Monday, March 26, 2007

Blood Verses .... Of The Moon .... In Sorrow ....

OK I'll stop with the cheesy titles soon. Not much else to tell you about Moonsorrow, so I'll skip ahead and get right into their 4th album "Verisakeet". This album is by far the most black metal influenced album so far in the Moonsorrow catalogue.

The main reasons are the vocals which take on a black metal screech at times and the keyboards take a step back and are used more for accompaniment as opposed to the majesticness of say "Kivenkantaja". That is not a bad thing and the songs don't lack in epic grandiousness. Just take a listen to "Haaska". The viking/folk melodies are very much present, but as a whole the album feels rawer, darker.

"Verisakeet's" opener "Karhunkynsi" begins with some ambient nature sounds, campfire noises and such, as gradually the metal fades in with a very hooky folk influenced rhythm. We are treated to some fine folk interludes and dark metal passages, but the song never loses sight. It also ends in a blistering black metal way not common in a lot of Moonsorrow songs and lasts 4 odd minutes before transitioning seamlessly into "Haaska" with wind and nature sounds.

"Haaska" is my favourite track on this album. It has some nice acoustic bits and dark ambiance brightened by bright accordion melodies. The vocals are passionate with black metal intensity especially around 4 minutes in. It also features big male choirs and a huge viking sound not unlike Twin Obscenity. The song drifts out in an uplifting bleak way and the last couple minutes are acousticy with traditional elements and fading into the nature sounds that's been tying the album together.

The crows start cawing and nature comes alive with an underscore of acoustic picking before the metal blasts in. We have now entered "Pimea", the third track. This song has the biggest black metal sound with bone-chilling screeches, black metal riffing and thunderous drumming. Then it eases into a melodic viking rhythm reminiscent of Falkenbach that gets very passionate and moving in a way only Moonsorrow know how. The screeches and music fade out into wildlife.

"Jotunheim" eases us into its 19+ min epicness with traditional folk style music. If you weren't careful you might think this was Dan Gibson's "Solitudes Of Nature" new age music. Though it's not long before we get beaten awake with sorrow laden viking metal. The folk elements are passionate and moving and the viking chorus' are thunderous. The music here is a huge wall of sound. The song drifts in and out of traditional folk music and bleak viking metal and at times it's both.

The nature sounds mellow us out for a couple minutes and a campfire crackles in and slowly "Kaiku" gets started. A very traditional piece, heavily folk influence with choir vocals. I can just see a circle of warriors around the fire, like echoes of the past singing out a traditional tale. The song ends and the campfire spits and spats as they all drift off to sleep, while nature slowly awakens. The song is clocked at 8+ minutes but the last 4 are nature sounds and campfire.

Moonsorrow have set the stage with "Verisakeet" for the epic 5th Chapter that would soon follow. The songs here are big (3 at 14+ minutes one at just shy of 20 minutes and the simple traditional piece) and they all tie in together to create a sound scape, a door into another time. The sound is rawer and darker than a lot of their other material, and what it lacks in majesty it gains in raw emotion and passion. This is a musical experience and not an album you throw on at parties.

I will now take us back to the debut album of Moonsorrow (I finally have) and see how their journey began before we take a look at their most recent opus.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Taking Pleasure From Sorrow

I'm going to go back and explore Moonsorrow's 2nd release which also features just 6 songs, but the album never disappoints. It's been established early on that Moonsorrow are masters at epic songwriting. "Voimasta Ja Kunniasta" is not as uplifting and lingering as "Kivenkantaja" but it is no less majestic. In fact "Voimasta Ja Kunniasta" sounds darker and more vikingish. Don't get me wrong, this album is great and is like the transition album as Moonsorrow try on their epic shoes and sees what happens. What happens is good.

The album begins with the short folky intro "Tyven" that seemlessly transitions into the epic "Sankarihauta" with a black metal wail and bombastic guitars, keys and drums and all. The song is folky with heavy keyboard melodies adding a air of majesty before twisting into a pummeling bit of black/viking metal and crescendos out at just under 8 min. Ya, over before you know it.

We are then crushed with the heavy riffing of "Kylan Paassa". The heaviest track and most viking. The swords clashing over the opening riff is reminiscent of Manowars "The Power Of Thy Sword" and very cool. I note a heavy Finntroll feel in the traditional folk sounds. Probably because keyboard/guitarist/vocalist Henri Sorvali is non other than Trollhorn of Finntroll. This track has some killer guitar riffs and a hint of pub sing traditionalness. A great blend of styles while remaining heavy and majestic.

The darkest track comes next with "Hiidenpelto/Hapean Hiljaiset Vedet". The acoustic bit at the beginning foreshadows the sorrowness that is to come. The vocals are sickeningly bleak, yet hooky and damn near sing along if I could speak the language. Around the midpoint of this 9+ minute epic is some fine thrash style riffwork that does not in least feel out of place and then the song fades out in a pummelling array of viking/black metalness. The vocals are a mix of black/death metal which is very dark and aggressive.

"Aurinko Ja Kuu" begins traditionally folkish. Before the meat of the song begins Moonsorrow strips the music away to simple guitar riff that is so much more effective given their penchants for full majestic music. Strong Viking feel, very choral and uplifting.

The last track "Sankaritarina" is the longest song at over 13 minutes that takes a step back to allow the listener a minute or so to enjoy the peaceful sounds of waves and campfires. Gradually airy keys fade in with a very powerful melody and as the guitars kick in I found myself fully absorb into the song. Before I knew it, I was 5 minutes into the song. Moonsorrow uses some great male choral work and narrative lyrics the kind used more on "Kivenkantaja". This closer plays out more like a story than a song. The music and voices create such an imagery and gives us a feel of the type of epic viking metal that is to come. The best song on the album and a fine way to close.

Moonsorrow are not a band for radio and top ten hits, but if you want to `experience' music as opposed to just listening to a song, you won't find any band better (though I've heard some almost as good or equal to and they'll be reviewed shortly) then Moonsorrow.

Up next is Moonsorrow's 4th album the 5 song ep .... ah who am I kidding with 4 songs clocking in at over 14 minutes a piece and 8+ minute closer, this album is a musical odyssey.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Man In The Moon Looks Sad ...

Moonsorrow are one of those bands that divides genres and paves new ground. They are a viking metal band out of Finland who have a strong sense for melody and epic-ness. They incorporate a heavy folk sound combined with the anthem-like choral chorus's of viking metal and the airy screeches of black metal's vocals. Their music paints images and emotions that I haven't heard by many others. Negura Bugent comes to mind and Canada's own Woods Of Ypres, which I'll be reviewing soon.

I'll be following up this Moonsorrow post throughout the week due to the sheer grandness of their music. I was hoping to start this with their first full length album Suden Uni, but that hasn't arrived yet. I have heard a few of the tracks via Kazaa, and have now finally purchased it from the record company.

purchased all their albums (with one on its way as I type this). The album I've decided to explore today is I discovered Moonsorrow while browsing some folk/viking/Celtic/pagan metal sites (notably the Gathering Of Clans) and had downloaded a number of their tracks from Kazaa. I have since bought all of their albums with the last one (the debut) on its way. I have decided to explore Moonsorrow's third full length album "Kivenkantaja" which in my opinion is one of their most solid efforts. This album is made up of 6 songs total and over 50 minutes of majestic viking metal.

The album opens with the epic "Raunioilla" whose folk like melodies reek of sombre bleakness and heavy anguish while keeping a hooky rhythm. It's rousing and moving while remaining heavy and memorable. The vocals are black metalish and deathy at times. One of the best songs here.

This is followed by my favourite song "Unohduksen Lapsi". This song is sorrowfully uplifting and the best mix of majestic viking metal on the album. It's keyboards are moving and the vocals are passionate and aching. The chorus is uplifting and heartfelt and the folk interlude is solid. It truly is a moving song and stays with you long after the album has finished.

The third track is "Jumalten Kaupunki incl. Tuhatvuotinen Perinto" which continues the majestic-ness with sombre choral work like the opening track and feels darker and heavier then the other songs. The title track "Kivenkantaja" has an Einherjer feel with it's rhythm and mix of heavy and traditional sounds but no less symphonic then the others.

"Tuulen Tytar incl. Soturin Tie" is very folk influenced with electric guitars only coming in after 2 and half minutes. This is almost an instrumental, with some nice narrative and short choral work about 5 min. in then it ends with traditional folk sound. It's a playful song with an edge of sorrowness.

The last track "Matkan Lopussa featuring Petra Lindberg" is a traditional song that's haunting. The sadness is chilling with lovely vocals by Petra Lindberg. A sombre way to end the album.

Moonsorrow are a gem of a band and are unique in sound. Take the majesty of Bal-Sagoth or Rhapsody (Of Fire) and mix with the traditional sounds of Finntroll and the viking metal stylings of Einherjer and Thryfing and you'll get an idea of their sound. It's huge, epic and very moving.

Up next I'll take a look at the first album I actually purchased, their sophomore release "Voimasta Ja Kunniasta".

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Double The Obscenity, Doubly Great Viking Metal

Twin Obscenity is one of the most under-rated viking Metal bands I know. I own one of their 3 albums (and have downloaded most of one and all of the other) but I cannot find copies of the 2 I downloaded. This is why I feel they are not being recognized as the metal masters they are. I don't know if they are still active, but former guitarist Alexander Twiss and former keyboardist Mona Undheim Skottene are present in the more widely available band Myriads (I await my copies of their 2 albums and, from what I've sampled, are phenomenal Gothic doom death metal).

Ironically Twin Obscenity's latest release (2001's Bloodstone) is the album I couldn't completely download. I own the second album and have successfully downloaded the full length 1997 debut. In all fairness, I missed my chance to purchase "Bloodstone" as I didn't know I would like the band yet. I took a chance on their second release "For Blood, Honour And Soil" and loved it, but by then "Bloodstone" had been purchased by someone and was never re-supplied. Ah, but that is the life of a Canadian metalhead who loves the imports.

Twin Obscenity get their name from (as I gather) a Lovecraftian mythos base that was expanded on by author August Derleth (HP Lovecraft distributer) and co-author Mark Schorer. August and Mark introduced the creature in their short story "The Lair Of The Star-Spawn" (1932). The Twin Obscenities is made up of the fictional deities Zhar and Lloigor (The Great Ones) who dwell beneath the buried city of Alaozar on the Plateau of Sung and are thought to be joined by a series of giant tentacles.

Now Twin Obscenity's lyrics are in no way based solely around HP Lovecraft or the Cthulhu Mythos (though there is minor reference notably on the instrumental track "Revelations Of Glaaki") but they are steeped in Old Norse Lore and Viking culture and mythology. And the music you ask? Well it is solid melodic black metal with death metal vocals and doom/folk elements on top of being a viking metal band. That is, if I had to simplify.

Starting with their full length debut "Where Light Touches None" this is an album with black metal riffing and largely dominant death metal vocals. I like the mix especially when they are used together and give such a dark "evil" feel. The album opens with "Dark Millenniums End" which is a fast black metal tune that leads into the equally fast "When The Chains Are Broken" that adds more Viking musical influence and doomy touches. It has a killer chorus too.

"Like The Death Of A Sorceress", "The Infernal Dance Of Prince Kaleth" and "Enchanted By The Empress Beauty" are similar doom influenced black metal songs that a very dark and sinister. "Empress ..." and "Infernal ..." feature some outstanding female vocals by TonjeEttesvoll that, at times, harmonize with the guitars. A chilling combination. Female vocals are also present on the dark folky "Where Light Touches None". There is something unsettling when a female soprano sings ~We Hunt Down and Feast on our Prey~. The instrumental "Revelation Of Glaaki" features the female vocal melody lines as well as some brooding narration by Vegar Hoel. The tune is almost progressive at times, but never feels out of place.

My favourite track is "Tribute To Mortality". Vegar recites a dark poetic narration that is bone-chilling. Mix that with the melodically fast black/death metal vocals and riffs and a sinister use of keyboards bringing together a dark and haunting song while never losing its intensity and brutality. One of their best songs altogether.

Twin Obscenity's follow up "For Blood, Honour and Soil" continues the black/death brutality and the melody is still strong though carried more by the guitars and the viking feel is more prominent which adds an air of majesticness. The pummelling opener "In Glorious Strife" is hooky and hauntingly atmospheric. Unsettling keys add a majestic feel to "The Usurper's Throne" which is brooding and haunting. You really feel for the old king's turmoil, a very passionate song.

The title track "For Blood, Honour And Soil", "Upon The Mourning Field" and "Laid To Rest By The Sword" are melodic darkly enchanting tunes and majestic in a solid wall of sound. "Mourning .. " features one of their best riffs as does "The Thrice-Damned Legions". Melodic and catchy. The instrumental "The Wanderer" is fast, melodic and bombastic with war/fighting sounds used to great effect.

My favourite song here is "The 11th Hour" which has got to be their most hauntingly dark songs that hints at beauty. It's disturbingly poetic and gloomy. It is doom laden and has a cool solo. A very chilling song.

Their 3rd and last album "Bloodstone" is like a blend of the first 2 and was cementing the band as very original sounding, at least to my ears. It opens with the brooding acoustic instrumental "Adoration Of The Moon" that foreshadows the kind of haunting intensity to come. We are then assaulted by the melodically hooky and dark "The Legacy" which features some killer riffs. "At The Rising Of The Sun" and "Terraforming" are more traditional black metal tunes, but the melody is strong and the new addition of vocalist Steffen Simenstad adds a more grindcore black metally voice that enhances the Viking feel. "Dragon's Breath" and the title track "Bloodstone" have the signature melodic doomy riff work by Atle Wiig that is both moving and darkly enchanting.

My favourite track is "Serenade Of The Sea" which loors the listener in like the Siren's of lore and is hauntingly beautiful with the heavenly vocals of Tonje Ettesvoll. It is a doom-laden song with mid-paced black metal riffing and some solid chunky work during the solo. A wonderful blend of darkness and beauty. I have not heard "A Land Forlorn" and "A New Beginning" but I would think they are equally as grandiose as the rest of the album.

Twin Obscenity's music is very melodic even when they are blisteringly fast. They have a wonderful sense for song structure. They are majestic and dark although they aren't one of the heavier bands in the genre. I love the doom influences and the melodies are of a folk/viking influence and are very memorable. I have no bad comments about this band. Everything they have done is wonderful, the lyrics are poetic as are the vocals which are quite legible for black/death metal. Anyone who likes viking/folk metal and even doom should try and check them out.

Up next are another under-rated viking metal masters, Moonsorrow. They will be quite a challenge to review as their latest release is only 2 songs at 26 min and 31 min respectively.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Say Good-bye To Those Pesky Thrash Vocalists!

I know I said I was going to be reviewing Twin Obscenity this week, but do to unfortunate circumstances (I was busy at work) I couldn't give the band my full attention. However, in lieu of underrated viking metal, I'll be giving you phenomenal thrash metal.

Take a moment and think about all the great thrash metal you grew up with, early Metallica, Slayer, Death Angel and Exodus. Now take them and throw 'em in a blender and you have the blistering thrash assault that is Toronto's Mastery. Oh did I mention to remove the vocalists? Well after several attempts with various singers, Mastery just couldn't find one they liked. They also didn't want to pass up any opportunities to bring their old school thrash gems to the stage, so they started playing gigs without a vocalist. And you know what? They don't need one.

Markus Armellini and Jeff Dormer are a monster riff duo with impressive thrash guitar work that has not been heard in a number of years. And while they wax nostalgic, Anthony Ristovski pounds away a crushing rhythm section on bass and Kevan Roy is hungry for destruction as he crushes on drums. This is damned fine thrash metal. And hey, feel free to pick out your favourite classic thrash homages while you listen.

I have yet to see them live, but would like to sometime soon, however, I liked the cover of the album and gave them a listen to and was simply blown away. While waiting for the singer to start wailing (before I realized they didn't have one) I was in awe of the metal assault on my ears and realized the music is all the more intense without vocals.

Mastery's EP "Lethal Legacy" is 40 odd minutes of mind-blowing thrash with little room to breathe. It has 6 songs and 2 live recordings (that are outstanding in quality) and blasts through them so fast that one feels they've lost time somewhere and can't remember what happened.

The album starts with "Behold", a short dark melodic intro that builds into the furiously fast "Power Race" and it's pummeling riffs and melodically heavy mid-section. We are then assaulted by "Numeration" which is my favourite track (though only because I feel I should pick one) that's not quite as fast, but no less intense as "Power Race". I feel that "Numeration" combines a nice blend of various thrash styles and influences into a perfect medley.

"No Tomorrow" sounds pessimistic, but leaves me optimistic about the future of thrash metal. Kevan Roy is a monster on the drums with this track. "Lethal Legacy" is a little more chaotic and features some fine soloing by Jeff Dormer (labeled lead guitarist, but don't quote me). "Nevermore" is another song that touches on musical influences like Slayer and at times Pantera. It's a grooving fist pounding tune that fades us out of the studio tracks.

"Numeration" is the first of the live tracks and although there is more of an atmospheric feedback intro the song is very much the same and seamlessly transitions into "Power Race" the other live track which is faithfully done with some extra guitar flourishes to sends us on our way.

Mastery has brought back all the great thrash sounds and molded them into metal that's reminiscent of days past while staying very fresh and original. Feel free to sample their stuff on their MySpace page and see for yourself. This is a great album for strong, aggressive thrash metal that leaves you wondering what the hell happened.

Up next, I swear, is Twin Obscenity ... till then ...