Oh, Great Warrior. Wars not make one great. -Yoda
Anyone who’s seen The Empire Strikes Back at least once remembers this classic line — the sharp quip from the Jedi master to Luke when he frustratingly explains to Yoda that he’s seeking a “Great Warrior” for guidance. And what does make a Great Warrior? Thinking back on the heroes of my youth, they were the ones that held fast to their moral compasses in the most trying of times. The temptation of an easy resolution against the most trying odds denied to the point of self-sacrifice for a cause they believed in; within this lies the true heart of a warrior of the great myths and legends from past to present. Keep in mind, the true warrior is never motivated by glory, nay, the spirit of the great hero serves a higher purpose than that of the self-satisfaction of immortality: They do it because it needs to be done, heeding the call and stepping up with purpose and vigor.
As with any great epic, a tone is set from the opus of Uinuos Syömein Sota, the band’s third full-length following 2017’s excellent Kelle Surut Soi . The call-and-response a cappella at the onset of the self-titled opening track (which translates to “Asleep I Ate War”) opens a continent of scope, as though panning over vast forests, mighty fjords, lofty mountains, and fortified front lines packed with countless legions of battle-hardened warriors charging at one another en masse. With a strike of a chord and an adrenaline shot of drum fills, it’s as though our hero is leaping off a cliff, breathing in deeply and taking in that final moment of solstice — a moment of zen, if you will — above the hordes. With a single, thundering blast of cannon fire, our champion hits the ground running and doesn’t stop for the next 46 minutes. There is a specific joy in the rush that follows. Certainly, the center of a bloody conflict is a life-or-death situation and requires a sense of immediacy, but Havukruunu takes it all in stride, riffing with not just adequacy to the tempo but with grace and style and, hell, a swagger. Images of our hero dancing around the clash of swords and the swinging of axes beneath a cloud of arrows and catapult shots immerse the listener in the soundscape. This is epic black metal on the 5D IMAX THX Deluxe 8000 scale. It’s possible to smell the sweat and drying blood over the near-never-ending run of the kick drums pacing with a quickness and a purpose, dead set on delivering the hero towards their goal.
The leads beneath the barrage of drums shine, but not too brightly. There’s a subtle focus in their purpose of carrying the melody beneath songs like “Ja Viimein On Yö.” As accomplished as the musicians are as individuals, together their synchronicity becomes a hundred times greater than the sum of its parts. Bass, guitars, vocals, drums — everything is working together. Much like the warrior must master many disciplines to keep themselves in tune between mind, body, and spirit, Havukruunu operates as a whole. Even when certain sections are highlighted, such as the tension-building rhythm breakdown on “Pohjolan Tytär,” the additional components are there to execute the release of energy as the band’s hefty claymore swings true through its foe. Not only are they skilled in the art of war, but there’s a magical component to Havukruunu as well. It’s near impossible not to let out a battle cry of your own as the emotion of the music takes hold. It’s one of those special connections where the spirit of the recording seeps its way into current reality, a tough feat to accomplish in its own right.
One of Havukruunu’s secret weapons is their use of grand vocal choirs to add a particular vigor to the release. At times it’s front and center, generally more gruff and rag-tag in the manner of a war chant to garner the spirits and inspire a sense of unity amongst the ranks. More subtly, clean choirs add a sense of divine purpose beneath the ongoing battle, such as those found in the bridge of “Kunnes Varjot Saa,” further solidifying the idea of Havukruunu as a paladin of sorts amongst the ranks of the dark warlocks and evil sorcerers generally found in black metal. Another specialty attack is the ability to set their blade aflame with some seriously blistering solos. While few and far between, the limited use of this weapon increases its potency. The cries and wails echo across the chambers of war on “Vähiin Päivät Käy” and especially adding peak power to the Special Meter on the bombastic closer of “Tähti-Yö Ja Hevoiset.” There’s a classic 80s metal inspiration behind the interplay of the guitars that should send any fan of the roots of metal into the glory of the battles of yesteryear.
Special tactics aside, it’s really the cohesiveness that sells Uinuos Syömein Sota as a completely realized album. Much like how the power behind Havukruunu is greater than the sum of its parts, Uinuos Syömein Sota is more than simply a collection of songs. It’s a fully realized and masterfully executed work of black metal on a cinematic scale, ebbing and flowing from track to track, telling a story through the emotion behind the music regardless of the listener’s ymmärtäminen of the Finnish language. Something in the music inspires the spirit, and creates hope that the type of hero we remember from our childhoods can and does exist within the human consciousness — that a part of those legends we grew up with can and does reside outside the realm of fiction. With the darkness slowly closing in on the world around us, leaving the spark but flickering dimly within, Uinuos Syömein Sota serves to fan the flames a little brighter. May that warrior spirit spread, because we could use a few more heroes about now.