(Wil Cifer reviews the new album by Finland’s Moonsorrow.)
It’s been five years since the Finnish overlords of pagan metal left us with Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa. The new album, Jumalten Aika (“The Age of Gods”), opens with folk instruments, creating a ritualistic aura. After a minute and a half of this they storm into the larger-than-life metal you have come to expect from them.
The black metal side of what they do is toned down on this album, as this one dives into folk metal on an epic scale. Holding true to their mission statement, the album does have a commanding Viking feel, without inspiring you to go into a jig with your drinking horn.
The wait is in some part due to the ambitious production value with which this album was crafted. The drums have enough thunder to make Thor jealous. Production-wise, this might be their biggest drum sound yet. Marko Tarvonen might have always been a monster, but this album really shines a spotlight on the fact.
Continuing to find the right balance of melody and muscle, the harsh vocals have more of a snarl to them than I remember from their previous work. The first two songs alone prove this album to be as dynamic as the previous two, as it ebbs and flows in a similar manner. Guitar-wise, to say they have achieved a fuller sound would be an understatement. The layers are well woven around each another.
“Suden Tunti” finds them slowing down, but also becoming more aggressive. At seven minutes this song is more stripped-down, even with some of the folk elements that crop up between some of the punches. The gang chanting could almost inspire a dwarven circle pit, unless you make successful savings throws against enchanted moshing. This is one of the album’s most powerful songs.
Speaking of savings throws, often the length of these guys’ songs has made them a band to use as background music for D&D nights, rather than something that got heavy rotation on my iPod. However, I think they are one of the few bands who really make every minute count. Except for the sound effects that end the album, few seconds are wasted on droning or indulgent noise. Their indulgences, as pretentious as they might seem to someone not really into this kind of epic pagan metal, are well-played and take me away to icy battlegrounds.
“Mimisbrunn” does really take Viking metal to a lushly orchestrated extreme. This soaring fifteen-minute piece is the most melodic song on the album. In places it feels like the intensity is being compromised by extended passages of beauty, and then they hit you with a smack of blast beats. The double-bass sweeps to add the needed aggression.
This album might take them another step closer to progressive metal in the constantly expanding arrangements. They are relentless in hitting you with riffs that are as catchy as they are majestic. The clean guitar passages allow the bass to come out from the layers of drums under which it sometimes finds itself buried.
One thing Moonsorrow have going for them here is the fantasy element that many bands of their ilk take on, giving you the feeling that they are bards telling a story from which they are detached. Moonsorrow might be telling a story, but they dig into their souls and spill a great deal of emotion into the music.
They return to another bare-bones metal riff to open “Ihmisen Aika”, but the raw nature of this is short-lived. The band doesn’t hesitate to build back up into a multi-layered attack. The bass is more present in the mix on this song as well. There are fewer thematic shifts in the first five minutes, but they come by way of a melodic breakdown that explodes into a much heavier section which finds its way into something resembling black metal. There is a very symphonic lushness to the song’s third act that is well-layered with textures of guitar and vocals.
This might be the perfect album if massive Viking symphonies are what you listen to on a regular basis. For weekend warriors of arctic wastelands, it provides an escape into another world.
Jumalten Aika will be released by Century Media on April 1. The track list is as follows:
1. Jumalten Aika (12:43)
2. Ruttolehto incl. Päivättömän Päivän Kansa (15:21)
3. Suden Tunti (7:06)
4. Mimisbrunn (15:55)
5. Ihmisen Aika (Kumarrus Pimeyteen) (16:00)
1. Soulless (Grave cover) (3:18)
2. Non Serviam (Rotting Christ cover) (5:10)