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.

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