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It doesn't get any better than this - 100%

Prominence, May 6th, 2010

Forget the premise of metal, or folk, or music and art as a whole for that matter - Verisäkeet is one of the most transcendent and divine products of all human creation. Now, I hate to be one of those assholes who only posts a handful of reviews that are all rated either 100%, 0% or a combination of both, but rarely am I inspired enough by an entire release to write in its name. For future reference, I am not fond of the general concept of objectivity. The way music sounds literally differs between each pair of ears. It is perception, both physical and mental. So, as such, I would only ever bother to review an album that I personally feel deserves more recognition, whether it has been generally well-received or not, and this review should serve as an insight into my opinion – if you don’t like my opinion(s), you may as well disregard this. I have found much good music by following internet-strangers’ opinions. Despite this album’s generally great receptance, I still feel inclined to reinforce its glory, as it is often lost out to the likes of much more shallow and superficial bands, coughkorpiklaanicough, and still is merely in the shadows of monumental releases as far as wide recognition is concerned. Though, I suppose the trend of “folk / viking metal” has been a rising one lately, and Moonsorrow are still fairly highly regarded by many for actually contributing something to the genre. Unlike, let’s say, Ensiferum. Regardless, Moonsorrow is, as stated by both the band and several fans including members of this site, not a viking metal band. I find the term somewhat ridiculous, but considering how many ludicrous, cheesy alternate brands of folk metal there are out there, there exists a corresponding amount of corny genre names to accompany. The Moonsorrow members themselves even join in on the unique genre descriptions, though at least they justify their reasoning for labeling themselves as “epic heathen metal” - epic atmosphere, heathen message, metal core…That came out wrong, the core of their music is metal - there is no metalcore association with this music whatsoever.

Verisäkeet is very important in Moonsorrow’s chronology as it marks their first full-length album with distinct black metal elements, similar to that of their demos. This is Moonsorrow’s blackest and best album, and may remain such for the rest of their career, though that is yet to be determined. Bear in mind we’re not being objective here – this review exists purely in the realm of my subjectivity. I will try to describe the aesthetics of the music itself in as objective a light as possible, but that’s as far as it goes.

The opening track, “Karhunkynsi” (also the most difficult title to remember), serves as a bridge of sorts. In chronological sequence, Moonsorrow has gone from predominately black to folk and now back to black – this opener is by far the most straightforward “folk metal” track on the album, but still has a sufficient flavour of their new sound. It would lose a few points for this, but the diversity it gives the album, plus the manner in which it smoothly bridges the gap between their old and new sound which is far from a bad idea, compensates for its inferiority. Not to mention it is still a magnificent specimen of black/folk metal. It feels very proper, and raises the fact that they are still the same band to the core – they are simply exploring darker and more depressive themes, both lyrically and musically. Clean-cutting distortion guitars slowly rise out of the folk melody being played, which sounds like that two-stringed Finnish violin, whatever its name is. The songs all have a repetitive structure to them, but Karhunkynsi seems to execute it in slightly less brilliance than the subsequent tracks – the subtle changes in the various repetitions aren’t quite as flowing, nor as distinct… even though they are attempting to be subtle with it, it should still provide a feeling of movement, progression, the same atmosphere with a different vibe… or vice versa. Don’t get me wrong though, Karhunkynsi is still a mindblowingly epic song, I am merely speaking in relativity to the majesty of Verisäkeet’s whole. The remaining four tracks execute this idea that is somewhat similar to minimalism in structure, at least as far as 14+ minute songs are concerned, much smoother and with more conviction. And on the topic of the repetitive structure – the arrangements are very hypnotically repetitive, yet no part is ever replicated identically. This corresponds with the lyrics, which explore similar themes while gently shuffling the phrasing around. And most impressively, in a light never before seen by Moonsorrow – This album marks a totally new stage in Moonsorrow’s career up until this point, combining the atmospheric icy demo tracks which sound similar to “On The Sortilage of Christianity” fused with “Lunar Poetry”, and the musical development and experience gained through their folk albums, creating the most distinct “Moonsorrow sound” that currently exists. The influences are still present and noticeable, but it seems for this album the band looked much deeper inside of themselves and their own inspirations rather than other artists’ and musicians’.

A prime example of this radiant uniqueness is the track in the dead centre of the five, titled “Pimeä. This is Moonsorrow’s darkest song, suitably titled “Dark”, as it utilizes some of the shrillest, most bleakly evocative guitar arpeggios that exist, nevertheless within Moonsorrow’s catalogue, and to top it off – Ville’s ultimate vocal performance, heard slightly beyond two minutes in. These shrieks put Nyktalgia’s overly-controlled vocals to shame, showcasing infinitely more conviction, as well as the whiny likes of Silencer who is really just a batshit-insane attention-starved moron more than an artist with integrity. I mean Jesus Christ, Moonsorrow are one of the furthest things from a DSBM outfit yet they outdo just about every single one vocal-wise, and in perfect modesty, only ever showcasing this level of shriek here. It gives Pimeä an extra sense of specialness for that, not that it wasn’t incredibly special already. Needlessly to say, Pimeä is one of, if not my favourite song of all time and creation. If there is one song on Verisäkeet to hear, this is it; though, depending on your taste, Jotunheim may take this cake, as it is another timelessly unique masterpiece.

Now, for some emphasis on the actual instrumentation: the drums are fantastic – Marko is very candid in regards to his competence in melodic instruments, seen through his incredibly melodic fills and his role as the 12-string acoustic guitarist. He is a master of rhythm, as well, providing consistent yet varied rhythms that carry the songs through their epic lengths without ever becoming boring. The bass is actually present - most prominent during the quieter portions of the music, though this has been true for just about all of Moonsorrow’s work. Henri and Mitja are a fantastic guitar duo, bringing elements to the table that neither fully possesses on their own, creating a wonderful synergy. I have a hunch that the majority of the solos can be credited to Mitja, whereas the overall guitar composition is credited to Henri. This holds true for Moonsorrow as a whole, as they are not abusers of the solo, very seldom implementing them into songs, and as such, to much greater magnitude and effect; when the solo in Pimeä begins winding up, you know you’re in for an alluring treat, adding yet another unique element to a masterpiece that has already thrown more than anyone could expect at you. 6/8 (or12/8, depending on the context) are, to no surprise, the most common time signatures present, as this is a folk-themed album, but there still are some riffs executed in 4/4. As far as my memory serves, there are no odd signatures such as 5/8 that can be heard on V: Havitetty. Overall stellar musicianship, and more importantly, implemented through majestic taste.

This music contains something that is very uncommon in much modern metal, even within the supposedly innovative and diverse genre that is black metal, which comes down to pure conviction and passion. To read the lyrics (translations, of course, which are done excellently) while listening the music is to know that these guys are dead fucking serious, pouring their all into the creation and execution of these songs. Pimeä seems to serve as a sort of single-concentrated outlet for all of the total inner and outer darkness that exists - instead of stooping to the level of your average DSBM band, which is lucky to have one track not on the topic of suicide and other whiny bullshit… and these are usually instrumentals. Pimeä is not so saturated in its own ideas – it is an incredibly dark, bleak song, yet it does not wallow in itself forever – it also provides a vibe of triumph, buried amidst the frantic chaos and fear, which I guess you’re not really looking for if you dig the mindless self-pitying/hatred with no possible potential for salvation that your average DSBM would have, nor the mindlessly upbeat concepts present in your average folk/metal hybrid band, on that subject. But it comes down to a matter of affinity – this particular concoction of traditional folk combined with black metal in as tasteful and mature a manner as possible does not necessarily strike a chord with everyone – some people do not care much for nature either, which is a dominant theme throughout the entire album, portrayed through several minutes of nature-ambiance, which in itself manages to stay surprisingly varied and offers a very soothing rest to the aggressive side of the music. Alongside the various clean and folk instrument intros, interludes, closings etc., Verisäkeet provides a perfect balance of beautifully clean music and aggressive, more abrasive sonic fury and passion. This is a balance I think many types and forms of metalheads strive for, yet is so uncommon in the wake of the totally-abrasive 100% pure metal assaults or on the other side of the spectrum, an unimaginable structure of “harsh scream verse” -> “clean chorus… maybe with some harsh vocals obnoxiously repeating the words or making it impossible to decipher what is actually being said when”, back to “harsh scream verse, except this time maybe reverse the structure of the chorus and have the clean vocals layering or combined with the harsh”, that is so common in everything from generic metalcore to newer Anaal Nathrakh. Where is the subtlety? Where is the taste (also an incredibly subjective term)?

Another incredibly vital element to Verisäkeet’s grandeur is the implementation of the various folk instruments. Seldom are musicians able to combine two genres such as Folk or Celtic with Metal without sounding completely contrived and pointless. In the forefront of the genre, Moonsorrow, Falkenbach and Primordial are just about the only ones legitimately deserving of bearing the adjective “epic”. Such a description is thrown around so loosely nowadays – any DnD geek or Tolkien-freak can write songs based on battles and ancient customs, but there is nothing real in it, only pallid power-metal riffs lacking any genuine inspiration. At least, the light they try to portray these epic circumstances in barely aligns in my mind with the feelings behind the actual events. It takes the sterile role of a generic history teacher, rather than a vivid reliving of the emotions and sensations of standing in a battlefield, surrounded by death and utter chaos in every direction – a specific vibe I feel much more convincingly in Weakling than I do in any Ensiferum or Turisas. Overall dynamic and emotion are severely lacking in this “oncoming trend” that is folk/viking/sorceress of the night metal. Verisäkeet manages to focus on a separate theme in every single track, yet each one embodies an unfathomable and epic feeling and concept, and all fall under the same umbrella, giving the album a feel of cohesion. They sing of mostly humourless ideas such as death, time, and some sort of patriotism – never too mindlessly serious and monotonous as most DSBM, nor light-humored and shallow as the more casual folk metal bands. Henri Sorvali clearly outlets all of his whacked out humppa-humour through Finntroll, leaving his full undivided attention focusing strictly on the serious, mature side of music within him for Moonsorrow… Although they did joke before its release that Verisäkeet was to be titled the Finnish equivalent of “Gay Pig”, but hey – one should always maintain somewhat of a sense of humour, or else they are doomed – this particular joke has no bearing whatsoever on the album’s content itself. Never take yourself too seriously or too lightly. Balance!

Although my description of Verisäkeet’s sound is rather abstract, that’s all that any review can really provide in most cases. If you’re familiar with the folk metal genre or Moonsorrow’s other material, it will still be nearly impossible to grasp an understanding of Verisäkeet’s sound before having heard it. It is also Moonsorrow’s most diverse album, the two tracks sounding the most similar being Pimeä and Haaska, which still have entirely distinguishable themes, they are merely both heavy in Moonsorrow’s somewhat-new style of clean and distorted arpeggios. Aside from that, Jotunheim contains some mindblowing melodies and arrangements, clocking in as the longest track on the album at a length past 19 minutes. It speaks more of a profound pride and respect for their homeland, Finland, and this is solidly represented through the sound. The frantic urgency of Pimeä is replaced with a calmer feel, portraying the image that it is significantly more controlled, in spite of the manic tightness experienced only minutes ago through Pimeä’s; but that is what they were trying to achieve. “No man can ever own this land”, the final lyric of the 19-minute epic, is a perfect final summary for the monster song that spends a third of an hour dragging you through the mind of a sincere and passionate artist. It is no wonder Moonsorrow pays such homage to seemingly “uptight” or excessively serious themes, considering their homeland – 75% trees containing something over 170,000 separate islands. Black metal is the naturally ideal outlet for these sentiments – an unconditional love and respect for something as sacred, serene and timeless as the Earth’s natural phenomena – this is without venturing into Nazi territory, also, for the record. The layered lead melody has a profoundly suiting melancholic yet patriotic feel, connecting directly with the song’s concept. I could tell Jotunheim was about nature and landscapes before I read the lyrics. From slightly upbeat, to grim and primordial bloodshed, to complete utter inner and outer darkness, to a passionate epic suited for an epic land, finally to the calm, resolved closing, Verisäkeet offers it all, and does so flawlessly. “Kaiku”, meaning “Echo”, is said closing, and is very fitting at that. The crackling sounds of flames, the band members sitting in a circle surrounding it singing their choir vocals alongside their woodwind instrumentation. There is an undeniable sense of closure, slowly winding the listener down from the gale-storm of sonic art they just absorbed.

Verisäkeet is a musical masterpiece with infinite replay value – rarely can so much conviction and passion be heard throughout an entire full-length offering; nothing reminiscent of “filler” is anywhere to be found in this album. It is unpredictable with shocking turns, yet maintains an incredibly fluent flow, giving the epic tracks the image that they are classic traditional songs of the same nature as those they were inspired by. I have a hunch that in centuries to come, Verisäkeet will be looked back upon as one of the musical landmarks of our generation. I could rant on this album’s grandeur for twice the length I already have, but I fear nobody would have the patience to read this review if I did. Every listen will reveal something new to the listener, no matter how many spins the CD has received, whether it be the underlying vocal harmonies between harsh and clean, the discrete varying keyboard tones, or simply the brilliant subtlety of the compositions and arrangements themselves. If you have even a drop of affinity with metal, folk or genuinely good music and art, this album will become a timeless treasure to your ears and mind.