Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Horna - Sanojesi Äärelle (2008)

Released through Debemur Morti Produductions in September 2008, Sanojesi Äärelle witnessed Horna returning to their normal style, after the previous year's Bathory tribute had some listeners wondering if the band had made a permanent shift in their sound. Their seventh full-length album is quite an ambitious effort, containing nearly an hour and a half of music. One reason for the sheer length of this record was for Shatraug to clear up a lot of the material that had been written and waiting. This album is also notable for the fact that it features a full line-up, rather than the main core of Shatraug and Corvus, with whatever session musicians they could find.

The first disc is more straightforward, as "Muinaisten Alttarilta" displays. It bursts forth with hellish fury and a morbid feeling that permeates the melodies. The opening tremolo riffs carve through you, making way for the pestilence that soon spreads, courtesy of the slower riffs and the demented vocals spewing from Corvus. Aside from the two main themes, there is another mid-paced riff that has a more upbeat, almost folk-like, vibe and works well to contrast the darker atmosphere conveyed by the rest.

"Verilehto" features riffs that are a bit more primitive, though with added darkness thanks to the presence of open chords that come at the end of each repetition. These are used throughout the song with increasing frequency as it progresses, helping to create a sombre tone that imbues the listener with a sense of unease.

The next song hearkens back to the band's earlier years, in a way. "Mustan Kirkkauden Sarastus" is fast-paced and features a good deal of tremolo riffs, mixed in with mid-paced sections that are not the most memorable. This is a solid track, but not one of the highlights.

"Katseet" possesses a more melancholic vibe, from the opening moments, as a mid-paced riff creeps from an old grave, bringing the stench of death and rot. The songwriting is rather simplistic and minimalist, while maintaining a decent amount of variation and song progression. The slower riffs are contrasted by fast tremolo-picked melodies that offers a Finnish take on a style made famous in Norway, nearly two decades earlier. Horna has done well at incorporating these elements into their music and creating their own identity, which is quite a feat considering the sheer number of bands out there. This song has kind of an epic feeling, thanks to the additional riffs that appear, later on.

"Askeesi" starts with another fast tremolo riff, though the pace slows down and the overall feeling becomes increasingly dark and morbid. While the slower sections seem to be where the band is most comfortable, Shatraug displays a lot of talent for writing the faster riffs. The raw sound of the recording is emphasized by the guitar tone and the overly strained vocal style that Corvus employs. If he had the ability to control his voice and to only scream with such intensity when the song called for it, he would better serve the band.

The title track explodes from the silence, in a manner similar to some of the other songs on here. It is fairly straightforward and maintains a fast pace, more or less. Of course, it also includes some of Horna's standard mid-paced riffs. By this point, it would be nice to have one track that just keeps up a furious tempo all the way through. Still, that might detract from the morose quality of the music, to some extent.

"Orjaroihu" starts out in a way that, somehow, reminds of the hideous atrocity known as Sudentaival. This song includes a lot of thrashy riffs, mixed in with sorrowful tremolo melodies. This combination is not the best, and the song would have been better with the thrash parts removed. It is natural, with a band working on such a massive album, that some track would not come out as they would have if more time had been allowed for each one.

The next song is "Risti Ja Ruoska", finally breaking from the formula and maintaining a consistent pace, bereft of the slower parts. The riffs are filled with tension and this feeling builds as it goes along, driving you forward to some unknown doom. Other melodies are infused, adding to the epic nature of the song, and dragging it deeper into the dark unknown. From the grating vocals to the harsh guitar riffs, the track appears to build in intensity, before an abrupt ending leaves you, once again, surrounded by nothingness.

"Wikinger" is a cover song, originally by the German band Pest. Oddly enough, Horna picked a song that sounds a lot like their own material. The songwriting is very similar in feeling and style, and even the vocal performance was in the same vein, being more over-the-top and intense. Perhaps, Shatraug thought is sounded enough like his own work and the fact that Saturnus was an original member of Pest was all that was needed to choose this.

This is followed by "Merkuriana", which is the longest track on disc one, clocking in at just over six minutes. Again, tremolo melodies are mixed with mid-paced riffs with some open-arpeggio chords arriving later in the song. This is one of the more memorable songs on the album, and also more miserable. This would have been a good way to end the record, and it seems that was the initial plan.

Disc two begins with "Liekki Ja Voima". One has to wonder whether or not these songs were intended for a separate release, as they are obviously from a different recording session. The production is not the same, and the length and style shifts as well. Perhaps, the second disc was meant for an E.P. or a split release. The first song is eleven minutes long, starting with a mournful tremolo riff that is dripping with utter misery. As this melody flows from the darkness, so to does the blood flow from the wounds that such hopelessness inflicts upon the listener. Somewhat similar to the title track from Äänia Yössä, the riffs are given ample time to draw you into the abyss of suffering and despair, raping your spirit and leaving you vulnerable to the assault to come. The production boasts a rather spectral essence, when compared to the previous songs, and the atmosphere is somewhat distant. Listening to this, one gets a sense of the peace gained by hanging from a noose, lifeless and cold with no remaining connection to the mortal world. The guitar melodies are brilliant and the dismal and nostalgic aura is unforgettable. The only weak point of this would have to be the vocal performance.

"Ruumisalttari" starts out with a riff that is sorrowful and kind of catchy at the same time. There is an introspective and nightmarish quality to this song, which is enshrouded in darkness unheard of on the first disc. While mostly mid-paced, the song includes faster sections that really help to spirit you away to a realm of everlasting shadows and unending pain. Just when it seems that you are nearing the end of your suffering, it becomes clear that you have but reached a deeper level of misery and that the anguish that you have heretofore known was only the beginning.

One of the most haunting and freezing cold riffs of the entire album is featured at the beginning of "Musta Rukous", which is another track that nearly reaches the eleven-minute mark. The faster riffs do well to build a sense of tension, carrying you up into the night sky, while the slower ones represent an unavoidable descent that delivers you to the depths of the shadowed abyss. The mournful riffs and tormented screams work well in conveying a gloomy and lachrymose atmosphere. All that has been lost shall remain so, never to be regained. The end has come, though the process is slow and agonizing, there is no turning back and you can only wait and suffer until the final moments. As the song nears its conclusion, the woeful melody slows down and howls out into the night, summoning the final darkness.

"Baphometin Siunaus" is the final track and a strong way to close out this collection. This one is a bit more catchy than the last one, yet still possesses the same dark essence. It is rather mid-paced, though the middle is considerably slower and delivers the final crushing blows to your spirit. By this point, you have been so utterly annihilated that your arms shall be outstretched, welcoming the end.

Sanojesi Äärelle is a great album, though it may be too much for one to digest in one sitting. It is recommended that the listener take a decent amount of time to really focus on all that is going on here, to fully appreciate it. Shatraug did well to clear up his musical ideas, and though the material here could have resulted in two separate albums, the two-disc concept was not a bad idea. This collection of songs encompasses the band's career and would be a good place for newcomers to start, as well as a worthy addition to the collection of any Black Metal fan.