Moonsorrow is an enigmatic band whose fame and status in metal defy expectations. A band whose songs tend toward the 15-minute mark, who sings in Finnish, and who obeys no label’s release schedule is not a band that I would expect to be releasing one of the most anticipated albums of 2016. The first album in 5 years—follow-up to Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maasa (henceforth Vkkm because lol), which was my Record o’ the Year in 2011—Jumalten aika is a 5 track, 67 minute journey down the path cut by Moonsorrow in the years since their first releases. And it’s a simultaneously difficult and comfortable release from one of Finland’s premiere acts.
Jumalten aika is very much cut from the same cloth as the band’s later material. The scope is sweeping, the development is slow. Long, slow introductory riffs, songs audibly padded out by atmospheric soundscapes—crackling fires or, like on Vkkm, footfalls through snow—and a wall of sound that sounds like no one but Moonsorrow. Jumalten aika continues the tradition, too, of being an engaging album in spite of the length of the songs. Unlike any other band I can think of, Moonsorrow is capable of holding the listener’s attention while producing sounds and songs that push on the boundaries of songwriting. Jumalten aika demonstrates time and again the depth of the band’s ability to be engaging despite pushing the 15 minute mark on nearly all of their tracks; seeming to know precisely when enough is enough and changing gears.
The only song on here under the 12 minute mark is “Suden tunti,” which hearkens back to the Scandinavian folk metal of the ’90s more than anything from Vkkm or Hävitetty before it. This song’s bouncy atmosphere and driving bass calls to mind Thyrfing or Månegarm‘s early material. While this might be my favorite song—I particularly love the straight-forward feel, the prominent and throbbing jaw harp, and the epic bridge toward the end of the song—my other favorite is closer “Ihmisen aika (Kumarrus pimeyteen),” which clocks in at 16:01. These tracks share lightness of feel, a description hardly apt for the band’s more blackened progression. As Moonsorrow has darkened its sound, the levity of earlier material has gone missing, yet precisely this has been recaptured on Jumalten aika.
In fact, what differentiates Jumalten aika from its predecessors is its more folky feel. And with the return of more driven folk metal comes comparisons to other Finnish bands I love. “Ruttolehto” rocks a Super Manly Finnish Man Choir, quite similar to later Turisas, while dropping into a Finntrollesque swagger through the first 7ish minutes. Similarly, “Mimisbrunn” features an acoustic intro that really called to mind Ulver-as-interpreted-by-October Falls, and some of the most memorable Bathory choirs this side of 1992.
Jumalten aika‘s epic scope and sound is helped by a beautiful and airy production. A roomy master gives ample space for the music to resonate and undulate even though the album is otherwise a sonic sibling to the band’s later material. Drums and percussion are probably the most obvious example of the excellent sound. Not only is drummer Tarvonen’s kick full and deep—an earthquake rumbling from your speakers when he nails the double kick like in “Jumalten aika”—but the use of timpani which booms and echoes offers beautiful depth and fullness to the sound. Ville Sorvali’s bass is produced to sound fat and natural, with a thunderous and pulsing tones that define both “Mimisbrunn” and “Ihmisen aika.” The guitars are mixed back in comparison to the rhythm section and the keys, but this works for Moonsorrow‘s ponderous wall of sound; balancing Ville’s vocals, which rest even further back in the mix than on earlier albums.
Jumalten aika‘s biggest downfall is that it feels like a step sideways rather than a step forward. Vkkm was the culmination of the blackened path set forward by Verisäkeet and masterfully continued on V: Hävitetty. Jumalten aika walks this now familiar path, while glancing back 15 years to Suden uni and Voimasta ja kunniasta. The songs are great, the sound is beautiful, and it’s an intriguing and enjoyable album, but it feels like a folkier continuation of its predecessor rather than a development on the band’s sound.
But while I’m left to wonder where Jumalten aika will fit in the narrative of Moonsorrow‘s discography in ten years, we shouldn’t let that distract from the here and now. Jumalten aika is a great album from a band eminently talented. This album is 67 minutes of engaging, beautiful, and epic music; a masterclass in how atmospheric—and folky—black metal should be done.1