruments.
Lastly, "Kaiku" is a folk song completely lacking in any metal content. There are, on the other hand, some enhancements that push it outside the bounds of purely acoustic content. With the presence of this track, however, I can't see any reason to complain, "where's the folk?" Here it is! While it pales in comparison to Kivenkantaja's "Matkan Lopussa", it still conveys the overall theme of the album, that of "Bloodverses", in that carries within it the connection between man and the harshness of his earthly journey. In this song exists the one line upon which Viking metal enthusiasts would state their case:
"The song of our fathers echoes"
Still, this would not be enough proof, as this is the refrain for every folk culture that ever lived, Viking or otherwise.
As to the mixing and production on this album, there can be no complaints whatsoever, as even those who gave this album a somewhat mediocre rating could not say anything negative about these aspects. Truly, the mixing is top-notch and the production is flawless.
All things considered, their move towards longer songs have not detracted from the meaning and power of any one of them. Moonsorrow has also proven that they can create, define and execute a full album-length theme with beauty, precision and poise.