Although I write this on April 1st it is no joke and it is not the work of a fool either. With bands as varied as Finntroll to Trollfest and of course Arckanum it is a shame that none have had the imagination to actually do something conceptually about the Swedish / Finnish phenomena that are the Moomins penned by Tove Jansson. It has taken a Russian to actually be inspired by Moomintroll and his pals to write a piece of music based on the fifth book of the series Moominland Midwinter or Trollvinter originally published in 1957.
Do not worry about this being a crazed piece of hummpa metal as it is not in the slightest in fact Vaarwel the composer of this has gone down the ambient route to put together a more introspective and maudlin sound that corresponds perfectly with the darker tone of the original story.
It is a bit of a hazy memory to me but reading an online synopsis of the book it all came flooding back. I am sure that I read this back as a kid and have vague memories of the show although perhaps not as obsessively so as our UK based muse Oliver Postgate who really was someone whose work I was addicted to (someone needs to write something similar to this based on The Clangers). I also have a bit more insight on this that I would have liked as Vaarwel was kind enough to respond to some interview questions about his varied work for another publication, in record time before I managed to pen this review.
Although divided into tracks this 42 minute album works as one whole piece of music but translating the titles it seems to correspond with the story; the first being Insomnia descriptive of a hibernating Moomintroll awakening early from his slumber, opening a door which creaks and going out into the fantastical frozen world to explore its uncharted (at this time of year) territories. Instruments make plodding tones as well as at times building into what seem like dances and frolicking in the snow. These are interspersed by moments of complete ambience that are dream laden and drift by like the fleeting snow. My imagination had the instruments speaking to me in much the same way as Saint-Saëns ‘Carnival Of The Animals’ and Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf but with that bit of insight I am told that this is quite the contrary and to quote Vaarwel “I tried to have distance from any kind of easily visually displayable music to avoid any parallels and borrowings, especially subconscious, and create something personal and distinctive. This is a part of the whole approach in Frozen Ocean’s music directed to bring any new album as a kind of serendipity”
He has done a brilliant job here too as the world of the Moomins, the one that they have never seen, is really brought to life by his imagination. There is at times a sense of danger for instance there is a deep rumbling noise ebbing and flowing and getting closer on ‘Snöa Lanterna.’ Is it warning Moomintroll to take care? Listening to it my imagination is going into overdrive despite the chill somnambulant air of the ambient soundscape. I love the little dancing sound of ‘Kullar och Osynlig,’ there is a sense of innocence about it and it makes me think of the Moomin frolicking in a strange new world and playing in the snow. It is chilled techno and is a bit reminiscent of stuff like The Orb and Astralasia to me. The Big Cold of ‘Den Stora Kylan Går’ shows just how barren and frozen this landscape is and it has you shivering as winds blow quietly in the background. Why on earth would you want to be awake in this, it makes you want to go back to bed and pull the covers up over your head and escape, hiding from it all. This may well be very minimalist but that does not stop your imagination running riot in the slightest. ‘Ficklampor’ (Flashlights) glimmer, gleam, beam and sparkle adding a bit of warmth by tinkling keyboard notes and slow pulsing orchestrations. I only vaguely remember The Groke who appears in the book to warm herself by the fire and accidently puts it out but she makes an appearance here on ‘Mårran Söker’ and the music goes into a more pulsating part that has its roots more in EBM than anywhere else. It is another section that really stands out and shows the versatility of its creator.
As we traverse the Icy River and manage to get through everything without catastrophe it is time to return to slumber as all this exploration must have tired-out even Moomintroll on his great adventure and finally it is time for ‘Vågor av Uppvaknande’ the Waves Of Awakening to gently bring him out of hibernation and make him wonder if perhaps it was all just a dream?
This is a gorgeous idea even if it is a dark one and to me it has worked on so many levels. This includes the fantastic artwork from Al.Ex from Russian “Mayhem Project” studio which really does complement the overall concept completely. With Frozen Ocean having the vision to self-release this as no label would share it this is an album that really deserves acknowledgement and support so take yourself off on a trip to Moominland and shut off the outside world for a while; you won’t regret it.
An interview with Vaarwel talking about his albums including this one can be found at the following link
(8/10 Pete Woods)