Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa
Always being classed as one of the bands with a near-flawless output thus far, Finnish folk-black metallers Moonsorrow had a lot of pressure on their shoulders with the anticipation of their 6th album. Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa (English: “As shadows, we walk through the land of the dead”) is the result, and I agree with the band in it being their darkest and gloomiest yet. It is also very heavy in an emotional sense; the native Finnish lyrics convey feelings of desperation and loss, but also hope and the beauty of solitude, with a final sense of absolution.
The album is a literary delight to describe, but almost impossible to do justice in musical terms. The band have slowed down in tempo, that much is clear, but the record still makes room for folky passages in the vein of Equilibrium, with mandolins and bouzouki interweaving with acoustic and distorted guitars. A great example of this is the fantastic opening of “Huuto” (The Scream), which starts with a jubilant folk section which is then mirrored in metal form. Tarvonen's various styles of drumming must also be commended, especially on “Huuto”. The synthesizers from Eurén are tasteful and add well to the cinematic atmosphere. However, the band certainly don't forget their more extreme metal roots, especially in the bleak tremolo section in the last track, “Kuolleiden Maa” (To The Land Of The Dead), which reflects the sentiments in the lyrics perfectly. One final interesting note is how these songs will appear in live format: there are many moments I can envision onstage, such as the fist-pumping anthem of “Muinaiset” (The Ancient Ones), so it is clear that the band focus on being concise, despite the lengthy songs.
The synopsis is of a lost group of wanderers in the cold forests and mountains, whose people have become extinct, and they are also destined to die. The group dwindles, as can be heard in the cinematic transition tracks of footsteps and coughs, but faint strains of folk to try and instill hope. By the end, the narrator is alone and lays down by a river, “thoughts flow with water/so warm is the hazy air/the sun is far hidden from the eye/in my bloody fist I close the earth/I free myself from everything”.* Admittedly, the story has been executed by other bands before, but rarely with such a film-like atmosphere; the album could be used as the soundtrack for a movie adaptation.
Henri Sorvalli, when not weaving basslines, destroys his throat in a mid-range black metal scream which works well with the Finnish language, and the lyrics are incredibly poetic: “soon the first will grab a weapon/makes an end of blasphemy and madness/when even the last is guilty of murder/on these cold paths”*. A Sentenced-like growl also appears on “Muinaiset” in great contrast to the screams. The backing vocals chanting “kuolema” (Finnish for 'death') in the last track are particularly poignant, like the dead souls haunting the dying. There are excerpts provided for the transition tracks which read as though from a traveller's diary, and also fit as an accompaniment.
Sure to please the fans, and sure to impress any lover of folk-black metal, Moonsorrow have certainly outdone themselves with a masterpiece which invokes many feelings when listening. Even without understanding the lyrics, there is a sense of mystery about the album, even after multiple listens. Time will tell whether the band are able to top this album, but for now this comes highly recommended.
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Angel's rating: 5/5
* Translation provided by the wonderful Elina Aho.