Suotana – Ounas I Review

Finland—is there something in the water? Is the air cleaner, the skies bluer, the nighttime cooler? Really, I don’t know what it is, but when you put the words “Finnish” and “black metal” together, the result is, on average, just better. And no, I don’t have stats to back this up, and I don’t plan on finding any either. All I’m going to do here is explain that between that cover over there and that country over there, I have unreasonable expectations for Ounas I, the fourth full-length release from Finnish melodic black metal act Suotana.1 The premise is something we’re all familiar with: black metal that glorifies the might of nature, of winter, and of song. But with expectations so high, familiarity can be a problem. Do Suotana overcome?

They do, almost immediately. Opener “Lake Ounas: The Beginning” is a short instrumental track that does a terrific job setting the mood. Grand orchestrations meet a comparatively subdued percussion section that sets the stage for the meat of the party: “Through the Mammoth Valley.” This song is like a mission statement for Ounas I; it’s bright, heavy, and unmistakably black metal for all its galloping riffs and overwhelming keyboard presence. Whether shrieking or growling, the vocals are wicked and strong, while the drums, high and proud in the mix, imbue the listener with a need to run with the music and embrace the spirit of adventure that defines this album. The Summoning influence is as clear as the Summoning cover that closes the album, and the omnipresent, twinkling keys that beautify the whole and give it its character.

The core strength of Ounas I is just how bright it is. Part of that is production; the gorgeous master and altogether clean sound is perhaps a bit uncharacteristic of black metal, but works extremely well for what Suotana are going for, reminding me in many ways of their countrymen Marrasmieli. But it’s also in the songwriting, which is, for the most part, phenomenal. At the heart of the album, “Legacy” embodies this bright, heavy, adventurous spirit better than any, and it’s easily one of my favorite songs of the year thus far. It’s fast, wry, and agile, pivoting from enrapturing shrieks to chanted cleans, from guitar leads to wild solos, keyboard atmosphere and keyboard solos, all held together with admirable restraint from the bassist and drummer, who each work to keep the song as lively as its music demands. It peaks and valleys in ways that let all six musicians shine, and feels no less like black metal for its irresistible warmth.

It’s only towards the very end of the album that Suotana stumble, ever so slightly, in their quest. “River Ounas” is the album’s opus, a twelve-minute-long beast that combines everything the band has done thus far into a single epic. This song, however, creaks a little under its own weight, feeling a bit too long and like it’s trying to do a little too much for me. It’s nowhere close to a bad song, but the dramatic delivery and length mean my attention wanders a bit midway through. There are many tempo changes too, some of which are a bit jarring, and the pacing can’t help but feel off. Interestingly, “River Ounas” feels like a natural closer to the album—but is the penultimate track. The aforementioned Summoning cover, “Land of the Dead,” is the album’s proper finish, and Suotana seize back every ounce of momentum here; the cover is gorgeous, well-done, and integrated so naturally as to feel like it’s always belonged here, on this album, as its picture-perfect finish. When this song ends, forty-one minutes after Ounas I began, I itch to play it all again.

Perhaps the best part about Ounas I is that “I” in the title, implying a second, equally-good-if-not-better album on its way. This album leaves me desperate for more, a fix of infectious, joyous, yet still serious black metal I didn’t realize I was missing. If there are a few pacing issues along the way, well, I can look past that easily for music this good. Suotana do an amazing job of writing exciting, bright melodic black metal here, and I will be replaying this one impatiently as I await Ounas II.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Reaper Entertainment
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 17h, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. Which I’m given to understand means something like “swamp devil.”
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