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Moonlight Sorcery - Horned Lord Of The Thorned Castle review




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Reviewer:
8.2

270 users:
8.21
Band: Moonlight Sorcery
Album: Horned Lord Of The Thorned Castle
Release date: September 2023


01. To Withhold The Day
02. In Coldest Embrace
03. The Secret Of Streaming Blood
04. Yönsilmä
05. Vihan Verhon Takaa
06. The Moonlit Dance Of The Twisted Jester’s Blood-Soaked Rituals
07. Fire Burns The Horizon
08. Into The Silvery Shadows Of Night
09. Suden Tie (Wolven Hour Part II)


It would be safe to say that Moonlight Sorcery's inaugural full-length was one of the most anticipated debuts to hit the black metal scene of late. What's not so safe to say is the name of the album, which is somehow similar to but significantly more annoying than Gloryhammer's "Sword Lord Of The Goblin Horde". I think I would have preferred something in Finnish.

This trio's entry into the metal world back in 2022 was revelatory: in 25 minutes, their EP Piercing Through The Frozen Eternity blasted through every facet of black metal that could conceivably approach grandeur. Exceedingly melodic, laden with synths, rippling with fiery energy and frosty tones, that EP has consistently traded places with Stormkeep's Tales Of Othertime as my favorite black metal release of the last several years, and it is joined heartily by the subsequent EP Nightwind: The Conqueror From The Stars; from that competition, you can glean that my tastes are perilously handicapped by indulgence of power metal, to which both bands are obviously indebted in the forms of fringe practitioners such as Children Of Bodom and Kalmah. Among other things, it is the reliable intensity of musicality that propels Moonlight Sorcery so far above their peers in my esteem, and it is on the success or failure of this quality that the band's future output may primarily hang.

To the relief of anyone who felt similarly about last year's EPs, that keenness for tuneful black metal persists across Horned Lord Of The Thorned Castle, which perpetuates the band's penchant for energetic explorations of melody. Much of that can be laid on lead guitarist Matti Meri-Huhti, going by Loitsumestari Taikakallo, which Google Translate informs me I should understand as "Spellmaster Magic Skull." It is certainly a fitting name, for it is not terribly often you come across lead guitar work in black metal that is by itself worthy of praise. Typically, the most noteworthy thing about guitarists in black metal is that they exist: the riffs are sufficiently grim, the picking is sufficiently tremolo, and perhaps if you're lucky there are melodies to carry the whole song along. There's little call for much else. Loitsumestari Taikakallo, on the contrary, has no interest in being merely discernible: his playing is routinely busy with fervent soloing and complex runs that pack whole dimensions of texture into each song, repeatedly proving himself as a guitarist because of what he plays and not merely the fact that he is playing it at all. Taken in combination with those icy, Warman-like keys, wickedly fun catchiness pervades, and with every listen I find myself more and more enamored of how thoroughly written each track is.

Having said all that, there is one major difference between Horned Lord Of The Thorned Castle and the preceding EPs, one that is evident from the very first notes and that does, sadly, impair my relative pleasure with this release. The production is quite different: cleaner, heavier, bolder, with a more substantial low end that really shifts the center of gravity when taken alongside the increased reliance on melodeath-adjacent chugging. The thick heft of those drums at the outset immediately draws my mind to Ensiferum or Wintersun, bands that Moonlight Sorcery previously resembled only in a tangential aesthetic sense. Comparison to these artists is hardly an insult, but what I loved about Moonlight Sorcery's EPs was all the cavernous echoes that reverberated through every song: the band sounded ancient, far-off, cloaked in mystery, shrouded in a haze of timeless enchantment that preserved the raw feeling of frigid black metal even though they so freely absorbed aspects of other styles. The synths, while still appreciable on this album, no longer cast the same ghostly shadows over everything: instead of a spectral atmosphere through which melodies shone - just like moonlight piercing through that veil of frozen eternity they were talking about - this is an aggressive style that supplements the melodies with brute force, frequently pulling the band out of a black metal context and closer to that folksy extreme power style that presumably all Finns must at some point converge with.

It's not that that approach doesn't work for me, and had I had no previous experience with Moonlight Sorcery, I'd have nothing to complain about with this album; it's still an excellently performed and highly energetic work of extreme metal, displaying influences that are apparent but implemented in singular ways. But since I do know that I'm missing that ominous, epic sound, I instead hear something familiar and polished: any number of black metal bands are pursuing similar sounds, and while I'd take Moonlight Sorcery over Kvaen, Thulcandra, Uada, etc., I do feel that a sense of adventurousness is missing here. Still, when it comes to songwriting and performances, Moonlight Sorcery is very clearly riding the crest of a new wave – and the vocals, at least, refuse to be shepherded into something as civilized as power metal, so if nothing else the husky, goblinoid expulsions of ice-breath continue to tie the record to its origins. There are still a few instances where the keys come into strong enough effect to drag back that dungeon synth aura, which all good black metal should confront at some point.

It will probably take me some time to settle into a sensible assessment of Horned Lord Of The Thorned Castle, because at the moment I am still stuck on comparisons to the first two EPs, and while I think it's fair to perceive this as a letdown in some respects, I don't want that comparison to color my opinion forever - especially because plenty of people will be coming to Moonlight Sorcery for the first time through this album and they will likely find nothing to complain about and very much to praise. The energy and underpinning styles are themselves enough to make this one of the best black metal/extreme power/overall releases of the year, and I think Moonlight Sorcery has a very bright (dark) future ahead of them.


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





Written on 26.11.2023 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.


Comments

Comments: 3   Visited by: 117 users
27.11.2023 - 08:37
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
Your best review from this year and cool band
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27.11.2023 - 15:51
Rating: 8
musclassia

The production is a big shift; I do also feel like this album is more intrinsically connected to extreme power/melodeath in terms of style than writing than the EP, which was clearly meloblack, as saccharine as it was. It's the kind of shift that's not inherently negative, as both the EP and this new album are very fun, but it's also fair to have a slight disappointment that they've moved from the vibe of the EP without first producing a bit more music in that vein to enjoy
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28.11.2023 - 18:48
Rating: 8
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Written by musclassia on 27.11.2023 at 15:51

The production is a big shift; I do also feel like this album is more intrinsically connected to extreme power/melodeath in terms of style than writing than the EP, which was clearly meloblack, as saccharine as it was. It's the kind of shift that's not inherently negative, as both the EP and this new album are very fun, but it's also fair to have a slight disappointment that they've moved from the vibe of the EP without first producing a bit more music in that vein to enjoy

Yeah, that's my only real issue with it; I think there are a fair few bands doing this sort of thing within the extreme power/folk/melodeath sphere and not so many in a black metal context, so there's some more intrigue and personality on those EPs. It's a great album, but since we have those EPs to look back on you can hear some untapped potential that's been left behind.
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