Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa isn’t your standard folk metal album. At over an hour and with just seven tracks, Moonsorrow’s seventh release is made of incredibly long songs, and none of them are particularly concerned with forming discernable parts or even establishing concrete structures. No, instead, Moonsorrow have a riff per song, and they play the shit out of that riff, making up the majority of the length of Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa’s tracks, many of which exceed the ten-minute mark.
And, yet, somehow, it works beautifully. I don’t know if it’s the riffs or my admiration for the sheer chutzpah it takes to fill a sixteen minute song with little more than one guitar line and some instrumental accompaniment, but Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa is never grating, and that sixteen minute song, “Huuto” is the album’s fantastic centerpiece that breezes by like a song less than half its length. If you think this is a dubious justification for the quality of an album, then you obviously haven’t heard these riffs. Those guitar lines become grander and more encompassing with each iteration. They build and build until you have no other recourse but to hear them at full volume and sing the notes to yourself with a seemingly endless intensity.
There are more notable aspects to Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa. Henri "Trollhorn" Urponpoika Sorvali is a graduate of the Six Feet Under school of vomit/sing, but like the best melodic death metal albums, his psychobabble is far from center stage. The band has some semblance of arrangement at times, perhaps diverging into an instrumental passage before riding faithfully back into that pivotal guitar line. The album has a post-apocalyptic narrative to it akin to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (“As shadows we walk in the land of the dead” goes the album title’s translation), but the only evidence you will hear of it is in the interludes between songs, in which a man walks through tactile brush, conjuring images of The Road’s main character and his thankless journey to the shore. The songs, themselves, are far too epic to be thought of as soundtracks to vast wastelands; battles between gods or a treacherous march would be more appropriate.
The only negative aspect of Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa is that, in first track, “Tähdetön,” Moonsorrow utilize the mid-song folk dalliance that I’ve noted as hackneyed in other metal releases this year from MyGrain and Omnium Gatherum. Other than that, Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa is pure ear candy that could prove to be an even greater grower due to the mounting nature of the album’s arrangements. It’s no surprise that one of the first great metal albums of the year is a slow builder (This has been a slow building kinda year, ya know?), and the more time spent with it is more time spent having intelligent and affecting metal wash over your pleasure centers.