Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sorrow along the Dark Stream

Drifting is a lonely thought. Just sitting in a boat, letting the water move you to wherever it wills. Loneliness, longing, sorrow--these are all emotions that could come to mind when thinking of this idea...of drifting. Yes, there are some positives, especially through the Daoist ideology, in which one is supposed to literally go with the flow and let the Dao, the natural life force, guide them. But this isn't China, this is the cold land of the midnight sun. This is the frozen north. The promised land of metal. The land of reindeer, the land of lakes and forests, the land of vodka, saunas, some juniper beer, fish, and more vodka. This is Finland.

My friend was impressed with my handling of "Why Eric the Red is my favorite Tyr album," and my review of Ensiferum's Unsung Heroes and requested I write about "The Longest Journey," the epic closing track to From Afar, possibly my favorite Ensiferum album.

To begin with, "The Longest Journey" should always be listened to with "Tumman Virran Taa," the song's intro, preceding it. This fifty-three second track is in Finnish, sung with a low, sad, solemn chorus, goes perfectly with the song itself. "The Longest Journey," just as "Tumman Virran Taa" before it, is about the Finnish underworld, Tuonela (or Manala) and the journey to reach it.

The imagery and writing of this song is amazing. It begins with a quote from the Kalevala itself: "Could my ruin have come, My day of trouble have arrived, In these Tuonela cabins, These abodes of the dead land?" Already, the sorrowful emphasis of Finnish folklore, reflected in many of Ensiferum's lyrics, can be seen, coming from the source of Finnish folklore, the Kalevala. Already ruin and day of trouble are bringing an idea of sadness and defeat.

Tuonela, "far beyond the dark stream," is a land where "pagan souls will roam...wild and free." Here these souls, "wait for a sign," a sign for the time when they will ride once more. Only the bravest can cross the dark stream into Tuonela, while the souls of lesser men will drown in the stream. The souls of men are tested here, before they can enter, as they drift along the dark stream.

Compare this to the Norse idea of the after life. The bravest of men go to Valhalla, to live with the gods, while those not so brave go to Hel, to whither away for eternity. Valhalla, unlike Tuonela, (I'll not get into the fact that one is a hall, one is a land) is a place where  men fight all day and drink and feast all night, waiting for Ragnarok. The Finns in Tuonela seem to be waiting for some kind of Ragnarok, a time when they will ride again. While the Norse party for eternity, the Finns, ever sorrowful, roam the cold lands for eternity. Where would you rather go, fighting/drinking/eating land or the frozen wastes of wandering souls? You can definitely tell how Finnish mythology is related to Norse mythology, but with a distinctly Finnish feel to it.

Finnish folklore, according to Sami Hinkka, is full of longing and sorrow, and this can be seen in this song, among others of Ensiferum's. "He's been drifting for so long," sing Sami and Markus, "searching for the land where heroes roam." This line, sung by the glorious clean duo of Markus and Sami, echoes. It puts the listener in the mind of a lonely man, searching for death--for Tuonela.

"The Longest Journey" is a slow song, one of Ensiferum's slowest. It really makes the listener feel like they are drifting along a stream, freezing and lonely, ever searching for the afterlife. There is also hope, possibly referencing another song off of From Afar, "Twilight Tavern," which describes a Finnish version of Valhalla that must exist in Tuonela. Either way, this is a very epic song. It combines slow a slow opener and closer, strong verses from Petri, epic and emotional choruses from Sami and Markus, and, as ever, talented and fitting instrumentals that go perfectly with the themes of this song. Even as I write this, I must pause and sing at the top of my lungs along with these masters, "The longest journey of them all, has to be made all alone! The flame in the skyline reaching the stars, guiding the seeker through the night!" One can not help but become emotionally attached to this song.

In an effort to stifle a ramble--something I have been unsuccessful at before--I must end my thoughts here. Please listen to this song, with "Tumman Virran Taa" before it. Close your eyes and feels the music, listen to the words, and experience the emotions in this masterpiece.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ensiferum, Unsung Heroes Review

I know this is coming a bit late, since Unsung Heroes came out quite some time ago and might  not even be considered a 'new' album. Anyways, I have nonetheless decided to write down my thoughts on this, the fifth full length album from the heroic, Finnish folk metal masters, Ensiferum.

I was as giddy as a school boy waiting for this album, listening to every live version of as many of the songs as I could (it was really just "Burning Leaves). When the video for "In My Sword I Trust" was released I watched that too much as well. I was a bit excited for this release.

When the album came out, I had to wait a couple days still because my order was coming from Finland, so I was forced to stream it off of YouTube while I waited. My first reactions were not as pleasant as I might had hoped. The songs at first did not seem to connect as well as those did on From Afar. Slow, emotional songs were preceded by fast and powerful, boisterous songs, metal in every sense. The bombastic and epic "Pohjola", with its massive Finnish verses and orchestration was followed by an emotional song of glorious defeat and death on the battlefield. And then there is "Passion Proof Power"...I'll get to that later on. My first impression was not quite the best, but that is not to say that I disliked it. "Burning Leaves" quickly rose up the ranks of my favorite songs of all time and "Pohjola" was my victory song after turning in a large research paper on the Winter War. I nonetheless needed to give the album as a whole some time.

I listened to this album many times, going from song to song in order and at random, listening to them on their own and in the sense of the album as a whole. I once saw an interview with Sammi in which he explained that Ensiferum was not happy with Victory Songs and wanted their next album to be their best to reflect this, and that they also wanted to tone it down a bit from From Afar. I don't know what they're talking about about Victory Songs...I absolutely love that album. Yes, From Afar is a bit spaghetti and good, bad, and ugly, but it may be my favorite album of all time--or at least pretty close. Nonetheless, Unsung Heroes does not disappoint, joining the ranks of great folk metal albums, among their previous releases and those of other great folk metal bands.

Unsung heroes has something for everyone. Ensiferum proves their depth and talent in creating an album that perfectly blends various types of songs. A slow song sung by a female vocalist stands proud with the boisterous "Pohjola." A song perfectly brought from the folk tradition into the world of metal follows two epic, truy metal songs about heroes and swords and stuff. Even "Passion Proof Power" impresses when you give it time, harkening to some of metals great long songs.

I guess now is a good time for my long-winded opinion of this song...feel free to skip this, it might get a little messy. "Passion Proof Power" pains me. It is such a beautiful and masterful song, with meaning deep within its lyrics and powerful, finely tuned guitars. Ensiferum has crafted this epic using everything in their arsenal. But it is so difficult to listen to. It is seventeen minutes and one second long. That is five minutes longer than their previous long album ender, the great and legendary "The Longest Journey." I love "Passion Proof Power," but it took hours of listening to it and the entire album for me to do so. When I first listened to it, I don't think I got five minutes in before I skipped back to the beginning of the album again. Please don't get me wrong,
I do love
this song, but it is because of my love for this song that I am angry about it. I wish it was three minutes shorter, I wish the intro was shorter and there wasn't a break in the middle (what's up Die Apokalyptischen Reiter). I wish that the singing began sooner and that the great guitar work didn't wait so long. I fear that Ensiferum may have alienated some of their fans with this song, as  t briefly did for me. To listen to this song, you do need to devote seventeen minutes to it, which  can be difficult (I can complete my commute to school in half the time this song takes). I am only  saying this because I want this song to be one of Ensiferum's best, because it is. It is an opera, a  masterpiece, but even masterpieces have their faults sometimes. I will always enjoy this song, and   hope you give it a chance if you haven't already. Okay, deep breath, back to the album.  

I love Unsung Heroes. It begins with a medieval sounding intro, one of Ensiferum's best, which I saying a lot because each of their full length albums begins with a great intro. Once the beautiful intro is complete, the album charges into battle with its sword held high. "In My Sword I Trust" should be a sign to all that Ensiferum has not lost its roots, its heroic beginnings with the likes of "Battle Song" and "Into Battle." Next the title track, a powerful and emotional call to those forgotten in history and time. "Unsung Heroes," does not disappoint, bringing forth talented guitar work, shadowed by slight orchestration, and the powerful metal vocals of Petri. Don't be fooled, this is still a meaningful song as it slips into the slower, choral chorus. I love this song... "Burning
Leaves" speaks for itself, as the folk song made metal, the ancient tradition perfectly brought forth into the modern world. Opening with Marcus' dulcimer, the main, folk melody opens the song peacefully, then with a slap as the same melody is taken up by Petri and his powerful guitar. This is song about defeat in defending a tradition, a sacred tree in this case. The emotion and meaning come forth in the chorus, cleanly sung by Marcus and Sammi, is deep and moving, while the harshly song lead vocals come from Petri with epic, heroic inspiration. A truly great song.

From there, Ensiferum moves into ground they have broken on a few occasions, and well I think. “Celestial Bond,” is sung beautifully by Laura Dziaduledwicz. I have to point out, though, that although I do not agree with this, there are some who are alienated by this song, citing it as an example against the virtues of Unsung Heroes. Nonetheless it is a beautiful song, and those worried about the ‘metal’ integrity of the band have their fears dispelled as soon as this song ends and the next song begins. “Retribution Shall be Mine” is another great among Eniferum’s arsenal of faster, heavier songs. The band quickly moves back into meaning over ‘metal’ with the following track, “Star Queen.” I am quite partial to this song, myself, with its emotional chorus and moving verses. This is one of my favorite songs from this album, a great example of a lighter folk metal song. “Pohjola” is an epic song, in every sense. About a distant realm from Finnish mythology, this bombastic and epic song, sung entirely in Finnish, is just...great. Listen to the epic chorus’ and the grand orchestration and see for yourself. More meaning comes from the next song, “Last Breath,” a moving song about a warrior’s last words, as he lies bleeding on the battlefield. “Don’t cry for me, my son,” Sammi sings, for he isn’t the only warrior on the ground that day. This song will bring a tear to the manliest tears to the eye of any listener. Next is “Passion Proof Power,” see above for my opinion on this song...

I apologize for rambling a bit, but I had a lot to say about this album, and I did my best to do so. Please give this album a chance if you have no already. If some of the songs rub you the wrong way at first, simply skip to the next one and return later to give it another chance. Open your ears and your mind to Ensiferum and there is a beautiful, epic, heroic world waiting for you, in Unsung Heroes just as much as in any of their previous great works.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why Eric the Red is my favorite Tyr album.

I never have an easy time answering the question: "what's your favorite..." I can never decide, especially when it comes to my favorite something in metal. My favorite band of all time is easy--that's Blind Guardian for a few reasons, mostly on account of the entire year I spent listening to them in high school...but beyond that, I don't know. Favorite folk metal band? Pfft, best I can do is top three. Favorite song? How about top ten--but I digress. The issue at hand is my recent decision that Eric the Red is my favorite Tyr album.

This epiphany occurred recently when "Sand in the Wind," off of How Far to Asgaard, came on in my car. It had been a long time since I'd listened to this masterpiece--and a master piece it is, in my opinion--and I rocked out in a way that I haven't in a while. Since that fateful day, I have listened to "Sand in the Wind" more than a few times. The more I listened to this song, and others from How Far to Asgaard, the more I came to realize the virtues of Tyr's first album. There is a certain purity to it, a raw brilliance, an innocence almost. The vocals are light and clear, sung beautifully by Pol, while the guitar solos are strong and pure, masterfully performed by Heri. "Sand in the Wind," as I mentioned before, is particularly masterful to me. The symmetry in the notes that begin and end the song, the brilliant, ambling solo in the middle is almost mesmerizing and Pol's singing is emotional and thought provoking. It really does paint the picture of wind, of time, of the pointlessness of it all, of fate; everything is like sand in the wind. "How Far to Asgaard" itself is epic and grand, while "Ormurin Langi" is slow and moving, the perfect balance of metal excellence and sophisticated folk music. As far as first albums go, How Far to Asgaard is no doubt exemplary.

Some of the purity, in the sense that I mean, has gone from Tyr since How Far to Asgaard. That is not to say that every release from the Faroese folk metal artists is less a perfect mix of pure folk tradition and groundbreaking metal, but that the band has refined its sound and become heavier and more epic. The power of Tyr's more recent work, the pure power of Heri's voice and the massive guitars riffs that strike through the songs, have evolved from the purity and raw beauty of How Far to Asgaard.
Don't get me wrong, I think that each of Tyr's releases is beautiful and masterful in its own way. Ragnarok, for instance, is one of, if not the best concept albums ever made; not to take away from By the Light of the Northern Star, the heroic telling of a dark and desperate time in Faroese history. Land is epic in every sense of the word: long songs, massive songs, booming vocals, and powerful guitar work made it so. The Lay of Thrym is a call for freedom and is as powerful, emotional, and heroic as such a call always should be. It is certainly hard to find things to complain about from Tyr. Yes, their most recent album could be seen as a little too political, but not so much as to take away from the album. And yes, some might not think of Tyr as "brutal" or "metal" enough, in the sense of Slayer or Cannibal Corpse. Tyr requires a more refined metal pallet to enjoy, and looking beyond their few faults reveals masterpieces almost beyond count. Emotion and meaning pump through Tyr's lyrics, telling stories centuries old, bringing back to life a heroic past still alive in few people. The intricate, powerful guitar work of Heri and Terji is overlooked by most, I think, for its excellence in any genre.

What about Eric the Red? What was Tyr's second release like, after line-up changes and six years without a release? Why is it TJ's favorite Tyr album? A simple answer is that the first track is that track that really sucked me into Tyr. But the real answer, the answer that inspired all of this, is that it is as follows.

After How Far to Asgaard, Pol left the band and Heri, already lead guitarist, took up the responsibility of lead vocalist. The purity of How Far to Asgaard, the raw and pure sound that was refined in further albums, is still there in Eric the Red. The biggest difference, the deciding factor for me, is Heri. I will always love Pol and his beautiful voice, but nothing beats the power and majesty of Heri's. Eric the Red is a mixture of How Far to Asgaard and the albums that followed. It brings together the epic power and exemplary folk metal that Tyr has become known for and the purity and innocence of their first album.

Already with "The Edge," more power can instantly be heard in the deeper, slightly darker almost opening riff. It then moves into a powerful melody soon to be embraced by the lyrics. Then comes Heri's voice, his powerful and epic voice, beginning a heartfelt story from the past of his people. This is one of the most important things to understand about Tyr. What they sing about is their people, the people of the Faroe Islands, the descendants of Vikings who were converted away from their traditions by the sword in 999 CE. A tradition whose remnants are threatened even today by modernization and a select few who view their customs as evil. "The Edge," getting back on topic, is a beautiful, meaningful song. It is the story of a man sentenced to death for his staunch resistance to Christianity. He tells his people not to cry for him. Not to cry at his funeral. What he did was selfish, he did it for himself; for the sake of his family he should have "lied and played their game." Now I hope you can see why this meaningful and emotional, epic song drew me in to become a huge fan of these masters of folk metal.

"The Edge" is followed by one of the best examples of a folk song, straight from a Faroese line dance, made into an epic metal song: "Regin Smidur." It is is in Faroese, so I cannot particularly say what it is about, just that is about a legendary blacksmith and it is one my favorite songs of all time. The way it opens with a growing, distant hum, with Heri's voice beginning the first verse, followed closely by a key aspect of Tyr's music: the chorus. Faroese folk tradition is told by voices, by words not notes, by singers not instrumentalists. It is the power of this tradition that lends power to Heri's voice, indeed to the voices of the band as a whole. This song is one among many that exemplifies this tradition and its life within Tyr (see the song "Ormurin Langi," off of How Far to Asgaard for a great example of this tradition). This song moves swiftly between slow, repetitive chorus' and the quick, melodic verses brought forth by Heri, punctuated as ever with powerful guitar work.

"Dreams"....what could possibly be said about "Dreams" that “Dreams” doesn't say about itself? Anyone with any sympathy for myth, legend, folk tales, heroic stories, or even bedtime stories will love and appreciate this song. Tales of faraway lands, tales of long ago are evoked in this song about the power of myth, about the life that can be brought forth with words alone. This is a beautiful, slow, and meaningful song, that I think speaks for itself.

I will not bore you with long-winded descriptions of every song on this, my favorite Tyr album. There are fun songs about drinking and the dangers that it can bring, about dancing in the woods with mystical creatures, and meaningful legends of giants. Current events are blended with tales from the past, as Eric the Red questions new religions and the Rainbow Warrior questions old ones.

I want to thank you for reading my pedantic and long-winded discussion on one of my favorite bands and my recently determined favorite album of theirs. I have a passion for culture and history, and of course for metal. Tyr blends all of this and more together perfectly. If you have not listened to much Tyr, do not be scared away by my over analysis of their work. Just sit back and listen. Let the guitars rock you and the words move you, and hopefully you might come to love this band as I do.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mythology Show

Hello everybody,

I am out of town this week and have pre-recorded a mythology themed night for you guys, including my interview with Chris, the lead singer and sexy keytarist of Alestorm. I hope you enjoy the show, including the third hour, appearing for the second time. Here is the playlist:

"The Siren" - Nightwish
"Imaginations from the Other Side" - Blind Guardian
"Awaken" - Dethklok
"Our Destiny" - Epica
"Under Huntress Moon" - Cradle of Filth
"Fate of Norns" - Amon Amarth
"Old Man" - Ensiferum
"Trollhammaren" - Finntroll
"Chimera" - Mayhem
"Jotun" - In Flames
"Ramund hin Unge" - Tyr
Interview with Chris from Alestorm
"Fullmoon" - Sonata Arctica
"Skyforger" - Amorphis
"Olden Gods" - Battlelore
"Romulus" - Ex Deo
"Progenies of the Great Apocalypse" - Dimmu Borgir
"Escape" - Amorphis
"Regin Smidur" - Tyr
"Valkyries" - Blind Guardian
"Third Immortal" - Battlelore
"Follow the Reaper" - Children of Bodom
"Quoth the Raven" - Eluveitie
"Smoking Ruins" - Ensiferum
"The Boy Who Wanted to be a Real Puppet" - Sonata Arctica
"Thor" - Therion
"Battle Metal" - Turisas
"The Ancient Forest of Elves" - Luca Turilli
"Tuonelan Tuvilla" - Korpiklaani
"Ragnarok" - Tyr
"Twilight of the Thunder God" - Slaughter of the Bluegrass

 Let me know if you have any requests for the next show, or if you have any ideas for the third hour: metaloxide891@gmail.com Happy headbanging everybody!