Idol Listening: Moonsorrow Founder Henri Sorvali’s Playlist of his Greatest Influences
To celebrate the announcement of Moonsorrow’s massive FOURTEEN LP box set — billed as the biggest metal box set ever produced — we asked Henri Sorvali, one of the group’s founders, to put together a playlist of his greatest influences. What we received from Henri was more like a full-length novel about the history of Moonsorrow — bless his heart! — which makes sense given the fact that the box set celebrates their entire career. You can follow along with the following YouTube playlist — which comes off as a black metal primer of sorts, plus a few extras — and read what Henri has to say about each track below.
The Moonsorrow Heritage: 1995-2008 – The Collected Works Box Set will come out in August via Blood Music. It will be available in four different editions, each with different specs, vinyl colors, artwork, etc. Read all about the different versions and pre-order yours here; one edition is already completed sold out, and the rest aren’t long for this world.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX? THE INFLUENCES OF MOONSORROW THROUGHOUT THE YEARS
a.k.a “how we managed to steal everything and never get caught”
Written by Henri Sorvali 2014
“Andi Fara/ Prologr”
This story begins in the boring suburbs of Helsinki, Finland, in the summer of 1995 in my parents garage.
When my cousin Ville and I weren’t tape-trading like hell and hanging at record stores, we spent our time doing project-esque rehearsal demos with my four-track in the garage. And, among other things, there was something called Monhzur.
1995- 1998 : The early years
Monhzur – our feeble, partly Finnish-sung attempt to rip off Burzum – turned into half a demo, which we didn’t find good enough to finish (especially because of the cheap drum machine we used) but left us quite a load of ideas and riffs for the future. After the halted recordings, we still wanted to make black metal, so it evolved into something called “Sorrowwoods.” I remember being influenced by Carpathian Forest, Bethlehem, Emperor and Celtic Frost and blended it all together badly, resulting in “Thorns of Ice,” which was recorded in different takes during the year 1996. Shortly after making the demos, we thought Sorrowwoods was a rather bad name for a band and decided to use “Moonsorrow” instead (being a song from Monhzur, actually).
In early 1997, heavily inspired by Enslaved’s debut and the last Behemoth demo, we started creating a proper demo instead of using various recordings, resulting in Metsä. Originally called Thrymgjöll but changed at the last minute, we were proud of the results and thought this was finally worthy enough to release. It’s also safe to confess now that since we didn’t have any “medieval battle” samples available for our intro, nor the possibility to record them straight from “Conan The Barbarian” like they did, we took them straight from Demoniac’s Prepare for War album. Recycling at its best!
When I finally got a real sequencer and recording facilities in 1998, we thought the sky was the limit. Tämä Ikuinen Talvi was something that had to be created in order for us to realize that this wasn’t the correct musical direction for us… but the visual, almost theatrical, audio was on the right track. Both Enslaved’s Eld (obviously) and Emperor’s Anthems were huge influences on us, especially the synthwork of the latter. And there are traces of Immortal, old Dimmu Borgir and tons of Obtained Enslavement (especially in the last song) scattered everywhere. The demo earned us our first record deal, but before it was even released, we had already begun dwelling into slower, heavier and – most of all – folkier sounds, which would become our trademark for the ensuing 15 years.
1999- 2003: Slowing down a bit
Less than two months after the release of the final demo, we were already rehearsing our first full-length album with Marko Tarvonen on drums. Our strongest influence at this time was Bathory’s Blood on Ice, which had completely blown our minds. Combined with a dose of Hades’s Dawn of the Dying Sun, Borknagar’s debut, Thyrfing’s Valdr Galga and Einherjer’s Odin Owns Ye All, we felt we had found our spiritual and musical home. One can still find traces of Enslaved and Ulver scattered here and there, but “Finland’s answer to Bathory” was the most used description for our debut album.
We continued our path onwards and Marko participated in composing for the first time on our second album, Voimasta Ja Kunniasta. The creation of this material began only a couple of months after the recording of our debut album, and while we were still influenced by the aforementioned albums (Bathory an even stronger influence than ever before), we began bringing even more folk elements to the package. I was listening to a lot of Scandinavian folk music (Garmarna, Annbjørg Lien, Hedningarna and Nordman [!!!] being my favourites) and picked a ton of these as influences, while Marko brought in ideas from ’70s progressive rock. We also listened to a lot of punk and vikingarock while drinking together and picked ideas from there too – especially on the song “Kylän Päässä.”
The natural evolution of our sound and our tendency for dramatic pompousness led to the creation of the massive opus Kivenkantaja, which was the first album on which we had the courage to blend in elements we previously thought didn’t fit our music. Marko and I have a longstanding affinity for prog rock, and we listened to a lot of prog vinyl (Rick Wakeman’s King Arthur being the most influential due to the historical themes) and experimented with all sorts of new instrumentation. We combined every single musical influence we’d ever had, resulting in an interesting blend of metal, folk and progressive music. “Jumalten Kaupunki“ was very much inspired by Bal- Sagoth, and “Kivenkantaja“ bows heavily to Windir, who we all loved. The sampled vocals in the beginning of “Tuulen Tytär“ were taken from a Mari Boine– album, and even though I don’t like Pink Floyd, I borrowed influence from them for the ending of “Raunioilla“ on guitar. (And as you probably know, Pink Floyd wasn’t the only one “inspiring” that part of the song, hah!)
But when everything was done, topped, creamed and overproduced… how were we supposed to make it even better? With Kivenkantaja we felt we had painted ourselves into a corner and that there was no way to make another, even more epic and over-the-top Kivenkantaja #2.
So we decided to BLOW THE FUCK OUT OF THAT CORNER.
2004- 2008: Speeding up again
When Ville and I began discussing what we wanted to do on the next album, we agreed to wave goodbye to the over-produced epicness and concentrate more so on moss, woods and “traditional” production. The first completed song was “Jotunheim,” and it originally had completely different Kivenkantaja-style music in the middle. After writing “Karhunkynsi” and turning it into the Enslaved-esque anthem it became, I quickly went back to “Jotunheim“ and realized it needed more of that “traditional approach.” This was the turning point for the whole sound of Verisäkeet. Soon we were inhaling our record shelves like crazy, becoming heavily inspired by pre-2000s Satyricon, Enslaved, Burzum… and many other less pompous Norwegian bands who were big influences on us in the beginning. When the record was finished, we were sure no one would like the album but us. To this day, still I consider Verisäkeet as having the best atmosphere of any of our records.
Picking up where Verisäkeet left off, we began working on Hävitetty in the spring of 2006. As a band of eternal opposites, it was a rather natural move to make a much slower album after a fast one. While composing and recording the album, I was having the worst period of my personal life, which reflected heavily on the music and production. I was listening to tons of Cold Meat Industry bands (In Slaughter Natives and Puissance, in particular), but Drudkh, Esoteric and the debut albums from Katatonia and In The Woods were also extremely inspiring. When it came to the biggest influences, though, I can safely say that without Forgotten Legends, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Disintegration (The Cure) we would have sounded way different. My purpose was to create a musical web, where tones and timbres entangle, forming a tightening and suffocating grip that resembles drowning – depicting how I felt at the time. I still cannot listen to Hävitetty due to the memories it brings back, and I consider the album the most personal I have ever made.
In 1992, there was “Conquest of Paradise.” Twelve years later, there was “Arns Rike.” And since I couldn’t wait until 2018 to rip off Vangelis, we made Tulimyrsky in 2008 to break the tradition. The song’s composition started with Marko’s main riff (4:50 onwards) and ended up being something like Jethro Tull or Yes attempting to play Enslaved-inspired black metal. The song was our most technical thus far, its structure and arrangements more closely resembling ’70s progressive rock or classical music than a straightforward Bathory rip-off. We’d implemented quite a lot of sound effects on our music previously, but Tulimyrsky took that into another dimension, featuring acting and foley behind the music. (The same tradition continued into the Varjoina album). We were recording the album at our friend’s studio with no strict deadlines, so we had plenty of time to test ideas, drink beer and have fun instead of the extremely organized schedules we were used to adhering to under pressure. Even though we make extremely visual, dramatic and pompous music on purpose with absolutely no irony to it, we often tend to hide musical “tributes” here and there for our own amusement. As usual, all sorts of them were present this time. Vocal delays done purposely out-of-time in the true Norwegian tradition, some parts sounding so much like old Amorphis that we asked our friend Tomi Koivusaari to grunt on top of them, and – in one riff – we used the vocal arrangements to mimic Ulver’s “Soelen Gaaer Bag Aase Ned” as closely as possible. The best thing, however, was to finally have a chance to hide a Wilhelm scream in the part where the ships were attacking, haha!
As a music fan foremost and a musician second, I have never found shame in giving credit to the artists who have inspired my own art. Without the aforementioned artists, albums and songs, Moonsorrow wouldn’t have existed in the first place, and I’d like to express my sincere gratitude towards all the people behind my inspirations and influences. You are not only about to witness the history of Moonsorrow with the upcoming Heritage 1995-2008: The Collected Works box set, but also the history of many other bands as well, those who have left a great mark on a small band’s evolution throughout the years.
Henri Urponpoika Sorvali, Moonsorrow.