|Review: Moonsorrow - Kivenkantaja|
Label: SpineFarm Records
Year released: 2003
Genre: Viking Metal
Review online: September 25, 2010
Reviewed by: Iconoclast
Kivenkantaja, translated as 'Stonebearer' is a must have for any self-respecting fan of epic metal. This album is an incredible work of art in every respect, and definitely should receive a top rating. It is atmospheric, moving, and aggressive while not being 'in your face' in a way that would ruin the atmosphere heavily present throughout much of the album. Every song flows more or less perfectly throughout Kivenkantaja, telling an epic story that is certain to be conjured up in the listener's mind. Honestly, I do not even understand why this band is put in league with other acts such as Eluvetie and Finntroll. Those bands are good, but these guys are in a league of their own. In addition to their mastery of the music, Moonsorrow's creations sound much richer and more authentic than those of their fellow pagan metal groups. They use many unique instruments (such as the Jew's harp and the fiddle) in their music, and do so often with much greater prominence than others.
Every so often, there comes along a group that truly achieves mastery of a genre of music as if they are the 'Beethoven' of that domain. Moonsorrow is one of such groups. Many people also tend to think of modern artists as just 'bands', but in some cases the terms 'masters', 'composers' or even 'geniuses' would be much more appropriate; just as much as with any great classical composer. Mastery is not always entirely about raw talent and musical ability; atmosphere and feeling can be very important as well depending on the genre. Kivenkantaja excels in all of these respects. Whereas Pelican's Australasia demonstrates a complete and utter mastery of the sludge metal genre and Kadenzza's The Second Renaissance does the same with symphonic black metal (my opinions of course), this album is analogous in its own arena of 'folk metal' and perhaps does even better simply due to the powerful feelings it evokes. This is truly an album that will make you want to raise your fist up high, even if you are tired at four in the morning!
When Moonsorrow first formed in the mid 1990s, they put out a few demos/EP's that suffered from really bad production. The musicianship (probably) was excellent, but it did not matter because all one could hear was fuzz! Thankfully, this is not the case here. However, Moonsorrow has also released several albums with better production since those days, though this release exhibits their talent even better. The production is wonderful while not being cheesy and intrusive which is the case so much of the time these days with the number of symphonic metal bands crowding the scene. The first track on Kivenkantaja, entitled Raunioilla starts with an ambient introduction, complete with some bells and chanted type vocals. Then the riffs kick in with full force. This is a slower song with soaring vocals and choruses, which has many different verses and ends with the same neat ambient atmosphere at the end.
The next song, Unohduksen Lapsi starts out much more forcefully, with heavy guitars and screamed vocals, but in time becomes more atmospheric. It ends with an ambient section, which transitions into Jumalten Kaupunki, which along with Raunioilla is a top track on the album. This song starts out with a march type ambient section, and features epic verses and soaring melodies synchronized perfectly over more than ten minutes. This never becomes boring either, since the melodies and verses change many times, though this is often not obvious to the listener and flows very well. Making tracks that are not only epic but full of energy and aggression (as opposed to post-rock songs, which typically build slowly and rely more on atmosphere and mood) is a real challenge and these guys pull it off with mastery. The next few tracks follow this same pattern, ending with the ambient piece Matkan Lopussa which is a 'pagan ambient' folk song complete with glazed over ambient tones.
Anyway, the only way I could see someone not liking this is if they are not used to this type of music, i.e. long song lengths, perhaps they do not like shrieked vocals, etc. And I could spend hours typing up lengthy descriptions for this album, but it would be better if the reader just listened to the music for them self. The vocals in this album actually are not too harsh believe it or not (probably in an effort not to overpower the music), but Moonsorrow manages to keep them just as powerful nonetheless. Here is the interesting thing: despite Moonsorrow's absolute mastery of this genre exhibited on this album, they have continued to create albums and works that are just as good as Kivenkantaja. Therefore, I would recommend that one not only get this album, but get all of them.
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