You know, Moonsorrow didn’t have to twist the Wayback knob. Bits of Jumalten Aika, the Finnish quintet’s seventh album, can be surprisingly necro in that second-wave kind of way. The lushly composed pagan/folk on which Moonsorrow made their name remains, and the band still knows how to stack the layers on an anthemic belter better than most, but perhaps “Age Of Gods” isn’t just the English translation of this album’s title. The black metal edge found on the Sorvali brothers’ early demos, those recorded in the mid-’90s shadow of then-active legends, has been recaptured. Recent albums teased it. Jumalten Aika leans on it.
This look back goes against the grain, as a lot of popular European folk/pagan/viking bands seem to be shining and smoothing their sound for a growing fanbase. And that fanbase is now a hell of a lot bigger than anyone could have foreseen. If you stocked your Etsy store with Mjölnir pendants, you’re probably doing pretty OK these days. That’s to say this stuff isn’t really super underground anymore, as it taps into a widely held desire to shake off the shackles of modernity and return to the imagined simplicity of the good old days, when lives were short, brutish, and ruled by the sword. A stadium-filling act is escapism porn for people who always roll tank class characters, Kindle their favorite creation myths, and pay for camping permits.
So the rarer path is sustained grandiosity. Moonsorrow are known to put more elbow grease and brains into their music, often crossing the 15-minute mark with multifaceted, kitchen-sink songs that have a Kalevala-amount of parts. “Bombastic” is the descriptor of the day, though their melodies have a deft subtlety that haunts memories. Oh, then there’s the underlying heart-tugging melancholy, the true-to-their-roots native instrumentation and language, and the crunch-of-snow, campfire-smell immersive sound design. That’s the stuff turning fans into the fanatics who refi their mortgage to buy 14-LP box sets. That said, no one is going to talk Moonsorrow’s way into your heart. It’s something you either feel or you don’t. It’s a hard thing to put into blurb-length words.
“Non Serviam” is not hard to navigate. It’s a five-minute Rotting Christ cover found on Jumalten Aika’s bonus disc. (The other extra is a cover of Grave’s “Soulless“.) If DMT is the businessperson’s trip, “Non Serviam” is Moonsorrow for people with pressing commitments. The fact that it’s not even really Moonsorrow doesn’t matter because anything this band touches takes on its timbre. Check out the way they effortlessly push the melody to the foreground as easily as Steph Curry shoots a three. It’s like muscle memory. And the band goes hard, even if this is likely to be mixtape fodder for the obsessives. That’s pretty much that.
How about this, though: If you want to armchair analyze “Non Serviam,” there is something of an angle. Maybe it shines a light on Moonsorrow’s mindset for Jamalten Aika. So, a Greek black metal classic just had to be added to the studio schedule, huh? Was it nostalgia or a dry run? Age Of Gods, indeed.
Moonsorrow’s Jumalten aika is out 4/1 via Century Media.