Moonsorrow have made their mark by being the Finnish folk metal band that sound exactly like you expect but write songs exactly how you don’t.
There’s nothing overtly ‘fun’ about them, which immediately sets them at odds with everyone from Amorphis (at the more sober end) to Turisas (in the disco). And yet their riffs are inspired by mid-era Bathory and their modal harmonies scream warpaint, kilts and an epic journey across frozen wastelands dappled with watery winter sunlight. On Jumalten Aika, it is – as ever – the source of both what makes them great and what occasionally holds them back.
If you point at the individual ideas, Moonsorrow tick every ace box in their field. The feel is earthy, the personality strong and distinct, and the ‘Aah-aaah’ moments are suitably reminiscent of fur-clad warriors walking into hallowed halls. Put another way, if you tune into Jumalten Aika at virtually any given moment, if you have much affection for folk metal’s virtues at all, you should quickly find yourself grinning bleakly and tapping your toe. For pure grandiose, rugged inspiration, there are multiple moments of real class.
The inherent glacial pace is the price you pay for it. While the tempo and impetus driving proceedings create a strong sense of movement, at times the songwriting flow slows down significantly, ideas lingering just a touch longer than they should, and allowing the attention to wander for a phrase or two.
This isn’t helped by a significant running time that means Jumalten Aika can feel more of a chore than it perhaps should; songs that mostly run in around the 15-minute mark are hard to pull off (even if you’re Wintersun), and having five of them doesn’t help. Less is not always more, but here, the sheer quantity of music does ultimately detract from the quality of the building blocks that comprise it.
In segments, there’s some tremendous, enthusiastic enjoyment to be had here, either when Moonsorrow really get their foot down, or when they rein in the aggression and let the harmonies soar. But Jumalten Aika would hang together better – and would not lose an ounce of ‘epic’ – if it was streamlined.