by amy – October 25, 2020 in Music
Languish, thy war of my heart…
Choral voices singing in unison always have an attractive and powerful sound. Do they have this effect because they remind us of a long-forgotten age, like a memory of another time buried in our deeper consciousness? This is how this album opens – with what sounds like a pagan hymn echoing off conifer-studded mountainsides. It sounds like the somber chant of a small choir delivering perhaps a declaration or a lament. After this acapella introduction builds anticipation, the title track kicks into gear with a splash of drum fills that wastes no time settling into a fast blast beat. This is accompanied by triumphant, sweeping chord progressions, Finnish vocals that continue to yell in unison and a heavy-metal style solo. This track thus sets the tone for melodic, blackened metal imbued with a distinct Finnish folk flavor. Scandinavian metal with its nostalgic remembrance of pagan history and mythology has always charmed me from across the Atlantic sea with its regal beauty that is so exotic and so northern. The mystery of it makes it all the more appealing.
This music sounds like the soundtrack for an ancient army going into battle on horseback. This is thanks in large part to the tempo. The cover is a black-and-white illustration of two kings kneeling and crossing swords in front of the ocean. A simple but striking image, it is invitingly enigmatic and hints of a ritual. The two figures wear crowns, but the fact that they kneel makes them appear humbled. Are they preparing for a war or a duel? Are they calling for a truce? The sound is energized and epic, and while this would normally categorize it as your run-of-the-mill viking or pagan metal (good for distracted headbanging and drinking while talking to your friends), it has something else: a focused, driven aspect, a gravitas that underpins the sound of triumph and lends the music more substance than we typically expect of that genre. Parallels can be drawn with Moonsorrow and Amorphis, fellow Finns that have expressed their country’s pagan history in various styles of metal. Folk elements from Enslaved and Finntroll can also be heard.
I love the galloping adrenaline of this album, the beauty and simplicity of the riffs, the dynamism and flare of the drumming, the heavy metal touch to the solos and the gorgeous production. It expresses throughout a feeling of energy, purpose, unity and belonging. The folk-like chanting (done well like Enslaved) conveys an homage to ancestral ways.
What’s particularly impressive is the strength of the album as a whole. It has eight tracks that all seem to be written with the same energy, the same inspiration, and the same attention to detail, with perhaps the only exception being #5, Kuin öinen meri. Riffs and chord progressions differ and shine from song to song. Each one is focused and well-defined from beginning to end. I like the digestible 46-minute length. It maintains a high-energy tempo nearly throughout but doesn’t ever become monotonous due to their mastery of semi-frequent changes. They employ timely lulls, builds and drops, as well as nice aural accents (perhaps done on keyboard) such as the tambourine that sounds like boot spurs on Pohjolan tytär, sounds of horses, or other such ambient flourishes used sparingly and tastefully on a few tracks. Reverb is used to nice effect to add depth and “epic” power where it counts. The vocals switch regularly from yelled, melodious chants to guttural rasping in classic pagan metal style, keeping the listener’s interest. The vocals are superbly mixed, placed in front to “lead the pack” on certain songs and buried on others to match the appropriate ambiance.
The first four tracks make an impressive suite of songs threaded together with an energy that never falters. The last two tracks run longer, reaching the eight to nine minute mark. They please with the same epicness of sound as the rest of the album but with a hint of romanticism and wistfulness, not to mention some of the most killer riffs, making them noteworthy finales. Highlights for me are the aforementioned Pohjolan tytär (#4) and Vähiin päivät käy (#7).
My only complaint is that I wouldn’t have minded some more innovative solos from the lead guitar. The riffs are all consistently good but the solos themselves are pretty standard. Overall, the lead guitar doesn’t make any significant departures from the ensemble. This is a shame because the guitar is an instrument endowed with an emotive voice and thus is capable of truly transporting the listener. The solo in metal is like the holy grail – it’s the moment and opportunity for a song to transcend itself. The opportunity isn’t seized on this album. But this complaint is a minor one.
Both the musicianship and the production are high quality, though neither use any new tricks. There’s nothing out of the box here and yet the album is a triumph. It keeps a nice pace, building momentum and sustaining it admirably in ways that even Moonsorrow and Enslaved do not. Songwriting is tight and polished. Though I don’t know the meaning of the lyrics, the sound conveys the feeling of going to battle for that which is most dear, a concept that is never too far from the human heart. But considering the title’s translation – languish, thy war of my heart (as it is given on the metal-archives.com page) – it may equally be a quest for peace. Or, does it suggest and lament inner conflict? This theory would be supported by the likeness and symmetry of the two figures on the cover. In any case, the idea of summoning the resolve and the strength to put conflict to rest is one that charms us through the ages. Today we are no less confronted with the need to defend our dearest values, even if the battle we’re called to is an ideological one and not about wielding a sword. And I suppose it’s this very romanticization of the age-old battle that can also make us feel silly at times for listening to epic viking metal from the comfort of our modern homes. But then again, when it’s executed as well as Havukruunu, who the hell cares?