Monday, 30 July 2012

The Dawn Will Never Rise Again for My Eyes - A review for Wintersun's self-titled

A furious, icy blizzard through space and time. Howling winds where there is no sound. Cosmic energies focusing around shining nebulas. Portals into unknown, hostile worlds. Galaxies weeping. Wormholes of pain and suffering. Beautiful death in -273,15 degrees.

What I described above are images Wintersun's critically acclaimed (or accused of being highly overrated) debut album (2004) evokes in my mind. For me, these visions encapsulate the essence of this masterpiece. Only a handful of albums have ever reached the level of uniqueness, richness of songwriting and pure, blazing intensity that Wintersun's self-titled holds within it. It is a phenomenal mixture of some of the best features of metal music, all of them incorporated together with no cracks or shatters whatsoever. The mastermind behind this album is no other than the famed Jari Mäenpää, former frontman of Ensiferum. He has done amazing job by using his admirable talents in different areas of expertise: with several instruments, in songwriting and as a lyricist. He makes brilliant use of the neck-breaking fury of melodic death metal, the soaring melodies of power metal, the grand vastness of epic folk/viking metal and the blistering speed of melodic black metal, all this smoothly interconnected and iced with formidable technicality. The album raditates despair, fear, hate, melancholy and sadness through images of cosmic proportions put inside the mind of a human being. The lyrics stem from this context, creating emotional surges of the deepest thoughts of man.

Wintersun is an ominous maelstrom that draws the listener deep into its bowels. It is also a representation of musical prowess that only a few can match in my books. From destructively fast solos to razor sharp riffing, from beautifully bleak and freezing keyboard melodies to impressive harsh vocals, from gloomy atmospheres to enchanting lyrics, everything is carved in the shape of colossal, ambitious and inspiring images. Winter Madness shows us perhaps the most technical and speedy side of the album with its hyper fast guitarwork and multi-layered melodies. It is a frosty anthem that paints pictures of merciless winters of the far north. Battle Against Time leans towards a different area of metal. The song's most remarkable characteristics focus around majestic, crushing harmonies of epic metal. Raging blast beats and ingenious guitar melodies are completed with bombastic clean choirs and the result is a massively cosmic sound. One of the high points of the album is also the slow, intriguingly wandering Death and the Healing. It features only noble, clean vocals and offers the listener fascinating visions. The lyrics are excellently supported by long, intricate lead guitar passages that are woven around the main soundscape. Truth to be told, in my opinion every single track on this album is a masterwork of epic, melodic metal but Starchild has always been my favourite. This song kind of compiles every best bit of the album and reforms them into a new entirety that surpasses the rest of the songs. It has speed, it has the most memorable melodies, it has in-depth, spacey lyrics and it has great, diverse vocals through which Jari truly shines. Listening to Starchild is like diving through planes of existence on a journey to discover something about oneself and exploring the mind-blowing depths of the universe. No doubt one of the best songs I have ever come across.   

Like I mentioned before, each song on Wintersun is a highlight in its own right but I'll leave the secrets of the rest for you to discover. The album is a complex whole of magnificent elements brought together by the creative force that is Jari Mäenpää. However, I also have to specificly mention the drumwork since it's the only thing not done by Mr. Mäenpää. While this album was being made, behind the kit sat one of Finland's most respected drummers, Kai Hahto. His superb skills laid down the spine for the grandiose structures summoned by Jari and that is no minor achievement. All in all, I reside in the camp of those who worship this album and who are awestruck by its elaborate world. The only things that don't quite live up to the rest of the album are some certain parts of Sleeping Stars that fall a bit short of the gloomy excellence that the song is mostly constructed of. Yes, it's that simple: the album has basically one little flaw. Thus it is almost as close to perfection as possible so reach out your hands and grab this album before the second one finally comes out!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Spell of Winter

Regrettably, I haven't contributed anything to my blog in a long time. But now, at last, I have a text I want to present to you. It sheds some light on how nature affects me and what kind of thoughts and feelings it evokes in me. Inspired by winter in general and walks in the night in my hometown Rovaniemi, it is a mixture of a couple of more specific experiences and some general impressions about nature. I want to open my mind a bit about what kind of things I love when it comes to winter. Ideally, I will write similar texts about other seasons too but we'll see whether I get into that or not.

So here we go:

The suburbs seemed to hibernate under the soft cover of snow. There were no shouts nor laughter of people returning to their homes, no cars driving in the distance, no miscellaneous echoes of urban life. There were no singing wind, no whispering trees. Only silence.
   The air was sharply cold, quietly sneaking into my throat and crawling down to make nest in my lungs. Its freezing embrace sent tingling waves over my skin and I felt like my senses were fed by it and grew keener to notice the small meanderings of the winter spirit that flowed through the night.
   My steps left traces to the powder-like snow. It was gleaming magically under the light from the lamps illuminating the road and the light turned the cozy way into one that would lead into a fairytale if one believed in such things…
   With the whole cosmos observing me through the glimmering stars above, I continued down the road with sudden joy in my heart. I wasn’t alone. Mother Nature was strongly present in everything I laid my eyes upon. Frost-covered trees, icicles hanging from the corner of a house, mesmerizing full moon. If there’s something magical in this world, it has to be ardent in those moments.
   I halted. A path so familiar and tempting was ahead of me. It led to a forest of shadows and dreams and on that wonderful moment I couldn’t help but to answer its call once again. I reached for my pocket and took my music player out. For a second I hesitated. Then I turned it on, placed the earphones to my ears and stepped on the path that would show me the way to who knows where if I wasn’t careful.
   It was amazing, fascinating and intense. Letting my gaze roam through the landscape while freezing, wintery anthems surrounded me in the form of Bathory, Moonsorrow, Immortal, Wintersun and the like. Urban interpretations of these primeval emotional surges blended flawlessly and overwhelmingly to the scenes of nature before my eyes. With the winter now within my mind and body, I walked deeper into the icy halls under the vault of the night sky…

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Turisas takes the day! - A review for Turisas' Stand Up and Fight

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the best album released so far during 2011, Turisas' "Stand Up and Fight"! Having slowly acquired fame in the folk metal-scene over the years, Turisas is now among the most renowned bands in the genre and not the least because of their concerts. Their energetic live-shows have forced many people who haven't liked their studio-offerings to at least acknowledge their talent in rich and entertaining performance. After the absolutely glorious debut "Battle Metal", they have released one album before Stand Up and Fight. "The Varangian Way" took the symphonic nature of the debut further with orchestral samples and told us a tale of Vikings travelling to Constantinople. Both of those albums are magnificent masterpieces that beat almost any album but the debut is a bit better in all its honesty and young fury. However, with Stand Up and Fight, Turisas learned how to fully master their new, matured sound and produced a spectacle beyond amazing and their best work to date.

On Stand Up and Fight, Turisas have finally got the chance to add something to their music they have probably dreamed of since the beginning of their career: a full-blown orchestra. This new feature enchances Stand Up and Fight's atmosphere to even more gigantic proportions than what it was on the previous albums. Flashy, triumphant symphonics give the album a strongly cinematic feel of adventure and glory. It matches perfectly with the themes of the songs and really makes the band blossom and bathe in divine epicness. The orchestra is the all-embracing core of Stand Up and Fight and Turisas have actually stepped quite a bit away from their folk metal-roots. Besides the symphonic side and folk-elements, the music is characterized by some progressive features, a slight 80's AOR-vibe and power metal-esque feeling. In a way, the lyrics follow the concept of The Varangian Way with focus on Constantinople but this time they also deal with general issues of rise and fall of an empire, heroic acts and such.

Turisas leaves no doubts of what is their aim on Stand Up and Fight: it kicks off with a bombastic tune "The March of the Varangian Guard" which overshadows even "To Holmgard and Beyond" from The Varangian Way. Warlord's voice sounds better than ever as he builds up the intensity before the chorus is unleashed. He has always been one of my favourite vocalists but now his deep, impressive baritone seems to be forged of pure gold. Olli's electric violin is another trademark of Turisas and once again it creates blissful melodies that lift my heart somewhere near my throat. "Take the Day!" is an equal masterpiece that builds steadily into a stadiumrock-influenced anthem. Among the highlights in this song are the breathtaking choir vocal-melodies of the chorus. Awesome stuff to sing along to, which can be said for the whole album though.

The next track, "Hunting Pirates", is the most folkish one on Stand Up and Fight. Musically it's quite close to something you might find on an Alestorm-album but transferred to fit Turisas' style. It's catchy as hell, funny and positive! Strange is the person who doesn't go along with the vibe and start to smile and dance. "Venetoi! - Prasinoi!" follows and behold the glory and majesty! It's near impossible to put into words how triumphant this song is. Imagine the most awaited festival of the olden days with chariot-races, gladiator combats etc. and all that organized to please the most powerful emperor mankind has ever seen. Hundreds of men blasting fanfares and anthems from horns and trumpets, massive crowd cheering wild for the competitors. That is the essence of Venetoi! - Prasinoi!

Faithful to Turisas' new style, the title-track continues mixing calm, atmospheric parts to intense passages fitting to tell about great deeds. It has a darker undertone than most of the songs on the album but it's still uplifting and pompous and definitely of superb quality. Then comes "The Great Escape". The song starts with a tasty, groovy guitar-riff and continues with progressive touches, evolving into a journey through the most fascinating story on Stand Up and Fight. Following a Viking's quest of escaping from the emperor's service to return to his homeland, it includes a variety of ingenious elements. No matter how surprising it might sound after the descriptions of the majesty of the previous songs, The Great Escape explodes to the most epic passage on the album after the first half of the song. Soaring like best soundtracks from the elite of adventure-movies, it sends chills down my body every time I listen to it. And there's just no way I could do that without turning the volume really loud. After this eargasm-producer, the song fades beautifully and leaves the listener to want more.

The next two songs are, however, the ones that aren't perfect. "Fear the Fear" deals with heroism using modern imagery along with the usual medieval approach. First it was a bit hard to digest this song and it's relationship to Turisas' traditional style to handle themes but then I realized that I was being narrow-minded and that Turisas had broken the chains of predictability while still managing to hold the entirety together. For the most part. I still found myself rating Fear the Fear lower than all the other songs. It is well written, epic and doesn't slip from the mood of the album but it also doesn't have the kind of hooks I was waiting for. It has some changes that don't seem to work so flawlessly and I kinda get the feeling of a song not fully complete. I have to make it clear though that it is only bad compared to most of the songs but it's still kick-ass and certainly nothing to skip over. "End of an Empire" is another song that doesn't quite live up to the standard quality of Stand Up and Fight. It is somewhat long and progressive track that winds up and down presenting us a selection of features. From less over-the-top, though definitely glorious, choirs to fast and badass metalfest, End of an Empire is of quality most symphonic metal-bands can only hope to reach at their best but in comparison to Turisas' works, it lacks some of the top-notch catchyness and consistency they usually master. Great song but, alongside Fear the Fear, one of the two slightly flawed tracks here.

"The Bosphorus Freezes Over" closes the album and returns the level of quality of the six first songs. This wistful song functions as perfect end credits to the album, beginning with Warlord's emotional story-telling, going through a wonderful chorus of Finnish hymn-like singing and ending with mighty symphonic part, a farewell to this adamantium album. The bonus-tracks need to be mentioned here as well. Both "Supernaut" and "Broadsword" are amazing covers of songs made by Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull, respectively. Turisas has stayed faithful to the originals and just morphed the songs to fit their style. As much as I love the original Supernaut and Broadsword, I'm a big enough fan of Turisas to claim that they've surpassed Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull and created something truly memorable in their own class.

All in all, Stand Up and Fight didn't let me down a single bit. On the contrary, it has become one of my favourite albums of all time. It accomplishes numerous feats, not the least being the fact that it contains one of the strongest row of songs I have ever come across with its six first tunes. If you want some triumph and triumph and some more triumph, all of that constructed with admirable skill, grab Stand Up and Fight. As for myself, I'll be ready to jump to the next Viking ship that sails by the coast of Finland and travel to Constantinople to conquer it. Cheers!

Monday, 4 July 2011

At the Twilight Tavern - A review for Ensiferum's From Afar

Like a river originating in the form of a small stream from a glacier and rushing forward growing more and more powerful as it flows towards its destination, the same way has Ensiferum’s might gotten more impressive as we follow their career from the sparkling originality of their self-titled to the bombastic nature of Victory Songs. When I got familiar with this famous folk metal-band, I instantly learned to love their s/t a great deal, was totally hooked into Iron and completely blown away by Victory Songs. Against this background, From Afar faced a challenge no less than the highest standard I had set for any album thus far. On the other hand, I held Ensiferum as perhaps the only band that could meet my extremely demanding expectations. I wondered whether Ensiferum could still take their perfection a little further. Then came the moment when I first kicked in the title track on Youtube and holy fucking shit, it almost maimed me with its sky-cracking epicness and superb songwriting. After that there was no doubt: Ensiferum were back and better than ever.

The first major thing I noticed when giving From Afar a number of careful listens was the added symphonic elements. While Victory Songs already had a touch of symphonies in the mix, it never crossed my mind to call it symphonic metal by any standard. It was soon revealed to me that From Afar could be called that anytime. Straight from the beginning of the title-track, it was clear that the guys had really found out how to unleash an overwhelmingly wonderful symphonic assault upon the listener. Still, this new feature is brilliantly woven around the traditional core of Ensiferum and not used continuosly. Combined with eargasmic guitar riffs and melodies that burn as fiercely as ever, the listener is drawn to a maelstrom of vivid images of distant lands where the sun visits the horizon only briefly during the deepest winter and where the light of the Midsummer sets nights ablaze. The atmosphere is enriched with flute, kantele, mandolin etc. with all the instruments giving their own share in creating the folkish atmosphere and Petri's harsh vocals, supported by clean choirs, seal the astonishing work with glory, melancholy and hatred.

On From Afar, Ensiferum offer us a selection of songs that each differ from the rest in their own, spectacular way. We are introduced to two longest Ensiferum-songs of their career, Heathen Throne Part 1 & 2 which clock at 11:09 and 12:49, respectively. With all my heart I can say that Ensiferum have truly mastered the art of making long songs. These songs are thoroughly interesting, coherent and flow intensely, never escaping from the band's grasp. The first part concentrates more on the blasting metal-attack with brain-melting guitar harmonies and solos, epic arrays of symphonic keyboard-arrangements and a strong, if a bit clichéic, message. The chorus makes every proper folk-metaller rapidly grow half a meter in height and stand tall while the waves of heathenry crash on the shores of Christianity like a tsunami. The second part takes one to a great journey through planes of existence with every single second filled with adventurous vibe and monumental songwriting. Clean vocals are used a lot which fits perfectly into the atmosphere. I must admit that the majestic fading in the end doesn't really add more substance to the song than if it was a couple of minutes shorter but it also doesn't lessen the song's value in my eyes.

A capella-track Tumman Virran Taa is something that might come as a surprise. This minute-long piece of choir-singing in Finnish is, in any case, another proof that these guys can come up with something quite different that still doesn't make a tiniest crack in the spine of the album. Stone Cold Metal is also a unique piece of art that mixes bombastic folk metal with Western-themes. It is a tribute to the likes of Ennio Morricone with its long, winding, breathtaking Western-interlude. It even has a banjo-solo! All of the songs mentioned so far are something that make From Afar different from the previous Ensiferum-albums. They have experimented with a bunch of new things and incorporated them ingeniously to their traditional sound. From Afar is a flawless example of an album that has brought fresh new ideas onto the table but that has still remained true to the band's roots.

Even though aforementioned songs deserve all the praise I gave to them, the ones left are as good or even better. Elusive Reaches is a fast, blazing track that has some of the most amazing guitarwork on the album and that, my friends, is really something! Smoking Ruins is a kind of equivalent to Wanderer on Victory Songs with its almost 100% clean vocal-approach, lighter songwriting and story of a man's hardships. By the Dividing Stream is an enchanting build-up to the whole album, like a calm before the storm. Two tracks following this magical intro are perhaps the pinnacle of the album, if there can be a pinnacle in perfection. The title-track is a majestic offering that sends waves of stunning epicness from the speakers, knocking down everyone who is not prepared. Everything is executed with accuracy: mindblowing symphonic-arrangements, furious guitar, bass and drums, breathtaking vocals, both harsh and clean, and all this finished with an impressive spoken part, an excerpt from Kalevala. No less than one of the best songs of all time. Twilight Tavern is virtually of equal quality. It uses the common folk metal-formula (for example: harsh vocals in verses and clean choirs in choruses) but every detail is carefully planned and with added uniqueness that comes mainly from female vocals and the superfast ending, it reaches a level of catchyness and general awesomeness possibly only surpassed by the title-track. The bonus track Vandraren also deserves praise. It is a cover of a song by Swedish folk/pop-duo Nordman. I heard the original for the first time in my early childhood while traveling in the epic landscapes of Lapland with my family. As soon as I learned that one of my all-time favourite bands is going to cover it, I got extremely excited. And the cover didn't disappoint me. Crowned with guest vocalist no other than Heri Joensen of Týr himself, it is a rocking tune with strongly folkish vibe; a great tribute to the original song.

I'm fully aware of all the fanboyism going on in this review but oh well, deal with it. *puts sunglasses on* From Afar is honestly one of the best albums I have ever heard in my life, if not the best of all. There's basically no flaws to be found on the album. I recommend this to all fans of folk metal, symphonic metal and epic metal in general. See you at the Twilight Tavern!

Np: Jex Thoth - The Banishment

Sunday, 8 May 2011

A few verses about north

Next I will share a little poem with you. I wrote it a couple of years ago and some of my friends have seen it already but I thought I could put it here anyway. The main inspiration was drawn from my unforgettable experiences in the wilds of Lapland. Here it is:

Can you feel it?
The waves of time are washing over the land
Those endless lines of majestic fells
They are the waves
So barren
So beautiful
They have been here longer than eternity
And as we watch
The midnight sun sparks them into flames
And the lakes...
The giver of life makes them shine under the high skies
Its ethereal light glowing in the water
And the wind is carrying a message...
You can feel the North everywhere around you
Observing you, listening
Guarding its children
The fells and the rocks upon them
The lakes and the life under their surface
I'm home
I can feel it...

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Of folk/viking/pagan metal

I shall start my blog with an entry concerning my favourite branch in the world-tree of metal. During the last ten years or so, folk/viking/pagan metal has gradually gained a somewhat important role amongst the metal-scene worldwide. The steep growth in the birth of new f/v/p-bands has brought new winds and streaks to the subgenre,  naturally making it more difficult to define what bands belong under the tag of folk metal, what bands under the tag of viking metal and what bands under the tag of pagan metal. At this point I can imagine some of you saying: “hold on, is there really any difference between those definitions?” I’m not some ancient god who states how things are or how they should be but I try to do my best in explaining my thoughts regarding this issue.

First I take the term folk metal under examination. At least from my point of view, there are two main aspects one must take notice of when defining what is folk metal and what is not: the music itself and lyrics. Naturally the easiest way to define folk metal is to describe it as a combination of metal and folk music traditional to a certain culture. The use of accordion, fiddle, flute, mouth harp, bagpipe, bodhran, hurdy-gurdy etc. with the instrumentation commonly prevalent in metal yields this result. Also, folk-melodies drawing their inspiration from traditional folk-tunes but played with guitar, bass or keyboard are, according to some, enough to tag the music as folk metal. Many are happy with those attributes but is it really credible to call something folk metal if you only blend, for example, accordion-melodies into some style of metal? Some certainly think that way and some, in turn, would call it pretentious and fake if there’s no substance formed of certain themes. The richest and deepest form of folk metal is indeed the one that brings forth the essence of a certain culture, its mythology and people’s traditional ways of thinking in general, their history et cetera.

However, problems occur, as usual. Imagine a straightforward black metal-band with such strong themes regarding their heritage but without any trace of folk music, including folky guitar-riffs whatsoever. Would you call that folk metal and recommend it to someone even as a folk/black metal-band? I hardly think so. Calling a band that is musically pure black metal as folk metal would obviously confuse people. We are really talking about music here so isn’t it crystal clear that the main definition should be based on the musical aspects, not the lyrical ones? Pretty much but, like I asked earlier, does an addition of some accordion-melodies change a band from, for instance, a black metal-band to a folk metal-band? What I think is that when the overall atmosphere and nature of the music changes notably because of the folk-elements, it has become folk metal. With this I mean the musical elements, nothing else. If the accordion only gives the music a small, spicey touch or sounds too out of place, I probably wouldn’t call the music folk metal. But here’s the point where the themes step into the spotlight. Let’s think about a band explained above, using an accordion a bit here and there and without significant folkish melodies, time signatures or the like in the metal instrument-department. I would re-consider calling it folk metal if the band included strong folkloric lyrics or other features such as a traditional singing-style. In turn, if a band musically full of folk-instruments sang about Star Wars and dressed on stage like wookies, I’d say it’s still folk metal but of course not a band to be suggested to a person who’s trying to find serious dedication towards folklore (unless they are interested in fictional wookie-culture). It’s of course impossible, and meaningless, to come up with an exact borderline but the aforementioned example should enlighten my views on this question.

What about viking metal then, is it a real subgenre of metal or just an aesthetic genre like, let’s say, pirate metal? In my opinion, good representatives of “pure” viking metal include Bathory’s viking-era, most of Thyrfing’s works, Einherjer, Menhir (excluding Hildebrandslied which is more folk-oriented) and Nomans Land. There are numerous bands that could be described as folk/viking metal, black/viking metal etc. but I’m here to define viking metal so let’s stick with the bands that could be qualified as pure.

What do the bands mentioned above have in common with each other? One thing is a vast, epic soundscape. Each band has built their music in order to achieve a feeling of something arcane and ancient, not unlike the general style that epic folk metal-bands use. The most notable difference here is that the aforementioned viking metal bands basically don’t use folk-instruments nor folky guitar/bass-structures to reach their goal. Keyboard is often a very prominent way to raise the atmosphere in addition to epic guitar-leads and a powerful, soaring vocal performance utilizing both clean (often as choirs) and harsh vocals. Even with these admittedly vague characteristics we can instantly rule out the eyebrow-raising claim I’ve heard that all viking metal is similar enough to black metal to be called that. This applies to melodic- and atmospheric-varieties of black metal as well. But viking metal isn’t folk metal either because it (in most cases, one can find exceptions in any subject) doesn’t have folk-elements, except lyrical content.

So I see viking metal as a legitimate subgenre, more or less. But as do many others, I also think that the name of the subgenre is misleading and restricting since it narrows the bands that can be included within its boundaries to those with themes from Scandinavian lore. How about bands that can be musically classified as viking metal but have no connections to Vikings thematically? It’s obviously weird to call them viking metal so I shall use the last of the three terms I threw on the table at the beginning: pagan metal. However, following the standard I set earlier, it makes no sense cutting the same subgenre in half because of the lyrics. Therefore I think it should all be called pagan metal. This change gives us wider possibilities to analyse what bands belong under this subgenre. I immediately think of Forefather, Primordial, Riger and Andras, among others. It’s not hard to hear a major enough similarity between these bands and the stuff I listed above as pure viking metal. The nature of lyrics and themes help in the more accurate defining process in the same way than with folk metal.

In conclusion, of the three subgenres given at the beginning of this entry, folk metal and pagan metal are legitimate in my opinion. I'm probably still going to use the term viking metal too in order to be more exact about the thematic content of some bands whenever I feel it's necessary. After all, categories and genre-names are namely tools with which humans organize the chaotic world. People often declare that talking about genres takes the focus away from the most essential thing: the quality of art. I do agree with them to an extent but I still sometimes find it funny when people claim that they don't categorize music. Everyone categorizes things, it is natural and unavoidable to a human being. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to navigate through the bottomless depths of information and make some sense out of it. Dividing music into different genres is therefore understandable and practical and not a sign of ignorance or intolerance, although categorizing can, of course, be used intentionally for mentioned purposes which is a whole different matter altogether. Besides, I like an interesting genre-debate in good spirit every now and then as a source of fresh, new ideas. So bring them up, if you have any!

Np: Sodom - Baptism of Fire


Hello, folks!

Here I am, starting the journey into the world of blog-writing. The main reason behind my decision to start a blog is to get a new and refreshing way to express my thoughts. I've always liked writing and it often feels a lot more suitable option to channel out what I have in mind compared to speech. New entries will appear irregularly and most probably seldom. I am likely to write about metal more often than about other topics but the range of my writings will presumably vary from folklore, nature and fantasy to all kinds of thoughts about life. Long story short, I hope that some of you will find my texts interesting. See you in the comment box!