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Vainaja - Verenvalaja review

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Band: Vainaja
Album: Verenvalaja
Release date: May 2016

01. Risti
02. Sielu
03. Usva
04. Valaja
05. Kultti
06. Kehto

What can change the nature of a band? How much weight does a concept contribute to the overall listening experience? These are questions I ask myself as I, after nearly 30 years on Earth, suddenly have started liking doom/death metal. The concept brought me in, the music made me stay.

Let me be clear here and throw in a disclaimer: I have barely any experience with either doom or death metal, so what follows amounts to the review version of getting tips on sex from a virgin who have just received his first blowjob. Still with me? All right, suit yourself.

Verenvalaja (Blood Caster) is Vainaja's second album. Just like their debut, Kadotetut (The Lost Ones), it is released on Svart Records and entirely focused on the band's concept. In fact, the band itself is the concept, with the three members (all contributing different vocal styles) playing the main characters referenced in the cryptic folktales of a 19th century death cult in rural Finland: preacher Wilhelm, cantor Kristian and gravedigger Aukusti.

The veracity of the story is open for discussion, but the actual accounts of a "cult of Vainaja" are real, the main source being the well-preserved sermon book of preacher Wilhelm found in an old, burned-down mansion. The name roughly translates to "The Deceased" and was supposedly the name of a movement close to the local church that eventually evolved into an evil cult practising blasphemy, human sacrifice and enslavement of the villagers, before finally being sentenced to death by fire upon the church altar.

There is an irresistible sense of twisted beauty behind this all, knowing the background and following the lyrics, but what about the music? I will try my best to describe it for lack of actual references. This is one of the heaviest, most crushing pieces of music I have yet encountered. To someone invested in this genre, I am quite certain that not much of it will be surprising, but regardless of style I can easily identify the trademark of skilled composers.

Verenvalaja opens with a slow and brutally oppressive piece called "Risti" (Cross), which sounds exactly like what I would expect something called "doom/death" to sound like. There is never a moment to breathe, and the production makes the simple but effective percussion, suffocating riffs and cavernous growls interspersed with tastefully ritualistic cleans very convincing. There is even a 24-bit HDR master of the album available on Bandcamp for the connoisseurs!

The real hook, for me, was the following track "Sielu" (Soul), which picks up the pace considerably, being based on a relatively fast-paced, rhythmic riff ending with a spoken-word sermon twisting the words of the Bible into death worship, and depicting Tuonela as the gateway to paradise (if you do not know what Tuonela is, shame on you, listen to more Finnish metal):

"A king will come, bring salvation / And so, it happened on that day
The sheep walked into the master's care / They could feel their burden of pain
And their daily lives starting to float away / Born anew shall be those who gaze into darkness
All the ones who took the trinity into their hearts / And feast your eyes on how they walk together
From the gates of Tuonela, to the kingdom come / To the Kingdom of Vainaja"

Naturally, this being a concept based in Christianity, there are church organs to be found. They never come off as a gimmick, however, and make the lyrics come alive in their evil simplicity, used only for atmosphere. I find it hard to discern between individual songs in an informative way, but the centrepiece "Valaja" (Caster) is another highlight, ending with a sermon that tells of the preacher rising from his grave, gathering the parish, and preparing them for mass suicide:

"And so, it happened on that night / Wilhelm set foot upon the ground
Called his children to him / In his blessing, sharing his supper
He descended to Tuonela / Guided all to stand by his side
And he gave eternal life to all / Beyond the veil of darkness"

Here ends the actual review part, but since you have been reading these self-admittedly unqualified thoughts, I am sure you are in no hurry to stay a while longer and consider: what is in a concept? This is already long enough, so one example will do: Cult Of Luna marketed Eternal Kingdom as being based on an uncovered diary in a dilapidated psych ward they rehearsed in. It was later explained by the band that this was a hoax to test the critical sense of music journalists, but there is no denying that the story told still brings a lot to the table in my opinion.

In the case of Verenvalaja, storytelling and concept made me fall in love with an album full of music I had never considered listening to before, and I heartily recommend you check this out and pay attention to the lyrics (I'll add translations for them, no worries).

Well, what do you think is in a concept? Can it change the nature of a band? For me, it most certainly can, and this album makes me feel like an awkward teenager trying to reason with newfound sexual urges: I need more, but I do not know where to get it. Let me end by summing up this work of music with two words: just beautiful.

Recommended tracks: "Sielu" and "Valaja".

Rating breakdown
Performance: 9
Songwriting: 8
Originality: 7
Production: 9

Written by Netzach | 28.07.2020

Guest review disclaimer:
This is a guest review, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.


Comments: 4   Visited by: 22 users
29.07.2020 - 16:40
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
One of best reviews in a while, good story, good concept, good storty before funeral Bells will toll and heathen spirits will Come from the otherside. If you will write a book in such way, lett me know
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
29.07.2020 - 16:59
Yeah I really love how deep into the concept it goes. Havent listened to this yet so I dont know how it compares by death doom standards, but there's a whole world out there.
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?
01.08.2020 - 02:12
Rating: 9
Written by Bad English on 29.07.2020 at 16:40

One of best reviews in a while, good story, good concept, good storty before funeral Bells will toll and heathen spirits will Come from the otherside. If you will write a book in such way, lett me know

Thank you very much for these touching words! I imagine this could be adapted into a Finnish horror movie (for better or worse). You are welcome to check out the book I have been trying to write lately, but it is sadly not about pagan death cults!

Written by RaduP on 29.07.2020 at 16:59

Yeah I really love how deep into the concept it goes. Havent listened to this yet so I dont know how it compares by death doom standards, but there's a whole world out there.

I was a bit worried about the lack of actual music content in the review, so I am glad you enjoyed reading it! If you decide to check the album out, please let me know what you think about it.
"I swore I would scratch and crawl my way back into the world of the living, and I have DONE IT!"
- Sarevok Anchev
08.09.2022 - 12:03

Non serviam

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