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Understated Masterpiece - 95%

The_Grimner, February 26th, 2005

It's going to be fun watching everyone "not getting" this album. Already, now that the first fans are getting their copies, the first reviewers their promos, and the album's leaked in due internet tradition, I have been witnessing a lot of controversy, especially from people bemoaning the lack of happy singalong or pompous synth parts, or that the folk elements are more understated than ever, or that it just simply sounds dirtier, or too long. Well, from my perspective, as someone who grew up with the same influences as they have, it's not difficult at all for me to "get" this. Let me try and explain:

Nowadays, the term Viking Metal is often misused. Most of the times, bands are lumped into that category simply because of some folk/medieval influences in the music, even moreso if the band ever mentions Norse mythology on occasion. On these terms, I think that Moonsorrow are clearly exploring a "spiritual" approach to their Pagan themes, as opposed to simply rehashing them over and over like, say, Amon Amarth seem bent on doing. This is expressed both on the lyrical content ( no, i can't read finnish for shit, but i have had access to the translated lyrics), which seem deliberately more vague and less descriptive and more metaphorical than ever, but also on the premeditated crudeness of their newfound musical approach, which is what has been confusing most of their longtime fans.

Many a comment has been made about the album being "too harsh" or lacking enough melodic moments, or being too long for its own sake, but, like i said, all of this is a conscious approach by the band. If nothing else, to someone who grew up on 90's black metal as I did, simply picking up the little "tributes" the band has included throughout the 5 lengthy tracks is worth the CD alone. Bits like a riff in Karhunkynsi that could have been lifted straight from Mayhem's De Mysteriis, or the opening riff from Pimeä, that would fit confortably on Satyricon's "Shadowthrone". This approach, however, is only surprising to those fans who have gotten into contact with the folk overtones of Voimasta Ja Kunniasta and have never heard a demo or even Suden Uni. Back then, those influences were quite noticeiable in their sound, they are simply making a comeback on this album, which is easily their darkest yet. Bathory's Viking period is still the most dominant influence here, but now it shares the limelight with some harsher influences from vintage norwegian black metal, adding a definite coldness to the material that was somehow lacking in previous efforts.

Don't take this as being a dramatic turn around in Moonsorrow's sound. One of the great things about them has always been their ability to wear their influences so blatantly on their sleeves, and yet still be able to not confuse being influenced with "stealing". For all this talk about riffs reminiscent of this or that band, Verisäkeet is still pretty much an album that could only come from Moonsorrow, using the influences to forge something new instead of trying to sound like this or that band. And don't let the Black Metal references i have been making lead you into thinking they have turned into a Blast fest. Those of you in the know will probably remember that most of those black metal classics were quite midtempo anyway. And midtempo these songs definetly are, long, drawn out behemoths that evolve at their own leisure over the course of 14 minutes a piece. It's almost too much to take in in one sitting at first; there doesn't seem to be enough variation, the melodies are understated as opposed to screaming their pomposity from the rooftops, and well, lets face it, just about any album comprised only of five songs is not exactly easy listening.

But give it time, allow for it to sink in. There's a definite structure to this, that forces the listener to hear it in its entirety. With repeated listens, the album's definite epicness gains form. Colder it might be, but it's also their most heartfelt and intimist, reeking of melancholy from every pore. Karhunkynsi might set a faster tone, but it's really the middle song Pimeä that stands out, while Jotunheim sets the tone for the album's end in an almost doomy fashion. More than merely an album about Thor's Hammer,or trolls, or hacking down christians with viking broadswords, this is an album that is almost spiritual in approach, and that is reflected both in the lyrics and in the music.

All of this should not be new to the long standing Moonsorrow fan. It just sounds new at first. The hooks are not so blatant this time around, and the songs are less reliant on them. It's an album that demands attention, and doesn't give all of its secrets away in one sitting. After a while, though, we regret the fact that an album this good lasts only 70 minutes.

Double album next time, folks?