Already on the first glance while holding the fresh Moonlight Sorcery album in my hands, I could tell that it is something else. I might be a bit biased to review this to be fair, being a Finn and a sucker for power metal in my teenage past, but Horned Lord of the Thorned Castle is such a wonderful album that I will give it a try, nevertheless.
Power metal you ask. Yes, power metal. Why I mention this to start with, is the fact that while being part of the more melodic side of the black metal family, Moonlight Sorcery’s keyboard elements and clear guitar melodies remind me of classic power metal, tied into a more gritty black metal sound to balance it out. The overall style with guitars, with alternate picking riffs and fast solos really remind me of the style of older Stratovarius and the bands alike. Intentional similarity or not, that is how I experience it personally. And when it comes down to mastery behind the wheel, the lead guitarist Loitsumestari Taikakallo certainly makes the power metal players like Kupiainen and Turilli a proper run for their money.
Right from the get-go To Withold the Day as the opener for the album leaves no doubt of what is coming. This song and its crazy solos and exceptional bass have been stuck in my head, headphones, and vinyl player for days. I don’t think that the album has any weaker links, and all the songs carry their weight and form the wonderful full album experience. However, If I would have to pick another song that really stands out from the rest, it is Yönsilmä. The intro reminds me of classical Finnish rock music in its own mysterious way, and the rest of the song that follows is just a beautiful piece of melodic black metal.
Combined with the rough vocals that fit surprisingly well into the almost positive (at times) soundscape, Moonlight Sorcery creates a unique and interesting album that is well mixed and recorded as well if I may add. I am aware that clear and well recorded sound is not always the ideal aesthetic one looks for in a black metal album, but for this specific piece it fits the concept like a glove.
What really astonishes me in this album, is a balance the band has mastered between darker black metal sound and the melodic “power” verses and solos. I have always found melodic and symphonic black metal such a troublesome genres to evaluate, as it is really easy for the bands to fall too far from the black metal side, the end product being somewhat weak or too “pop” like.
Horned Lord of the Thorned Castle certainly has its share of the moments where over-the-top guitar solos and bass rhythms dance on the edge of “too epic”, but it all works in the end in its own complex and twisted way. In the lyrics department, mixing Finnish and English songs together is also something I have recently kinda grown into, and both languages work really well for Moonlight Sorcery’s music as this album proves.
Horned Lord of the Thorned Castle as the first full length for the band is certainly a strong way to continue their style that we have already experienced from their earlier EP releases. The Moonlight Sorcery sound is pretty specific, and it will be interesting to see where their path continues from here, especially with the live versions that are hopefully soon on the horizon.
01 To Withhold the Day
02 In Coldest Embrace
03 The Secret of Streaming Blood
05 Vihan verhon takaa
06 The Moonlit Dance of the Twisted Jester’s Blood-soaked Rituals
07 Fire Burns the Horizon
09 Into the Silvery Shadows of Night
09 Suden tie (Wolven Hour Part II)