Review Summary: Summary - Don the nearest suit of chain mail, equip sword and shield, and mount noble steed, it’s time for Viking metal’s finest, and you best be prepared.
Moonsorrow had already made a name for themselves in the folk and Viking metal community. Their 2001 releases Suden Uni and Voimasta ja Kunnasta showcased the Finnish quintet’s knack for beautiful and groovy melody, quaint folk influences, and all things epic, yet in spire of these two albums, they hadn’t quite been able to muster the means to present their dedicated listeners with the sound they were waiting for. But fear not, ye olde metallers, these musical warriors staged their triumphant return in 2003 with a more refined sound and crisper recording quality that proved to be an aural experience of epic proportions. Sure it might be goofy, but goddamn, goofy never sounded so good.
Moonsorrow slate their name and purpose right from the get go; the thunderous beginning rhythms of “Rauniolla” seem to speak for themselves. Scattered throughout the album are such bursts of powerful progressions and pounding sonic assaults. Yeah, they may be simple, but they do a bang up job of engaging the listener and keeping the songs moving by providing dynamic contrast and support for the melody. Speaking of melody, it takes center stage and proves to be the most interesting and engaging aspect of the music. It’s both driving and serene, simultaneously imbuing the listener with a terrifying bloodlust while lulling him into a state of tranquil admiration. That’s not all, folks, amidst the slew of power chords, group chanting, and melodies, Moonsorrow incorporate a unique folk element, both quirky and eerily enticing.
The guitar work is spot-on on this album, providing the compelling progressions and rhythms that outfit the music with the high energy one would expect. The ambition and sheer enormity of Moonsorrow’s package are also best demonstrated by the band’s presentation of the guitars. Moonsorrow combines electric, acoustic, and 12-string guitars, which makes for a pretty formidable wall of sound. No worries though, these instruments are used tastefully, and the result never overwhelms the listener, but instead makes it all the easier to lose himself in the music. When the guitars aren’t chugging along with rhythmic precision and variety, they occasionally take the spotlight and loose some pretty righteous riffs, such as in the album’s third track, “Jumalten Kaupunki / Tuhatvuotinen Perinto.” These licks appear without warning, capturing the same compelling quality of the band’s great chord progressions, and then they vanish as quickly and artfully as they came, leaving the listener wanting more. Their existence is ephemeral, but your neck is guaranteed to be pretty worn out by the time they’re gone.
On this particular release, the vocals and keyboards are responsible for the majority of the melody, and when the two are combined, the outcome is simply stunning. The keyboards can be heard not only in the traditional synth sound, but they also appear as the resounding call of trumpets and the soft timbre of flutes. The vocals are just as impressive and awe-inspiring. Performed by three members, the clean vocals and chants are simply beautiful, and give the songs huge amount of energy. The harsh vocals, cries belted from Sopvali’s pipes, are also quite good, and seem genuine and free from added effects. Both parts of the music are superb, and play an integral role in making the sound what it is, a sound to be revered.
Drummer Marko Tarvonen also delivers a solid performance on the album, and is an outstanding example of the truly supportive player. His chief role is to help shape the songs dynamically, and he does so to a “t,” attacking the crash cymbal with the fury of a Viking crew lacking mead when the music calls for it, and backing off when the melody needs to be heard. He’s no pushover however, his feet be nimble and quick and he can tear up the tom toms with considerable aptitude.
As for downsides, the album doesn’t have too many. For listeners with attention spans on the shorter end of the spectrum, you may want to steer clear of this band entirely; the average song clocks in at about ten minutes. Length aside, Kivenkantaja’s only real fault is its somewhat anticlimactic close. The album could have used an epic finale, urging the listener to immediately press the play button once more. However, Moonsorrow opt for the soothing sounds of “Matkan Lopussa” instead. The track order could have been better, but it isn’t of such large concern that it really detracts from the album overall.
So there you have it. Pop this baby in your CD player and prepare for quite the journey. Set sail on your vessel of rape and pilfering and make your way for Newfoundland. For the rest of us without such authentic and historically accurate vessels, shopping carts from the local grocery or department store will do just fine.