Moonsorrow has never been a band to shock their fans, or anyone for that matter. Over the course of six albums and one really long “EP,” the greatest carriers of Quorthon’s legacy have generally stayed the course: Viking- and folk-driven black metal with a “none more epic” scope that literally no one even tries to match. For a good 15 years now, they have simply been without peer.
Not that they have never changed, it’s just that those changes have been quite subtle, and only obvious over the course of multiple albums. They had a more obvious bounce and humppa influence in their early, Suden Uni days, and became more obviously proggy with Kivenkantaja and especially Verisäkeet, but even those additions took a rather attentive ear. The most obvious change they have made is introducing a darker tone on Verisäkeet that became far more pronounced on the two most recent albums, all but abandoning the boisterousness of their early works. Again, however, it’s not like they’re coming out and howling their newfound darkness to the heavens.
So really, Moonsorrow has always been about three big things. First, any change comes slowly (if it comes at all). Second, they provide a comfortable predictability that somehow never lets up on the thrills. And third, they have an absolutely unparalleled dedication to quality within their particular folksy black metal arena.
And as you might guess, full length number seven Jumalten Aika checks off all three of those boxes yet again. It is absolutely stacked with stellar material (which for Moonsorrow means five great tunes) and offers just enough newness to pique the curiosity of longtime fans, but also enough familiarity that it welcomes said fans with open arms. On that note, it may actually be their most accessible album since Kivenkantaja, but considering the rabbit hole of absolute epicness they jumped down starting with Verisäkeet, that should come as a surprise to just about no one. (That’s a really liberal use of the word “accessible,” as I’m sure you know.) It also successfully calls to mind all past eras of the band, taking a bit of a go-backwards-to-go-forwards approach, and to great effect.
The subtle changes present on Jumalten Aika may have been slightly hinted at by the band’s recent photoshoots where they are all bloodied up in the woods, looking quite corpsepainty and primitive. While the “reborn in blood and blasphemy” caption on one such photo is a bit misleading – Tsjuder this is not – there are certain elements to the album that indulge in this vibe. Most notable are a slightly rougher edge on the guitar tones (there is *gasp* feedback at one brief moment), the use of some less refined keyboard sounds, and an almost midi production to some of the chants. They haven’t suddenly turned into Summoning or anything, but rather, these sounds help to solidify the album’s “all eras” approach under a cool, smokier atmosphere.
As if to emphasize the new tones from the start, the opening title track starts out with nothing but drums and those kind of flattened, midi-sounding chants. The song quickly moves into a great 6/8 black metal drive, brings plenty of the band’s signature “chorus of Vikings” moments, and has that ever-so-subtle primitive undercurrent driving it all. Offering a more obvious “return to roots” mentality is “Suden Tunti,” which brings back a bit of the Suden Uni bounce and fist-pumping fun before dropping into a near dirge in its latter minutes.
Both of these tracks are great, to be sure, but are mere supporting acts to the album’s trio of 15-minute-plus songs, all of which see our Finnish stalwarts in absolute peak form. “Ruttolehto” pushes Moonsorrow’s love for massive choral parts to its extreme, and flips between black metal drives and softer, sorrowful “reminiscing of The Shire” passages (complete with acoustic guitars and flutes), all while layering on the chills as the track builds and drops. “Mimisbrunn” ups the somber atmosphere while also being one of the band’s best lessons in how to gradually, subtly build layer upon layer to similar motifs until the song is bursting with life, very much calling to mind classic tracks such as “Jotunheim.” The deliberate nature is so constant for the song’s first several minutes that the sudden introduction of some rather intense black metal is almost jarring, and all the more effective not only because of the change in mood, but the change in compositional approach.
And then there is “Ihmisen Aika (Kumarrus Pimeyteen),” which at times offers the most intense, purely black metal material the band has ever written, but uses it as only one tool in the song’s full arsenal. It builds and builds like so many Moonsorrow tracks before it, offering individual elements as memorable as the full musical tapestry, before it eventually hits a breaking point of such naked desperation that the listener is held captive. Vocalist Ville Sorvali absolutely owns this moment, by the way. It would be a career moment for him individually, if Moonsorrow were concerned with such petty things as individual acclaim, that is.
The song’s resolution and album finale are one in the same, creating a feeling that can only be described as “Tulimyrskry”-esque, and capping off what feels like one of the best albums in a masterful career. (Aren’t they all one of the best, though?) That Moonsorrow is still able to achieve such heights without taking any sudden turns is a testament to their abilities as performers and songwriters, but also a credit to their dedication to quality. They are clearly inspired by not only their musical heroes and mythical tales of yore, but by the metal music that they themselves have created. Otherwise they would have long since become bored and attempted something far more drastic. Let us all be thankful that this has never happened, because to many a fan, they offer some of the most constantly captivating and joyful experiences in music, and Jumalten Aika continues the tradition. That’s a kind of magic that you just can’t teach.