Sound — 10
Moonsorrow, for those who don't know them, are a folk metal band from Finland. Some might argue their exact genre, but the are certainly folk metal of some form. They have called themselves pagan metal, or even epic heathen metal, so somewhere along those lines you'll get the main idea of their sound. Almost if not all of the music is written by keyboardist and guitarist Henri Sorvali. He is also the keyboardist and primary songwriter for Finntroll, making him one of the most influential musicians in the folk/pagan metal scene. Their sound is very intricate with many keyboard tracks, as well as some other instruments that are now becoming associated with the folk metal sound, such as the jaw harp. The band has always been good at blending soft acoustic sections with full epic metal sections, and they put a lot of ambient sound into their most recent records in order to enhance the music itself. This was most evident on their previous album, Verisдkeet, but is certainly still present in this album. Personally I believe that they has reached the peak of their sound on this album. Their earlier albums weren't quite so polished, and they were obviously still coming into their sound. On Verisдkeet, they began to mature in that the scope of the album just exploded, and it is no different on this album. The entire album is divided into two tracks of over 25 minutes each, and it is clear that the album is actually meant to be listened to all at once. In that sense, the scope of the album is more of an epic musical journey as opposed to a collection of songs, which affects the sound quite a bit. Everything flows together, and there are very long buildups and interludes between sections. There are quite a few tempo changes, and the energy is very fluid throughout the piece. The guitars are are very tight, the cleans have a very clear, almost shimmering tone, the distortions have a full, sustained sound. The bass is very prominent, and very well executed in tandem with the guitars. The drums fit very well with the rest of the instruments; at the heaviest points it is the driving force, but when the dynamics are a little softer the drums accent the sound quite nicely and help everything build or come down. The keyboards fill the sound out, and in general, the sound is quite full overall. Even in the sparsest moments on the album the sound is very rich, and each element is very complimentary of the others. As the dynamics of the songs change, the sound ebbs and flows very well. The instruments build together and come down as a whole. Overall, the sound is that of very full, rich metal with a very epic scope. The album is obviously built on its sound, and it is extremely well executed throughout. They were definitely ambitious with this project, but they were quite successful in this endeavor.
Lyrics — 9
The lyrics of Moonsorrow have been written in their native Finnish since their third demo, Tдmд Ikuinen Talvi. Since then, they have crafted their songs entirely in Finnish, which adds to their image as a pagan metal band. Any language other than English gives a band an exotic quality, and Finnish gives Moonsorrow a unique impression on the listener. The vocals are a mixture of screams, cleans, and spoken passages, but each one compliments the other and they all work to facilitate the mood. Bassist Ville Sorvali writes the majority of the lyrics, and he also handles all screaming. His screaming is very high and gutteral, and definitely has some black metal influences. He often just shrieks in order to accent a certain section, which works perfectly well. His screams also have a lot of emotional depth to them, ranging from anger to despair and everything in between. His screamed vocals make up the backbone of Moonsorrow's vocals, but that isn't to say that the vocals of this band are not diverse. In fact, their clean vocals serve to accent the screams perfectly, and they almost play off each other at times. Generally the entire band contributes to the clean vocals, creating a very choral tone. There are a few lines near the end that are sung exclusively by Henri Sorvali, but for the most part the clean vocals are fully choral in nature and undertaken by the band as a whole. This choral vocal is often in the background during Ville's screams, either accenting a particular line or simply providing an ambient sound of its own. The spoken passages on this album are also a very good accent, and on this album they are more like chanting than anything else. This creates its own mood, and further diversifies Moonsorrow's vocal sound. On the second song of this album, Tuleen Ajettu Maa, there is also guest vocals from Thomas Vддnдnen of Swedish band Thyrfing. These vocals add a different element, and add a different exotic quality to the sound. Overall the vocals are all 100% fitting of the music, emphasizing the moods created. In terms of lyrics, they are also extremely well done. As I have said before, the lyrics are entirely in Finnish, making the lyrics less important to the casual listener than the sound in general, but to those who can understand what the words mean or who care enough to look up English translations of the lyrics, it is obvious that they are masterfully done. I myself cannot speak Finnish, but I am learning the language and know enough that I can decipher most of the lyrics if I spend enough time with them. In combination with the English translations as kind of a cheat sheet, I am quite amazed at the quality of these lyrics. The lyrics are all extremely dark on this album, and the scope of the lyrics also matches the music. The first track is divided into two parts, Jддstд Syntynyt (Born from Ice), and Varjojen Virta (Stream of Shadows). Jддstд Syntynyt is something of a prologue, signalling the birth of an icy land. Varjojen Virta is the bulk of this song, and it tells of this dark, cold land. The most representative line of this song goes like this: "Varjojen virta kuolemaa kuljettaa. Maa on harmaa, sydдn poissa taas" (Death drifts on the stream of shadows. The soil is grey, my heart is gone). This track is mostly written in first person, telling of a lone but despairing hero looking upon this ravaged land. In fact, that is the title of the album. "V" stands for "Viides Luku," or fifth chapter, referencing the fact that this is their fifth album, and Hдvitetty simply means "ravaged." The whole first track is very abstract, describing the land and the feelings of a particular inhabitant of that land. The second track, Tuleen Ajettu Maa, means "Land Driven into Fire." This track is a little more literal than its predecessor, but it is nonetheless quite abstract. It tells in a general sense how this land is destroyed by battle and fire. It is no longer in first person, and is more of a generally description of the destruction of the land. One of the most telling lines is "Jддstд syntynyt on ajettu tuleen," meaning "That which was born of ice is driven into fire." Other prominent lines include "The book of life written in blood lies in the hands of the lord of the world of war," and "This is how it ends, I can see it now. This page will be the last. This is how it ends, to emptiness, to oblivion, and none will ever return." The lyrics of this album are very compelling, and have a very dark tone matching the music perfectly. Overall, the lyrics and singing are all very well done, and add to this album as a whole.
Overall Impression — 10
This album is in a league of its own in the sense that albums of truly epic scope do not come around very often, and are rarely executed this well. It is definitely one cohesive whole, telling a story of epic proportions over an hour-long musical journey. This goes beyond the normal scope of the average concept album, and surpasses its previous efforts in scope and execution. Verisдkeet set the stage for this album, and this album came together as an epic all to its own class. To that extent, this album is very hard to compare to anything else. Other folk metal bands have endeavored to create albums or even just songs of this scope, but Moonsorrow has definitely carved out a niche of its own where it is alone in its mastery. The music of Henri Sorvali is amazing, and the benchmark of the entire pagan metal genre in my opinion. He can not only write hour-long epics, but he can also write two-minute songs with Finntroll, so his musical brilliance is evident. However, this album is his best creation so far, creating an epic musical journey that has to be listened to all at once. After listening to this album as a whole, I am genuinely refreshed, and the length is very fitting in that respect. The dynamics are also brilliant, and when the whole thing comes together it simply furthers this amazing musical journey. That's what I love most about this album; even in its great length, it creates an amazing journey that is generally unparalleled at least in overall scope, and it is so well executed that it is somewhat impossible to truly be left in awe of this band and this album. However, as a word of warning, this album definitely requires a very patient musical attention span in more than one way. Not only does the listener need to actually take the time to listen to the entire album as a whole in one sitting, but they also have to do this multiple times for it to sink in. The massive scope of this album is certainly one of its best features, but it can also turn off the casual listener, even the casual pagan metal fan or even the fan of previous Moonsorrow albums. However, after the initial listen the album definitely grows on you, and I'm certainly not saying that the album needs to be your sole attention while listening to it. In fact, it's probably best to put it on in the background, and allow it to simply sink in subconsciously. However, my impression of this album is one of wholehearted enjoyment and amazement. This is truly a masterpiece from a great band, and I believe that most people who take the time to listen to this album and properly appreciate it will agree with that. If this were ever stolen, I would most definitely buy it again, and I would do my best to catch the guy and file criminal charges.