Hyperbole is a useless endeavor, particularly when allowed to run amok within the often comedic realm of music reviews. Beyond the sheer awkwardness of it, limitless hyperbole mostly ends up yielding the opposite of its intention, because anyone who spends a scant two or three weeks with an album and then endeavors to convince you that said album is capable of walking on water is probably a similar sort of individual who’d read one article about the health benefits of the acai berry and one week later attempt to convince you that butt-chugging three smoothies per day will cure your depression and immediately improve your credit score by 100 points.
Add to that the overpowering temptation to be the very first person to publicly eulogize something obscure and underground—metal’s equivalent to the hunt for Moby-Dick—and you basically have all the fixins necessary for a deadly landscape teeming with dewy-eyed thesaurus-bangers and modern day heavy metal carpetbaggers. PEE YOU.
Now that that’s out of the way, the young upstarts in Marrasmieli are about to drop a debut full-length that walks on water.
Wait a minute.
Okay, this record walks on water, but it does so out in the forest in the middle of winter after the lake has frozen over. Nope, not splendid enough.
Between Land and Sky walks on a frozen lake in the forest during winter, but the ice is starting to crack beneath its feet as its walking and it doesn’t even blink an eye because the very moment the ice actually breaks, this album will use some sort of bygone, magickal forest nymph phorce to immediately propel itself into three mid-air flips before landing in the branches of the tallest neighboring tree. That’s how good this record is.
Is it woodsy? They’re from Finland and name themselves after a mushroom, for Chrissakes. Plus, the album cover looks like a vista Fenriz would beef his banana tree to during the summer months. Yes, it’s woodsy. [Editor’s note: the band has informed us that they are not actually named after a mushroom.*] Hitting play on Between Land and Sky will whoosh the listener back to Yon Olden Days when a pioneer couldn’t toss a pinecone five feet without hitting twelve black metal bands with twenty-two grandpa’s guitars crammed into the back of the van. You know, them-thar years when merry troops such as Wodensthrone, Fen, Falls of Rauros, Panopticon and Skogen took the handoff from Agalloch, WitTR, Windir and the like and ran like rascals with freshly pilfered loaves under their arms. Listen to me right now: this debut will stand eyeball-to-eyeball with any of those folky, woodsy, pagan black metal records that landed circa 2009-ish and fight so voraciously behind a wall of noble trees that you’ll think a wolf rented Grave Digger for the weekend just to do donuts on Pan’s front lawn.
Okay, allow me to knock the band down a peg or two, because that’s what we swizzledicks have to do to make sure we’re not overplaying the embroidery. The folk elements here are pretty straightforward. Very serviceable, absolutely beneficial to the overall journey, not really prevalent enough to fully steal the spotlight, and, yeah, fairly straightforward. Here to swipe Empyrium or Dornenreich’s capos Marrasmieli is not, but maybe that’s good news for those who generally recoil from too much bauble and baroqueness.
What these guys do incredibly right and righteously, though, is guarantee that this particular off-shoot doesn’t forget the value of ripping through bones like the Arctic winds at Vostok Station while wearing nothing but a windbreaker… And unless you’re a cartoon character from fifty years ago, maybe some pants. There are untold moments here where the aggression and speed damn-near knocks you to the dirt, so it wouldn’t be surprising in the least to discover that Immortal circa 1993 (including Marrasmieli’s own variation of blech!) and Ride the Lightning also serve as launching points.
The Pagan era of Bathory is represented as well, most notably with the heroic “Karakorum,” which sounds like the perfect accompaniment for Subotai and the Cimmerian running the steppes in Conan the Barbarian—the way that rolling bass around 3:45 gradually works its way into a beautifully melodic flair moments later is just exquisite. Honey from a god’s eye, Crom or otherwise.
And hey, here’s an idea: the next time you’re feeling several hundred fathoms below magnificent, pop outside with the closing “Aallot” in your ears and let its briny sea foam tickle ye gipples. Here, the tranquil sounds of the seaside—or the bath, if ye’re a ploopy landlubber—mingle with acoustic guitars, accordion and a fairly theatrical, bobbing style of black metal that eventually splits at a godly clip into the heavens on the tip of Neptune’s trident right around its epic 7:40 mark. More closers should endeavor to vault your worries this far into BFE.
Here’s a perhaps strange admission to close things out: I don’t listen to a lot of modern black metal with “pagan,” “folky” and “atmospheric” tags attached to the bumper. As the years go by, it becomes increasingly tiresome picking through the mountain of unpleasant contenders, and a significant portion of what eventually finds its way to surface is too rosy and sacrifices far too much of the fire. Not the case with Marrasmieli. Between Land and Sky is majestic, woodsy, pleasantly melodic (without beating you over the head with excessive noodling), and most importantly, ripping. Whether or not it’s good enough to reach the finish line eleven months from now remains to be seen, but it certainly feels like one of 2020’s first significant victories.
[* Marrasmieli: “Marras” is an old Finnish word for “death,” and “mieli” means “mind.” Therefore, Marrasmieli has a literal translation of “death of the mind.” The reviewer—me—assumed the name was a derivation of this: Marasmiellus. My apologies for the misunderstanding.]