This far into their career, it may not be too big of a stretch to say that Moonsorrow has the most stacked catalog in Finland’s underground metal scene. They’ve been consistently pumping out stellar albums for almost two decades now and have always delivered some of the finest folk-infused black metal out there. Albums like 2005’s Verisakeet and 2007’s V: Havitetty are bona fide classics for modern black metal and folk metal alike, showcasing some of the genre’s most passionate and haunting vocal performances that are consistently paired with monstrously dense instrumentation. While the band’s two most recent releases were certainly competent and occasionally breathtaking, the band didn’t seem quite as inspired as they had been during the height of folk metal’s popularity. Now, thanks to a five year break in between LPs, Moonsorrow has finally emerged from the tundra once again, and things have gotten both blacker and bleaker this time around to say the least.
While 2011’s Varjoina Kuljemme Kuolleiden Maassa (yes, really) still had plenty of black metal moments to it, the band had seemed to put that more on the back burner. This can certainly not be said for Jumalten Aika, which is absolutely coated in a swirling haze of tremolo-picked fury that sounds just as urgent and compelling anything off of the first two Wolves in the Throne Room albums. There’s also a heavier lean this time around on settling in on fist-pumping, mid-tempo riffs that hearken back to Bathory’s Blood Fire Death and Hammerheart. Jumalten Aika is at its core the band’s grimmest outing yet, and most of the album comes across as much more morose and depressing than it does triumphant and majestic. The album’s opening title track and “Suden Tunti” are perhaps the most blatant black metal songs on the album, the latter spending most of its seven minutes going straight for the jugular. It’s decidedly primitive and may turn off fans of the band’s often-lofty musical goals, but it’s incredibly effective in breaking up the album’s four other umpteen-minute riffscapades.
As always, the core and main appeal to Moonsorrow’s sound is the stunning vocal performances of bassist Ville Sorvali, whose immense range and unbridled emotion blankets the album in an undeniably intense atmosphere. Between Sorvali’s Ulver-esque vocal stacks or his throat-shredding screams that would make a grown man weep, it’s hard to really say which one he does better. “Mimisbrunn” is perhaps the strongest song vocally on the album, perfectly navigating the song’s dreamlike melodies and hypnotic guitar riffs with some of the most captivating and emotional shrieks you’re likely to hear in 2016. While the production and scope of the vocals is consistently massive, things never get too out of hand and the songs always have plenty of time to breathe and weave in and out of new moods and textures. The album’s closer “Ihmisen Aika (Kumarrus Pimeyteen)” is a perfect example, as its simple-yet-glorious main theme is frequently revisited throughout the song and helps divide up the sixteen minutes of incredibly ambitious orchestration. It’s also worth mentioning that the reversed screams that close the album out are beyond terrifying and help bookend the album with a real sense of dread.
Moonsorrow’s knack for simplicity and repetition has always been one of their strong suits and it’s no exception of Jumalten Aika. Almost no other band can make such lengthy tracks feel like they’ve gone by in half of the time. While they’re not a progressive metal band, they’re certainly accomplishing things that most bands in that style would kill to do. This is all complemented by an incredible mixing job that’s as organic as it is calculated and combed-over. Jumalten Aika is an undeniable success and really feels like the band sounds completely rejuvenated as a group. Though the album’s overall vibe is clearly darker than almost anything they’ve done in a decade, Moonsorrow hasn’t delivered a work as cohesive and justifiably massive since V: Havitetty. The band hasn’t lost any of their traditional pagan instrumentation, any of their headbanging grit, or any of their knacks for near-perfect songwriting ability. They’re one of the best bands playing black metal in the world right now, and Jumalten Aika is an incredible statement of purpose and passion. The language barrier doesn’t even factor in that much; it doesn’t take much to be immersed in this emotionally-draining experience. In a just world, you’ll be seeing this on a number of year-end lists.