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The devastated symphony - 90%

Napero, February 1st, 2012

Just looking at the lyrics shows how far from the days of Suden uni Moonsorrow had travelled, when they released V: Hävitetty. There are no stories, no heroism, no tales from unwritten history. No, the album is allegorical, poetic, and very, very dark. The lyrics make no real sense, except if read like poetry, and the same can be said of the music. The folk was already largely gone from the music, and the black metal they had abandoned after their demo period was making a comeback, but in a wholly different form.

Moonsorrow had been drifting towards this point of their career from a variety of directions. The fact that the progressive influence in their songs had been increasing ever since their first full-length probably resulted in this strange decision to create an album with just two enormously long and complex tracks. Their song lengths had been growing for a while, and on the preceding Verisäkeet, they were already close to 15 minutes. And while song lengths have nothing to do with "progressive music" by default, the fact that there is little repetition and the songs are composed of many parts that follow each other, interconnected and flowing like a forest stream, without awkward mechanical joints between them. Those collections of "songlets" work surprisingly seamlessly, and the songs truly progress from one form to another, effortlessly.

Many old Moonsorrow fans have expressed disappointment at the fact that the band no longer plays folk metal. On the factual level, that is true. There is very little direct folk influence on V: Hävitetty, and the days of folk instruments are all but past. The mouth harp, accordion and several other items from the past do make an appearance or two on the album, but they are there to add to the atmosphere, as spices, not as the main course. On the other hand, this IS still Moonsorrow, and the evolution of their songwriting and style can be compared to the songs found on this album: they have evolved, and while hearing Suden uni and V: Hävitetty right next to each other, without earlier experience on the band, would make it seem that the albums were written by two completely different bands, there is still the essential Moonsorrow sound and a similar thematic foundation on the bottom of both of them. There is a continuum of musical evolution, with no discontinuities or gaps in that evolution, and comparing every album with the one that came after it makes it easy to see that path from folk metal to this.

But what is this album made of, then? The folk metal parts have been either discarded or moved to secondary roles, and more of the dark, blackish, atmospheric and almost "symphonic" metal has replaced most of the old catchy tunes. And that might be a good name for this: symphonic. There are no orchestras, operatic divas, or choirs, but the construction of the songs resembles the way the great historic composers worked on their symphonies: themes, varied, transformed to something else, repeated, mutilated and combined, build into greater works than the sums of their parts would be, and the whole forms a majestic hour of music to be enjoyed and explored. Of the overall trends of Moonsorrow's career discography, the gradual blackening takes a break on V: Hävitetty: it's not closer to black metal than Verisäkeet was, and the developments have taken place on other fronts.

The two gargantuan tracks make the album a relatively difficult thing to swallow in a few ways. First, the songs do not suit live performances very well, unless they get chopped up to smaller fragments, or, alternatively, if the band aims for and achieves a very intensive live performance and manages to hold the audience enthralled and mesmerized for half an hour at a time; it would certainly not be beyond their abilities, given a suitable audience in a perfect setting. Another issue is the need to focus on the tracks, and finding the mentioned half an hour to truly listen and concentrate on the works. Moonsorrow does work wonderfully as background music, especially this particular album, but using it as such is a disservice and insult to the compositions, and it simply deserves better. So, in that respect, the two song path they took was, in hindsight once again, a bold statement and an artistic choice of champions. If the listener has time to spare for the album, and the capability to really immerse into the musical journey, it was worth it, and the complaints are just pragmatics worth perhaps a quick glance and swift dismissal.

Musically, V: Hävitetty was a colossal and perhaps even slightly risky undertaking, but it did pay off. The album seems to be well liked around the world, and sometimes, there's value in just doing things differently to avoid turning stale and growing permanent roots into the comfort zone soil. But as a result, out of the band's whole discography, this album is the one that takes the greatest effort from the listener. It is not an easy task to let it grow on oneself, especially if impatience, in the way it often does today, counts as a virtue. This is a symphony, in two parts, and cannot be divided into smaller manageable chunks, so please spare some time and patience before you embark on this particular path. It will reward you, but fast food it is not.