Review Summary: If you face your inner shadows, what do you see?Varjudemaa (Shadowland)
is one of those albums that, at first, as it starts playing and gaining momentum, you expect to eventually explode into something that will leave you speechless, but it never crosses that threshold. It’s not built to do that. About five listens in though, and it dawns how perfect it is in its reservations. Acting as a soundtrack for the Estonian TV thriller of the same name, this instrumental album convincingly conveys a sense of foreboding throughout, not via utter bleakness, but rather through slow, crawling compositions that exude mystery. A sort of "alien glow over the peaks" situation. Though much of the album sounds similar in tone, each track here carries a distinct emotion, with the mood of the songs swinging between anticipative and yearning. Some of the highlights include the title track, with its stomping (literally) delivery, which gives off the aura of "something wicked this way comes"; "Palun mine," which is a sombre acoustic guitar affair full of yearning for times past; "Varjud," which recycles the main melody from the title track in a lighter composition (the piano notes are pure Pärt); and "Nõiamets," which ends the album on an unexpected, delightfully creepy note, juxtaposing soft guitars with remote static. What makes the song creep under your skin though is not necessarily the music itself, but how it seems distant in sound, while also lingering right there with you in the room, like a ghost-like presence. With "Nõiamets," the album ends abruptly, and the journey does feel incomplete with it being the closer, but Varjudemaa
is one of those albums that pushes you to finish the script yourself. It pushes you out of your apartment/home/cottage and outside.
Even if Varjudemaa
is a soundtrack in principle, it doesn’t need that context to lean on. It works perfectly well on two levels, both as an excellent accompaniment to the show and as a musical creation that has no problem standing on its own. It sure could be longer, with it amassing only 40 minutes in length, but of that 40 minutes none is wasted, since there is nothing superfluous on Varjudemaa
– it all adds up. In regards to what Mauno Meesit, the composer behind Varjudemaa
, might want to invoke in the listener, the inscription on the inlay provides some insight, where he writes that "you go away and think that everything that you left behind remains unchanged. The light is always the same, the air is always filled with the same soft sparkles. The thorns are sharp as always. And maybe that’s the truth. Only people change. You change and start to see things differently.
" People (both in bands and the PR guys) like to write all kinds of fluff all the time, but that quote by Meesit fits Varjudemaa
like a star atop a Christmas tree, because this album is indeed a delicate, thoughtful, and also sorrowful affair that almost begs you to look at what you’ve looked at before, or think of an unresolved problem, to see if you can notice anything new in that something old. That means it’s also an album that works best when experienced in solitude, in a setting that encourages self-reflection - it doesn’t work as a shared meal, not as much at least, due to its deeply intimate nature. This is basically post-rock for people who don’t listen to post-rock; an album where tranquil passages ring clearer than riffs ever could, and where a lack of explosion doesn’t result in a lack of catharsis.