It’s almost cliché these days to be “genre-defying.” Don’t get me wrong. Breaking down the walls that divide metal’s various sub-genres is by and large a good thing but combining too many sub-genres also has pitfalls, both commercial and artistic. Commercially, when a band is all over the place, it can be difficult to get the music heard by the right fans. From an artistic perspective, combining too many sub-genres within a single album can have disastrous effects on the cohesiveness of the album, and that lack of cohesiveness can be even worse when sub-genres are inartfully melded within individual songs.
So when a band can cohesively and naturally combine as many diverse sounds and sub-genres as Vorna does on their third full-length album, Sateet Palata Saavat, it is an accomplishment to be lauded. When it is done in such an original and musically pleasing way as Vorna has done here, then it should be recognized for what it is—one of the best metal albums of the year. The key to Vorna’s success—aside from the fantastic and memorable songwriting—is the emotionally powerful aesthetic and tone, presented cohesively throughout the album even as the band takes from half a dozen different sub-genres.
Hailing from Tampere, Finland which is, incredibly, about 100 miles north of Helsinki, Vorna seek at every step to transport the listener to a place in which a desolate winter lasts half the year and looms constantly over the hopefulness of the other seasons. Musically and lyrically, Sateet Palata Saavat explores the effects of Finland’s wintery climate as allegory for the lives that are colored by it. With every note and lyric, the music communicates the melancholic cyclicality of Finland’s arctic landscape and that landscape’s inhabitants.
Vorna blends many influences into their sound. Melodic black metal, pagan and folk metal, atmospheric and post-metal, symphonic/cinematic metal, and Finnish melodic death metal in the style of Amorphis, Insomnium, and Omnium Gatherum all comprise major components of Vorna’s sound.
So what does Vorna sound like? Imagine the album that Misþyrming would make if they were only allowed to listen to Amorphis and Turisas for six months. Or if Omnium Gatherum set out to make a blackened pagan folk metal album and then added a bunch of half-time, perfectly-arranged orchestrations, and psychedelic keyboard textures. Ferocious melodic black metal forms the backbone of Sateet Palata Saavat's initial tracks. But even when the album is at its heaviest, the riffs are always catchy and the music melodically accessible. As the album goes on, you’ll hear post-metal psychedelia, lilting folk metal melodies, acoustic and ambient parts, tight and intricate Finnish melodeath riffs, cinematic orchestration, and singer Vesa Salovaara’s polished baritone cleans, which offer a beautiful dynamic contrast to his fearsome blackened rasp. Tying this all together are the band’s deft arrangements, including masterful use of tempo and half-time.
The cohesive clarity of the band’s artistic vision carries through to the lyrics, delivered in Finnish (but helpfully translated into English) and realized with an uncommon level of poetic sophistication: “Beauty grows amidst these rains/in time, in place, in thought/Its coldness shall bring forth the colors/of those who have buried them far too deep.”
Although all members of Vorna brought it on Sateet Palata Saavat, the standout performances belong to vocalist Salovaara and drummer Mikael Vanninen, the latter of whose playing consistently surprised me and reminds that extreme metal drumming doesn't have to mean leaving creativity at the door.
While all of the tracks on the album are very strong, the best-written track, “Virvatulet,” deserves special mention as an elegiac, stunningly beautiful blackened folk metal ballad based around a series of swirling, waltzing 3/4 figures. Also meriting special attention is “Maa Martona Makaa,” which deftly incorporates post-metal elements into a song structure that alternates between an uptempo riff driven by a memorable bell part (yes, a memorable bell part) and brooding, doomy black metal verses and choruses.
By writing and recording such a superb and cohesive album, Vorna has avoided the artistic pitfalls that plague so many bands that attempt to meld this many influences. Time will tell if they can conquer the commercial obstacles that bands without a clearly defined sub-genre face. But with a masterful album like Sateet Palata Saavat, Vorna has shown that it deserves to be on the shortlist of Finland’s best metal bands and Sateet Palata Saavat should be given a listen by metalheads of all stripes.