Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa
posted on 3/2011 By:
Its been said plenty of times, on this site and others, but it bears repeating: Moonsorrow epitomizes the term “epic” in a heavy metal context. Time and time again, these guys have upped the larger-than-life scale of their music to previously unimaginable levels, and just when their fan base thinks they can’t push the envelope any farther, they do. But it's not just about the super-long songs; Moonsorrow’s sweeping compositions are so majestically composed and full of rewarding details that even an album of four-minute tracks would feel more over-the-top than most bands can manage.
I had to chuckle when the initial pre-release reports had this record clocking in at over an hour and a half. (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was purposely leaked by the band themselves as a joke.) I suppose it was the next logical step to predict, considering the length of the previous two releases, but Moonsorrow is proving with this album that they don’t need to venture near the self-parody zone to elicit a strong reaction from their listeners. Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa (which translates to As Shadows We Walk in the Land of the Dead) sees the collective gearing their songs back to around the twelve-to-sixteen minute range, but the track lengths are not the only thing they’ve dialed back a notch, and this is where opinions of this work will likely be divided.
Many would be worried about the notion of an epic metal band, particularly one with a flair for the dramatic like Moonsorrow, “toning down” their sound. And to be fair, Varjoina... does feel more straightforward and even *gasp* more simplistic than past offerings. The catchy keyboard riffs and intricate guitar harmonies are subdued (though still prominent), the clean vocal choruses are given less time in the spotlight, and the tempos of the songs remain slow- to mid-paced consistently until about halfway through the final track. Even Ville Sorvali’s tortured screams feel a bit calmed down, and the raw, primitive elements integrated into “Tulimyrsky” aren’t really revisited in any notable way this time.
So yes, this album is lacking in some of the titanic intensity and incredibly intricate songwriting of the band’s preceding releases. But once you realize the true intent of this release, it doesn’t matter: Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa is about the vivid over-arching atmosphere that flows through each of the album’s four songs, and once you recognize what the music aims to accomplish, it's hard to discredit Moonsorrow’s efforts.
Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa admittedly gets off to a slow start. In fact, the first several minutes of opener “Tähdetön” could probably be cut entirely without the album suffering too much. But once you get seven or eight minutes in, the band starts to turn it up a notch, and that alluring epic atmosphere we know so well begins to take hold, and it doesn’t let go. The proud trudge of “Muinaiset” and the melodic bombast of “Huuto” capture your imagination like only a Moonsorrow tune can, and if you focus on the overall themes of the music instead of looking for lots of individual standout moments, these songs will carry you right away before you even realize it. The transitions feel massive thanks to the outfit's skilled ear for timing and repetition (see the blasting conclusion of “Kuolleiden Maa”), and when the infectious folk elements surface, they really grab your attention thanks to their more subtle integration into the compositions. This album may not advance the band’s sound from a progression standpoint, but it’s pretty amazing how fresh and vital that sound still feels after five full-length releases in this decade, and as long as Moonsorrow can continue to create so effectively in this mold, I’m not complaining.
Still, with all its positives, I can understand some fans being slightly disappointed with Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa. The riffs are somewhat repetitive at times, the production is slightly flat compared to the band’s other work, and the lower key of the album in general just doesn’t quite inspire the same feeling of awe as albums like Verisäkeet and Voimasta Ja Kunniasta. Its fair to say that Varjoina... is perhaps the weakest of the band’s post-Suden Uni material, but the old cliché about “this band’s worst is better than most bands’ best” still rings mighty true for this Finnish ensemble. Moonsorrow’s peak may be behind them, but Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa is evidence that this outfit’s creative tank is far from dry, and their music still demands to be heard by fans of all walks of metal.
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