I like to think of myself as a good intermediary in cases such as this; where an artist receives such endless deifying praise that it resembles some sort of musical bukkake video, the supposed mastermind Mäenpää waving his long blonde hair back and forth as fans splash their praise on him. I’ll be blunt, I heard his debut and never got what all the fuss was about. It certainly wasn’t bad but it sounded to me much like a blackened version of what ‘Children of Bodom’ have been doing for years. Some decent guitar work, certainly, but hardly something to get so worked up about. Yet when an album is delayed so many times that people start to wonder if the title was just an elaborate troll, even the unenthusiastic such as myself start to get curious and wonder whether the indisputably most awaited release all year will live up to the hype or end up in the bargain bin next to ‘Chinese Democracy.’
I’ll save you some time: it wasn’t worth the wait. It’s a good release admittedly, but certainly not the over-hyped, ‘this is going to be the best thing ever’ kind of good. For one thing it sounds remarkably different from the debut; the eight year absence spent refining the sound he intended for his work, which for me is a welcome change. That stupidly long and pretentious genre title he gave actually now starts to feel somewhat fitting; it actually is epic, majestic, melodic, and folk-inspired. There are Japanese overtones that introduce the piece, sadly forgotten all too soon, rearing their head only on occasion. There are soaring atmospheric melodies that fluidly give way to a flurry of bombastic synth lines. There are layers of chants and shouts, orchestral arrangements, clean vocals on top of the mid-range blackened growls, and if you’re lucky, you’ll even hear some guitars! It’s a sound perfectly fitting for a ragtag group of adventuring Vikings; through the highs and lows, dangerous lands and scenes of natural beauty, singing their tale at times almost like an old pirate shanty.
He attempts to do so much but with such ambitious aims, he often fails to do it all consistently; the folk elements come and go, the growls are intermittent at best and the guitars often non-existent. Only the use of clean vocals – and of course the intricate layers of synth work – feels as though it’s seen any improvement, and in the case of the synth work I use ‘improvement’ in a very light manner, dependent on whether or not you’re content with them replacing the guitar work. There is very little in the way of chorus lines that really stick in your mind; a few memorable guitar riffs or solos that mesmerize you, no notable drum fills or keyboard solos, and that’s all the sad result of such a delicate composition. The number of layers he’s used in composing this music truly is immense, and it’s likely why it took so long; blending and harmonising them all so as to sound coherent can’t have been an easy task and he handles it remarkably well, but with so much going on, no single element stands out.
It’s been overproduced, it had to be in order to make as much as possible heard within the final composition. The drumming – in particular the blast beats – sound unbelievably mechanical and lifeless, never once giving a genuine sense of impact, and the guitars too often suffer a similar fate. Falling flat, whilst they remain perfectly audible when actually doing something of note, it constantly lacks that raw edge to sound in any way aggressive. For better or worse, the guitars aren’t even noticeable for large portions of it, overpowered by layers and layers of synths and orchestral arrangements, and that’s not even mentioning the bass. You could do away with them both for a lot of this release and not notice much difference. Furthermore, so much of it sounds so similar; for all his influences, there is a remarkable absence of musical diversity throughout the compositions, resulting in it all feeling as though he’s retreading old ground. If it were any longer, it might have been the albums fatal flaw but as it stands, it’s a troublingly unmemorable experience, with only the chorus lines for “Sons of Winter and Stars” and “Land of Snow and Sorrow” really sticking into the mind a dozen listens on.
This is only half of the finished concept, released so the audience would be better able to appreciate the intricacy of the work, so it’s evident he wishes for us to think about the work in depth, but it all feels like an incoherent and vague concept. That the tracks are lengthy never feels an issue as there is a natural and fluid progression throughout each track; they have a purpose and never feel drawn out beyond what they should. It simply never seems to kick in; it never seems to escape that gentle, almost erotic melody that introduces it; never manages to feel like there’s any real sense of aggression there; never picks up the tempo to more than a slow to mid-pace, and leaves us with little more than an overproduced rock opera with no real story to tell. This is all not to say the end result is bad when taken for what it is. Despite its short running time, it features three good tracks that don’t just adhere to the melodeath framework laid out by the likes of early Bodom, Kalmah and Skyfire, but makes significant progress since their pique.
The problem is that progress is done by making the castrated form of melodeath he once adopted even more ball-less, having gone from merely using keys, to using almost nothing but keys. With the increased use of clean vocals, it can’t even be called ‘extreme’ in earnest any more; it’s highly symphonic folk/power metal and it bears more in common with Elvenking than anything else, except even they use a more aggressive guitar lead and play the occasional solo. Get over that hurdle however, and you’ll find the album, for all it’s flaws, never fails to give you something to listen to. The melodies are rich and the layers composed in a manner more akin to a classical orchestral piece. There might be a lot going on but for each listen you can discern new elements and subtleties, growing with each listen – but it’s just getting over that initial stumbling block. The fact that it sounds so different from his debut, and the intensity of each composition makes it a very difficult release to digest – it’s no wonder he decided to release it in two parts. This is an album that reaches for the stars but fails to find the momentum to quite get there.
About the Author
Position: Reviewer, Ranter, Reluctant Co-Editor
Location: London, England
Genre Preferences: Progressive, Avant-Garde, Experimental, Technical, Djent, Trad, Black
Favourite Artists: Adagio, Anthem, Baroness, Chthonic, Death Angel, Decadence, Fjoergyn, Gargoyle (Jpn), Haken, Kalevala, Leprous, Lucifugum, Pin-Up Went Down, Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, Project Hate MCMXCIX, Redemption, Sigh, Sikth, Tesseract, Thy Catafalque, Von Hertzen Brothers, Zigoku Quartet
Having held an internet presence using this alias for over a decade now, odds are if you've come across the name in the past it was myself. As for my musical history I suppose it's appropriate to say I arrived on my obsession backwards, for years holding little more than disdain and derision for a genre so seemingly obsessed with pointless brutality over composition; the likes of Deftones, Korn and Slipknot that serves as an introduction for so many flooding my musical palette, deterring my interests and yielding my only interpretation of what the genre involved. Ironically, it was Cannibal Corpse's “Vile” that first corrected me; played at high volume at a youth club by an elder metal fan angrily pushing the bleeding ears of the Green Day fans away from the stereo. I left that day clutching borrowed copies of Children of Bodom's “Hatebreeder,” the aforementioned Cannibal Corpse album, Metallica's “Cunning Stunts” on VHS and a whole new musical interest.
Arriving at a number of forums, I soaked up knowledge like a sponge, progressing through the stages of opinionated idiot to an arrogant elitist on a crusade before finally calming down, chronicling the last four years of my journey of discovery with self-published reviews. In the decade since my initial discovery, my tastes have mellowed and expanded to encompass most of the metal genre and beyond, constantly in search of something new and exciting, always seeking to expand my own musical knowledge. Black Metal with a Didgeridoo? Death Metal Disco? Trance Metal? Sign me up. I also have a strange obsession regarding the music of Asia, but I can't explain that one.
I have long since devoted far too much of my time writing - much to the amusement of my family who note the science-obsessed child now does far more writing than the English Lit. student - and have been self-publishing reviews since 2008; archives of music reviews can be found here and Film can be found here, though since joining Axis both have largely become defunct. I'm a keen globetrotter and, too, document my travels here, on an old blog originally designed to publish a novel that was abandoned due to time constraints.