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The formula of the dreaming wolf - 94%

Napero, February 1st, 2012

The first official full-length of Moonsorrow opened a new path into the deep untrodden snow of Nordic folk metal. It was the first item in the series that spanned from Suden Uni to either Kivenkantaja or Verisäkeet, depending on the angle of view, and the later, heavier stylistic changes only took place on V: Hävitetty, the album that turned Moonsorrow onto a new path. On that new path, atmosphere comes before the folk elements, and some of the joyous, epic qualities of the four full-lengths before that were replaced by darker ideas and perhaps more passive-aggressive melancholic sceneries. But here, on Suden uni, they discovered something wonderful, and were to sharpen this particular sword to extreme sharpness on the following three albums.

Before Suden uni, folk metal had already turned into its stereotypical self, the ridiculous and mostly artificial mead-chugging, folk-dancing, drinking horn infested booze-fueled pseudo-Viking humppa-fest with a bunch of traditional instruments being raped on top of mediocre guitarwork and a rhythm section that could be performed by average professional musicians even when dead drunk. Yes, there were exceptions: Skyclad was doing its own, excellent brand of music, and the "pagan" scene had been born earlier, but the merry stomping had the front of the stage, and the repercussions can still be felt in the opinions of a lot of people.

What Suden uni did differently was stealthy and cunning, but bold and unapologizing at the same time. Moonsorrow was still essentially a black metal band on their last demo, Tämä ikuinen talvi, but they managed to build a new kind of wonderful combination on the album that followed. They down-toned the black metal, replaced some of it with almost disturbingly catchy folk tunes, added instrumentation that adds to the folkish atmosphere, and still managed to avoid becoming drunkenly merry folk bullshit. A large part of that was buried in the subject matter, and will remain entombed there for a huge fraction of their fans for eternity, hidden behind a language barrier that might turn out to be impenetrable even to most of those who go far enough to make an effort at learning Finnish.

What they unearthed was the cache of Finnish folk tradition, and they put it to good use. As a prime example, "Köyliönjärven jäällä" recounts the ancient tale of the first, most likely apocryphal, bishop of Finland, instated by the Swedes after their "crusades" to christianize the pagans here by force and sword. The tale, in its original form, describes Lalli, a rich farmer, and, incidentally, the first Finn with a name in the history books, as a bad-tempered trouble-maker, and his subsequent axe murder of bishop Henrik on the ice of Lake Köyliö, as an atrocity for which Lalli paid dearly. Moonsorrow's idea of the same story is reversed: they see Lalli's deadly attack as one of the last defiant acts against the invasion of the followers of the cross, and the man as a misunderstood hero, painted black by the history written by the eventual winners of the struggle.

Even if the rest of the album's songs take a bit more effort to transcribe to historical terms, the point is always the same: yearning for the pagan times, but not in the Vikernesian way. No, there's more epic, desperate fighting against the inevitable christian "civilization", the flood of outside influence brought by men with swords and crosses, and the eventual downfall of the old world of the endless woods and pagan honour. It is a world that has never been described in the history books, with only a few scattered mentions in ancient Roman and later manuscripts. Even the archaeological record is lacking, and the times before the Swedes established their bridgeheads on the west coast and built their first castles are largely open to imagination at least as much as described by factual information, and offer endless possibilities for tales. The national epic, Kalevala, is the sole source to tap to get inside the literally pre-historic minds of ancient Finns. The Vikings never established themselves in Finland, despite allegedly finding America and possibly crossing the equator on their voyages, and it's tempting to paint a picture of a forgotten people that managed to be hardened enough to withstand half a millennium of onslaught by the most feared Nordic warriors in recorded history. And all that, in a peculiar way, translates into the music, giving it an epic edge that transcends the mentioned language barrier, and colours virtually everything with a heroic tint.

The music itself consists of folkish tunes crafted onto a solidly metal foundation. The tunes themselves and the riffs behind them are infective beyond reason: they stick to the mind and haunt the listener for days, but unlike such all-time favorites as "Pop Corn" or "Mr Softee Theme", they never drive the human tape recorder crazy after 12 hours. No, even after a full day, they still have a freshness to them, and the songs are more or less a pleasure to hum along long after the album ends. The band also managed to come up with some of their trademark epic choruses, and those would propagate heavily before the run of the formula was to end.

There is virtually nothing of the black metal found on Tämä ikuinen talvi demo left, and it would take half a decade before that particular brand of metal would make a comeback to the mix somewhere between Verisäkeet and V: Hävitetty.

This recipe was destined to be repeated, built on, and polished on Voimasta ja kunniasta and Kivenkantaja, and it lingered on in gradually smaller doses, all the way until Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa finally turned Moonsorrow onto a different track. The formula is a catchy beast, and it's little to be surprised at that it carried the band well into some moderate international fame. That fame was achieved with music written in Finnish, of all languages, and that is something to be surprised about.