Review Summary: A strong start to an excellent career.
The two years between 2001 and 2003 saw the release of two brilliant folk metal releases by the Finnish folk metal band Moonsorrow, Voimasta ja kunniasta and Kivenkantaja. Both albums are widely respected as classic pagan/folk metal releases, and with good reason. The albums are noted for their superb musicianship and innovative writing that combined fun folk melodies with melodic black metal, crafting memorable songs that earned Moonsorrow their much-deserved status of being one of the leading Nordic folk metal outfits active today. With the massive amount of attention Voimasta ja kunniasta and Kivenkantaja have received, one tends to forget that Moonsorrow had one other full-length release in the two year timespan mentioned at the outset. The forgotten album is their 2001 debut, Suden uni. The music presented on the debut is very much in the same vein as its immediate successors, combining Finnish folk melodies and instrumentation (performed through the use of keyboards) with harsh melodic black metal. While the album’s songwriting and musicianship pale in comparison to future works, Suden uni is still a strong release that should not be overlooked.
Suden uni translates to “A Wolf’s Dream”, and the album appropriately begins with a sample of a howling wolf. This is the first of many samples typical of the folk metal genre featured on the album, which also includes rushing winds, breaking waves, and a recording of a Viking battle sequence complete with the clash of swords and the shouts of warriors. While the use of these samples may seem cliché, the band surprisingly manages to use them in a rather tasteful manner. The samples are used sparingly and have the effect of enhancing the music rather than distracting from it. In the case of the battle sequence, which is featured on the track “Kuin ikuinen”, the sample is backed by folky acoustic guitar and percussion that fit the atmosphere of the song perfectly.
There are two distinct sides to Moonsorrow’s music demonstrated on Suden uni. Some tracks, like opener “Ukkosenjumalan poika”, emphasize the black metal elements of their sound, resulting in strong melodic black metal backed by symphonic keyboards. While this is the only track that completely lacks folk melodies and instrumentation, several of the other songs on the album have segments in which the band suspends the folk influence to emphasize the black metal aspect of their sound. This is notable during the middle and concluding sections of “Kuin ikuinen”. The rest of the material on the album, which constitutes its majority, heavily emphasizes the band’s folk influences. The heavy reliance on instrumentation featuring the accordion, prominent on multiple tracks, gives Suden uni a unique place in the Moonsorrow discography, with later albums greatly reducing the instrument’s usage or leaving it absent altogether. “Pakanajuhla”, arguably the album’s best track, makes extensive use of accordion, basing its first main segment on a folk melody performed on the instrument. The song is notable for another reason, as it serves as a prelude to the complex song structures that would be featured extensively on later albums. The song is divided into four distinct sections, each having separate melodies and instrumentation. The song evolves from an accordion-based midtempo gallop into a fast-paced bit featuring handclaps and shouted vocals. The song also features a lengthy acoustic segment and a heavily atmospheric outro, making it the most creative and effective piece on the album.
While Suden uni as a whole is a very strong record, it does have some significant issues. The album’s biggest detriment by far is its poor mixing of the vocals. While the album’s production on the whole is excellent, with the folk instrumentation being combined very well with the metal elements, all of the album’s vocals are buried deep in the mix and are difficult to hear. This is a shame, as both Ville and Henri Sorvali have excellent voices. Ville’s black metal shriek is just as powerful on Suden uni as it is on later albums, and Henri provides well-performed clean vocals that compliment his cousin’s harsh vocals very well on several tracks. Several tracks also feature interesting clean choir vocals, but it is difficult to appreciate the depth and skill of the performance due to its unfortunate mixing. Another negative aspect of the album is its lengthy closer, the 11-minute “1065: Aika”. The song builds up for nearly four minutes before taking off, and once it does it never really goes anywhere. There are some interesting snare drum rolls and folk-influenced clean vocals featured on the track, but overall the song provides a dull ending to an otherwise great album.
One final point that must be made about this album is that at this point in the band’s career it is clear that Moonsorrow was still having a great deal of fun with their music. While the albums of the band’s later career, notably Verisäkeet and Viides Luku – Hävitetty, are excellent albums in their own right, they are stand out as very serious works. This is certainly the result of the band’s natural maturation and change in musical direction over time, but nevertheless Suden uni has a certain charm to it that is absent on later albums. This fun approach to folk metal is best noted on “Pakanjuhla”, but the album’s bonus track, featured on its 2003 reissue, also deserves mention. The track, titled “Tulkaapa Äijät”, is unlike anything else in the Moonsorrow discography and is almost guaranteed to elicit a smile on first listen. All in all, while it certainly has its negative aspects, Suden uni is a great release that stands as the first in the line of many fantastic albums by a quintessential act in the Finnish folk metal scene.