Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Moonsorrow - Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa

Finland is one of the top countries when it comes to any sort of melodic or progressive style of heavy metal. Despite the obvious like Apocalyptica, Nightwish, and HIM, Finland is also proficient in the extreme metal areas. Some of the lesser-known but still iconic Finnish bands (all of which I would HIGHLY recommend) include Insomnium, Swallow the Sun, Korpiklaani, Children of Bodom, Eternal Tears of Sorrow, Wintersun, Amorphis, Turisas, Ensiferum, Before the Dawn, Finntroll, Rotten Sound, Sonata Arctica, Tarot, and the folk metal band that I am going to talk about today, the one and only Moonsorrow. If you are reading this and have no idea who the fuck Moonsorrow is, they play a style of folk metal that’s based on melodic death (like Eluveitie, Finntroll, etc.) that, most of the time, includes profound melodies, slower tempos, simpler instrumentations, but varying song structures, and a softer vibe. Except what makes Moonsorrow unique is that although there is a melodic death influence, it’s black metal that makes up most of the basis of their sound. Here’s the importance of Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa: it demonstrates the closest the band has ever been to their original sound since their early demos.

Moonsorrow started out as a black metal band. Five years after they released their first demo, the band released their debut full-length, which was almost pure folk metal. Ever since the release of their 2005 album, Moonsorrow have grown closer to their original black metal sound with each release. Are they going back in time? Actually, they’re not. The one thing from their first album that they haven’t let go of is the Finnish folk element. After taking the time to listen to their early demos (which are pretty much just mediocre black metal), it’s obvious why they haven’t let go of their folk sound, and that is because it makes everything they play sound beautiful. Everything black metal-related about Moonsorrow is intensified by the folk metal influence. The darkness and grimness of the black metal, when combined with the melodic beauty of folk metal, adds up to an album that projects beauty, color, emotion, darkness, and depression. There are no “up-beat” moments on Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa. It has texture, variety, and confidence, but the overall mood of the album is that of being in a big, empty, cold, barren, but peaceful place all alone. This is the type of mood that I’m an absolute sucker for. But this cold and desolate world that Moonsorrow creates with this record is also magical and beautiful in every single area.

There are some that wouldn’t even agree with the presence of the melodic death influence. Although they would be in the right direction, there is some present. But black metal is the sound that takes the wheel on this one. The two main elements that have black metal roots are the vocals and the type of melody. If you’re a black metal fanatic like me, you know exactly what kind of vocals I’m talking about. Are they the shitty black metal vocals? Not no, but hell no. The vocals sound slightly similar to that of Naglfar, Gorgoroth, Dark Tranquility (not black metal), and Melechesh. They’re strong, never shaky, and even include some deep growls here and there (part of the melodic death influence).

The style of melody is without a doubt black metal. The sounds of the acoustic guitars, flutes, tin whistles, accordions, mouth harp, and other stringed instruments do give the music a nice mystical folk atmosphere, but none of it changes the darkness of the black metal underneath. The black metal part is much darker, more melodic, and heavier than your average black metal band, which is the part that’s influenced by Finnish melodic death metal. Some examples of black metal bands that are extremely melodic like Moonsorrow would include Wolves in the Throne Room, Agalloch (not pure black metal), Nokturnal Mortum, and Shining. In fact, the desolate and sorrowful melody of Moonsorrow also shares a lot of similarities with one of my favorite musical genres, depressive black metal. The extremely dark, depressing, but beautiful melodies heard within the depressive black metal genre have probably had a huge influence on Moonsorrow’s sound. One of the more oddball, but very pretty moments that’s very similar to Swallow the Sun’s music is the intro to Huuto, the acoustic guitar part backed with the soft keyboard pad that ends up becoming the lead line for the rest of the song. Does melodic mean not heavy? FUCK NO. Saying that Moonsorrow isn’t heavy is one of the most inaccurate statements that can ever be said about this album (or Moonsorrow in general). Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa is one of the heaviest folk metal albums in existence. It just has a lot of extra shit on top of it that makes it sound less heavy when compared to the folk metal bands with music that’s less complex.

If you’re used to listening to stuff by Tool, Opeth, Dream Theater, Sleep, and Xasthur, you’re not going to have any problem listening to these guys. For those of you still stuck in the 2-7 minute range, be aware that all of the songs on this album are more than 10 minutes long. Moonsorrow creates a repeating transition in between every song where you hear nothing but a light wind and a man hiking through this beautiful wasteland they’ve created. I don’t see any significance of these interludes other than that they really help strengthen the depressive atmosphere of the album.

Moonsorrow’s unique approach on black metal is part of why so many people like them. Besides the fact that the folk elements make their sound unique, the guitars on Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa are very heavy, crunchy, and have a lot of bass. Usually, on your average black metal record, the guitars are low-tuned, but fairly high-pitched with little to no bass at all. So with the black metal style of playing and the black metal-sounding melodies being played with very powerful and heavy guitars creates a sound that a lot of black metal bands haven’t chosen to explore. One of the first bands to do this is the Swedish progressive black band Shining (I would recommend their album V – Halmstad). But then again, the deep sound of the guitars could also be influenced by the guitar distortions heard in melodic death.

Moonsorrow are, without a doubt, one of the best at what they do. Their entire discography is fantastic, but this masterpiece just eliminates any sort of competition. Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa is Moonsorrow’s best album yet. Not only is the music beautiful, the album cover is fantastic. I would recommend this to fans of folk metal, melodic death, black metal, Finnish music, and depressive black metal. This is something that everyone needs to have in their collection, I cannot stress that enough. It’s easy to impress me, but it’s hard to amaze me. And Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa has amazed me to the point to where I would give it a 20/20.