Let me start by being completely upfront. This is Moonsorrow’s best album for more than a decade. Perhaps even one of their best yet. It’s a melting pot of all that has gone before and if you’re not hooked in the first two minutes then you’re probably barking up the wrong tree with all this folk metal music stuff – and Moonsorrow is undeniably that. Not that there is quite as much folky bounce as their early stuff, as insanely fierce and face melting as Verisäkeet – my personal top pick from their back catalogue before now – or as dark and introspective as their past two efforts. No – but with elements of all those things. This is Moonsorrow as its fans imagine them to be. Because Moonsorrow have surpassed themselves with Jumalten Aika – it’s a slow-burning bonfire of an album that combines simmering hooks with all the complexities we have come to hope for and expect.
So, let’s put the hyperbole to one side for a minute or two. Moonsorrow has been on an interesting journey over their past two albums after striking down a more bleak and black metal path with Verisäkeet. Things have become more interesting and perhaps even more uncompromising, delivering some serious heathen art. But if you, like me, found V: Hävitetty and Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa just a little too impenetrable at times despite appreciating the integrity and ambition of what was happening, then this will come as a big relief. It’s a shade or two lighter, yes, perhaps more accessible. But rather than losing anything for that, this release comes across as a breath of fresh air.
Jumalten Aika is dominated by four fifteen minute tracks and one slightly shorter, slightly darker track. But for the most part this album feels more pastoral, more cinematic with arrangements so magnetic that they tug at your heart and your head. It’s also heavy as hell at times but bringing back some of that rousing rhythms and melodies by a band that never shies away from ever more grand and complex endeavours. The hook of the title track, which opens the album, is clearly designed to knock you off your trusty steed, and gradually evolves from a forced march under darkened skies and then into a wild and rapturous gallop. It’s a 13-minute track that passes in the blink of an eye. The message is simple: Moonsorrow has returned.
But if you thought any of this was going to be simple, think again. The second track begins with a similar driving, opening rhythm (which reminds me of Heimgang-period Kampfar) which then begins to warp and twist into a journey through a host of Moonsorrow signatures – keyboard-soaked rapture (very well emulated by the likes of Finsterforst), pastoral choruses, shifting vocals, drifting ambience and a final spear-thrust of black metal intensity. Third track Suden Tunti plays out like a war challenge – the most direct, blackest and shortest track – before the second half of the album, the final two tracks, shows Moonsorrow and their most adventurous best.
I was honestly not sure what to expect from Jumalten Aika after not being wholly sold on the past two albums. But here the Finns reveal the possibilities of what you can do with 57 minutes of recording time, a sense of purpose and some undeniable talent. At times Moonsorrow focus on hypnotic repetition and at others constantly evolving and dissolving arrangements, both of which are equally designed, and capable of, making you lose yourself. I fully appreciate the heathenisms, the keyboards and the chorals probably won’t be for everyone. And some might even feel some of the blackness has faded from the past few albums. However, this music is anything but candy-coated and you’d have to say in response to such criticisms that Moonsorrow is not just another pagan metal band. It’s a step into another dimly defined world of fire and ice, forests and windswept moorlands where emotions span from the grey to the black and the glories of life are constantly tempered by the winds of fate and ill-portent.
So if you’ve even got a tiny spark of heathen metal spirit in you and have always yearned for music that can fan the flames – then try this for size. For the rest of us, the long-since converted, long-time Moonsorrow fans for whom it is far too late and anyone who has a yearning for bands like Månegarm, Thyrfing, Kampfar, Finntroll, Finsterforst and Falkenbach, then this will go down very well. Because Moonsorrow is the real deal – so we shouldn’t really expect anything less than first class. This is music deep from the heart that will drag you into a dark, timeless and spiritual world.
(9/10 Reverend Darkstanley)