Review Summary: Showing the little guys how it's done
Over the past couple of years, the folk metal style has been taking a turn for the worse. While this doesn’t exactly mean that genre is incapable of producing anymore fresh material such as Saor’s Aura
and Primordial’s Where Greater Men Have Fallen,
there is no denying that there exists a substantial shortage of works of comparable quality in the sub genre. To further clarify what I exactly mean, the passion and vigor some folk metal bands of the 90s and 00s had with their music seems to tower over that seen in bands emerging on the scene currently. For many people, the very label of folk metal has festered into a derogatory classification rather than a style or craft, becoming synonymous with putting style above substance. Despite this, the style only seems to be getting more popular, with the existence of so many projects leading to oversaturation in the scene and indistinguishable characteristics from band to band. This stylistic complacency could very well be folk metal’s personal death knell, as its identity crisis seems to be going full steam ahead.
When news came that Moonsorrow, one of the genre’s greats, were finally crafting a new record, I was quick to shrug any anticipation or excitement away, if I even had any to begin with. Even with Moonsorrow going at it once again, my cynicism and displeasure with the genre’s current state made even the biggest announcement possible mean next to nothing for me. Add that to the fact that the band’s last LP, Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa,
did show them at their lowest point yet, and I had all the reasoning to scoff at any possibility of success with the new record. With Jumalten Aika
being released, I’ve come to a conclusion…
Never blindly berate something without any evidence in front of you.
I say this because not only did Aika
exceed my expectations, it very well may have overtook
as what I consider Moonsorrow’s greatest record.
A good chunk of folk metal bands are plagued by a tendency to overcompensate and cram in as much instrumental grandeur humanly possible to invoke a sense of vast sonic scale to the listener. While the epic sound and scenarios of the sub genre call for this trait to be inherent and understandable, the way so many artists approach this matter only ends up being a detriment to the end product, creating works that feel unfocused and rife with unfulfilled satisfaction. Once the intro to the title track concludes, the band explodes into a pummeling barrage of guitars, marching percussion paired with echoing kicks and surprisingly animalistic vocal work. After a slight bit of contemplation and analysis, it finally hit me. There is more metal than folk going on. Folk instrumentation itself is a frequently misused asset of numerous bands. The emphasis on writing music around these textures only leads way to haphazard creations or even abominations of songwriting. On Jumalten Aika,
on the other hand, Moonsorrow seem to build their music upon a foundation of conventional metal instrumentation with the guitars, bass and drum kit taking precedence above all. The folk instrumentation is then seamlessly incorporated which in turn creates music that is enhanced by details rather than defined by them.
From here on out, Jumalten Aika
is a near constant stream of quality and adrenaline. Each track has specific characteristics within it that adds personality and diversity to the overall listening experience. The atmospheric refrains scattered throughout “Ruttoletho incl. päivättömän päivän kansa” act as perfect means of spacing and sustaining listener immersion through the monolithic track. The rapid and airy tremolo riffs in the phenomenal “Mimisbrunn” have very distinct similarities to the tremolo heavy Cascadian black metal style, offering up a nice surprise to the listener and only further beckoning one to continue listening to the album.
concludes with “Ihmisen aika (kumarrus pimeyteen)," a track that fires on all cylinders to create a sense of grandeur unmatched by anything in my recent memory while still maintaining focus. Even with the folk instrumentation taking more of an upfront position in the track, the modern instruments still conduct the flow of the songs themselves. The very notion that a folk metal band can understand the concept of restraint is quite baffling to me, even after listening to Jumalten Aika.
While much of modern folk metal is still plagued with this emphasis on style over substance, flickers of hope toward the genre regaining its integrity now feel more possible than ever. In the end, it took one of the defining figureheads of the style to defy the very tropes of folk metal in order to reinvigorate life and passion to the ailing subgenre.