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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Moonsorrow - Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa: A

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.


Amplifier - The Octopus: B-

For The Octopus to be truly worth your time, its length would literally need to cut in half. At about two hours, the album is Manchester’s Amplifier serving up a plate of prog rock that’s really prog rock in length only. The first musical instrument heard on the album, at the end of the positively virile introduction, “The Runner,” is a piano, which is later revealed to be manned by a singer with a strangely ordinary voice playing what would appear to be a very ordinary song. Sel Balamir, that singer, resembles The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon for sounding particularly self-referential and particularly British, qualities that do not fit with the vast scope of The Octopus. That first actual song, “Minion’s Song,” sounds like a wry send-up of Industrial Age theatrics that Hannon did very well on his 2010 effort, Bang Goes the Knighthood. The difference between Amplifier and The Divine Comedy, though, is that Hannon can get his point across in less than four minutes; “Minion’s Song” needs almost six. This is a trend that becomes quite prevalent as The Octopus continues.

To Amplifier’s credit, The Octopus is not a customary concept album that’s bloated with senseless instrumentation or an intrusive narrative. However, if you’re going to have me listen to an album whose length spans the entirety of the Ramones ‘70’s output, there needs to be something for me to latch onto. There are some cool parts to momentarily treasure (I could name them, but nitpicking with an album this large would take up far too much space), but, for those who even finish the damn thing, Amplifier will come off sounding like a wannabe Porcupine Tree that thought they could one-up the prog factor in all the wrong ways. I’ve never felt trapped listening to an album, but, when you realize somewhere between “Trading Dark On the Stock Exchange” and “The Sick Rose” (which both might as well be recordings of appliances humming they’re so unmemorable) that you’ve still got another hour to go, it’s hard not to wonder how many better things you could be doing with those sixty minutes, an option of which may very well be doing nothing.

The Octopus doesn’t receive an F, because, on a track-by-track basis, it is a lot easier to digest, and, thus, a lot easier to appreciate. However, it’s rather daunting to be placed in front of those irrevocable two hours when planning to listen to it, and I’m here to tell you that, unfortunately, it’s as tough getting through them as it appears. Amplifier have the potential to be an excellent rock band, as evidenced by The Octopus, and the album certainly sounds better when you give it the chance, but it’s an unfortunate possibility that so many will choose not to hear it, because of its rather unnecessary length.