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Hiidentorni marks the true beginning of Finland's masters of grim northern Black Metal, Horna. Originally released in 1997 as a cassette demo, limited to 150 copies, this recording was later reissued on CD and considered to be the band's debut album. What one can expect to find here is rather unremarkable Black Metal that displays a lot of influence from the Norwegian scene of the early-to-mid 90s. The music is solid, but is more interesting simply as a means to look into Horna's past and to see their development.

The production is raw and basic, with a dirty guitar tone that helps to add a sense of ugliness to the music. The drums are a little too high in the mix, as is Nazgul's vocal work. Normally, I would say that the guitars need to be more prominent, yet many of the riffs are so generic that it does not really matter. The drumming and vocals drive the album along, at many points, rather than the riffs. If this is to be considered a demo, then the sound quality is pretty good. For an album, it is about average for the time period. And that should be taken into account as well; around this time, less and less bands were opting for a raw approach, so the fact that they even tried should earn them a few extra points.

The music, itself, is kind of bland. So few of the guitar melodies really stand out on their own; instead, they often serve only to fill the silence so that the vocals and drums have something to help them along. This can be forgiven, as the band was still in its infancy and went on to evolve into something quite unique. The songwriting owes a great deal to Norwegian bands such as Darkthrone and Gorgoroth, mixed with the worst of Sweden's output; i.e. Dark Funeral, Marduk, etc. Oddly, there does not seem to be any influence from their fellow Finns, Beherit or Archgoat. The riffs are not very memorable and the music lacks any real sense of atmosphere. One annoying thing about the whole album is the over-the-top vocal performance by Nazgul. Much like Masse Broberg's work with Dark Funeral, he adds in a lot of deeper, Death Metal vocals that have no place in this sort of music. He sounds much better when utilizing a higher, raspier sound. The only tracks that really stand out are Gorgoroth-influenced "Hiidentorni Huokui Usvansa" and the massive, crawling beast from the depths of hell known as "Hänen Synkkä Myrskynsä". This song, alone, is worth seeking this album out, as the vocals and riffs combine very well to create a morbid and haunting atmosphere. The stolen Burzum riff, near the middle, probably should have been omitted, however.

All in all, Hiidentorni is not a bad album. It has its moments and it is quite decent for a debut effort. Horna's early years were a bit rough, but they eventually went on to develop their own identity and trademark sound. This particular album is mostly a matter of curiosity for those who wish to hear how the band started out. Otherwise, there is no real need to seek it out as it is completely derivative of other things and not the best thing that this Finnish band ever released.
 
(16 Nov. 2011)

 
 

Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua is the first official full-length from the Finnish Black Metal horde known as Horna. Released in April 1998 by Solistitium Records, this L.P. demonstrates just how much Shatraug had developed as a songwriter. While Hiidentorni had its moments, though very few, it was rather unimpressive. Nonetheless, within a matter of months, the band managed to write and record something that far exceeded their previous output and still stands as one of their best albums.

By this time, black metal was already massively polluted by an overabundance of horrible bands that were churning out pure trash. Countless mediocre albums were being released, making it difficult to keep up with what was going on. One need not even dwell on the legions of goth losers that were appropriating black metal elements and mixing them with wailing whores and Casio madness; even the majority of key second wave bands had metamorphosed into something hardly recognizable. Thankfully, there were a handful of musicians capable of keeping the black flame burning.

At this stage, Horna absolutely wore their influences on their sleeve, which is not a bad thing. Obviously, the early black metal bands from Norway left quite an impact on Shatraug, something that is clearly evident. Rather than taking any cues from fellow Finns, such as Beherit, Archgoat or even Impaled Nazarene, Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua bears a much closer resemblance to the earlier works of Emperor, Gorgoroth and Satyricon. It would take some time before Shatraug created the signature style that he was later known for. That being said, the lack of a distinctive identity is not a negative criticism, at all. Personally, I'd rather hear a hundred so-called derivative albums like this one over experimental garbage.

Despite its relatively brief run time, Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua covers a lot of ground. "Örkkivuorilta" starts things out with intensity and hatred, erupting from the depths of hell with aggressive riffs and vicious vocals. The guitars are reminiscent of something from Emperor or Nemesis Divina, at times. "Imperial Devastation" is a bit more restrained, moving between mid-paced tremolo melodies and more Bathory-inspired riffs. In a way, it bears similarities to "Funeral Procession", from Under the Sign of Hell. "Sword of Darkness" is an all-around gloomier affair, featuring more haunting melodies and a different vocal approach, sounding more hideous and tormented. Though the production is more modern, almost too much so, these riffs would not have been out of place on an album like In the Nightside Eclipse.

The overall sound may be the only negative aspect of this record, and even that is negligible. On its own, it sounds fine. It's mostly when listening to this material alongside the albums that inspired it that one really notices the difference. Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua boasts a rather full and powerful sound, lacking the harshness of the early albums from the Norwegian black metal bands. Even relatively clear and well-produced records like Gorgoroth's Pentagram sounds like a garage rehearsal compared to this. Still, it's just at the threshold of what's acceptable, not yet venturing into the plastic, fake-sounding territory where Sudentaival would ultimately land.

"White Aura Buried in Ashes" consists mainly of intense, fast-paced riffs and hellish vocals, reminiscent of "The Majesty of the Nightsky", with some with some Bathory-ish parts thrown in for good measure. This is followed by a total shift, featuring an eerie riff with clean vocals buried underneath, which induces a haunting vibe in the closing moments. "Sormus ja Silmä" is the last proper song, a slow and brooding track that hearkens back to "Sorg", from Gorgoroth's Antichrist. As with "Sword of Darkness", Nazgul's voice is much dryer and more strained than usual which adds to the darker atmosphere. For one reason or another, rather than building upon this composition and creating something more epic, the band opted to add to the running time with a re-recorded version of "Kun lyömme Jumalan kodin liekkeihin". This is the weakest part of the album and it's no wonder that they included it as a hidden song.

Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua had to grow on me a bit; years ago, the first things I noticed when listening were the presence of clean vocals (albeit brief), the lack of harsh production and the frequent use of double bass, something that I personally don't care for. Once I got over being so picky, I quickly realized that this is a very solid record and ranks among the very best among Shatraug's very prolific career. Despite the influences being very obvious, the songwriting is very cohesive and there are a lot of memorable moments to be found. This record is not dull in the slightest as Horna did well to pick up the torch that had been dropped by their predecessors. This record is highly recommended for those into classic Norwegian black metal. 
 
(16 Sept. 2009)

 
Haudankylmyyden Mailla (1999)
 

Horna's second full-length, Haudankylmyyden mailla, was released by Solistitium Records in 1999. This L.P. is a continuation of the band's Norwegian-influenced style of raw black metal, something that many were appreciate of at the time. Contrasting the very short run time of their previous effort, this album clocks in at over an hour. At this point, Shatraug's songwriting was still developing and it is safe to say that he was a little too ambitious, this time around. While Kohti yhdeksän nousua left the listener wanting more, Haudankylmyyden mailla sort of demonstrates that Horna wasn't quite ready to offer up more than half an hour of solid material, at once.

The album gets off to a strong start, after a pointless intro, with the very powerful "Yhdeksän yö". An ominous bass line carries a feeling of dread, along with the sparse drum work. Moments later, the vocals come in, overdubbed with high and low, soon joined by the guitar. The mid-paced riff possesses a feeling of doom and works very well to create an atmosphere of hellish darkness. Nazgul gives one of the best performances of his career, sounding utterly possessed. After a few minutes, the pace picks up and Shatraug unleashes a fair amount of epic tremolo riffs, reminiscent of Gorgoroth's Pentagram. The riffs are gloomy and imbue the listener with images of a foggy graveyard, late at night. It's unfortunate that the entire record isn't as good as this one song.

Though the guitar melodies are very memorable, the production makes it difficult to experience them in the proper manner, as the guitars seem to be buried in the mix. This becomes much more noticeable during the fast parts, as the drums really begin to have an oppressive effect on the rest. This is an issue that plagues the entirety of Haudankylmyyden mailla which, coupled with the inconsistent quality of the compositions, doesn't help anything.

The rather overt worship of Gorgoroth and Darkthrone continues with decent songs like "...Jeesuksen verestä", "Viimeinen sielu jumalan valosta", the title track and "Ylle kuihtuneen ajan ajatusten". The latter possesses a bit of a Burzum vibe during the middle section, for good measure. Like so many other ideas on this full-length, this does not seem to be fully-developed. One gets the impression that Shatraug had recently become acquainted with Under a Funeral Moon, based on some of the songwriting here, especially the ending of "Peikkomaille". "Kunnia Saatanalle" is passable enough, though a bit too short. At any rate, these are the only songs really worth hearing, and that's being somewhat generous.
 
The two fatal flaws of Haudankylmyyden mailla are the production and the songwriting. Whoever mixed this record should be dragged out into the snowy forest and shot in the back of the head. The drums are way too high and also possess an overly clear sound that ruins the feeling that Horna seemed to be aiming to create. The other main issue is that the songwriting just lacks the cohesion of the previous L.P. To be fair, there are some decent ideas scattered among the countless generic riffs, but their potential goes unrealized. Whereas every song on Kohti yhdeksän nousua had its own identity and was easily distinguishable from the others, so much of this album just comes off as interchangeable filler. Not every riff needs to be recorded and presented, especially when they are pointless as the ones here. Several should have either been scrapped or simply left on the shelf until they could be further developed. Judging by the material here, there was no reason for the band to rush back into the studio a mere two months after recording the previous album.
 
Also, the decision to go full-on with the Finnish song titles (and lyrics) is a bit off-putting. Norwegian and Swedish bands could get away with this because, as fellow Germanic languages, they're at least a bit easier to differentiate from one another, even when one doesn't necessarily understand their meaning. Finnish is such a complicated and strange language that it comes across as a bunch of gibberish and is often impossible to remember the name of one's favourite song. (Though at least Horna didn't go completely insane with the lengthy titles, like Maniac Butcher...)

Haudankylmyyden Mailla is a rather underwhelming album, though not terrible by any means. Less discerning fans may still enjoy this for what it is, of course. However, Horna was capable of better and, overall, the material here fails to live up to the potential that is hinted at. It would have been best had they simply released a handful of these tracks as a mini-album (though maybe not quite as abbreviated as the eventual Sota E.P.). Either way, while not essential, the record is worth a listen. Just don't approach it with high expectations.
 
(2 Nov. 2006)

 
 

Horna is a band known for being exceedingly productive. Over the years, the number of mini-albums and split releases, filling the gaps between proper full-length recordings, has gone beyond the output of many bands with three times the tenure. The Perimä Vihassa Ja Verikostossa E.P. was one of the earliest such efforts, released by Oskorei Records in May 1999. This particular collection of songs came near the end of the band's first phase and is far superior to the L.P. that followed.

The early years of Horna saw a band that had not yet, fully, come into its own. While there is no doubting the high quality of their records, they were often highly derivative of some of their contemporaries or, more frequently, bearing a strong resemblance to the classic albums of the Norwegian Black Metal scene. Shatraug's songwriting bordered on genius, at times, but was still held back by conforming to the trends of the day (one example being the random use of clean vocals on the previous full-length). Only after finding his true musical voice through the outlet afforded to him by the early Sargeist material did he truly mature as a songwriter with his own unique style, that soon bled into Horna as well.

Perimä Vihassa Ja Verikostossa is a very solid release, and much preferable to the abomination that is Sudentaival. The spirit is still more Norwegian than Finnish, at times. One is reminded of bands such as early Emperor, Satyricon and Enslaved (especially on “Haudanusva”), throughout the five tracks that comprise this E.P. The use of keyboards, however minimal, only strengthens this effect. The songs are very dynamic, for the most part, with varying paces found in each composition. Shatraug's trademark style can be noticed, from time to time, though still mixed with Nordic influences. Despite this, the music that is presented here does well for itself, to such an extent that songs like “Verikammari” are still played live to this day. It may be the standout track, if nothing else than for the morbid feeling of doom that it conveys. From slow, creeping riffs to mid-paced sections reminiscent of old Bathory, to fast-paced parts that sound like something ripped from Transilvanian Hunger, this tune encapsulates the early period of Horna's career, very well. That is not to say that this E.P. is defined by this song, alone. Every one, from “A Ring to Rule” to “Ghash Inras” leaves its mark and all of them are quite memorable from the very first listen.

The production is not as over-the-top and slick as Sudentaival, yet it is nowhere near as grim as the typical sound of the band's later output. It is somewhat thick and full, with the guitars possessing a decent amount of power and serving as the true focus. Nazgul's vocals are a little buried, but not anywhere near as much as can be found on Hiidentorni, at times. The overall sound-quality is probably a bit more healthy than most of the band's other releases, in that turning the volume on high does not result in hours of ringing in one's ears, afterward.

This should please any Horna fan, and would not be a bad starting point for those only somewhat familiar with Finnish (or Norwegian, for that matter) Black Metal. If you can get your hands on Perimä Vihassa Ja Verikostossa, one way or another, do so. For those that ignore limited releases or only go for full-length records, you are definitely missing out. While many bands might phone it in for split releases and the like, Horna is nearly always consistent, regardless of the format. Buy with confidence.
 
(21 June 2012)

 
Sudentaival (2001)
 

Sudentaival is the third full-length album from Horna. Released in March 2001 on Woodcut Records, this record sticks out like a sore thumb, when compared to the rest of the band's discography. For a band that has long been one of the pillars of the Finnish Black Metal scene, they made a severe misstep with this release. Thankfully, they learned from their mistakes, down the line.

Musically, this is not terribly far from the material that was heard on Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua. The band took several years to really find their own style, and this album is a product of that confusion. At this point, Shatraug's brilliant guitar melodies had not yet taken shape, so there is a mixture of generic ideas and some that demonstrate a shred of the potential that would soon be realized. The atmosphere of this L.P. is anything but dark or evil, which is a shift from the previous outing. While Haudankylmyyden Mailla was plagued by an overall sense of unoriginality, there was definitely an effort to pay homage to the early-'90s Norwegian scene. Sudentaival seems to have been reaching out to more modern tastes, at the time. The overall approach sounds more in line with later Marduk, as the vocals and percussion dominate the sound. The blast beats seem to crush any attempt that the guitars make at creating a dark feeling.

The production is much more at fault for this atrocity than the songwriting. It sounds extremely fake and plastic, suffering from a sound that is similar to what one would expect from Abyss Studio. This gives off the impression of being horribly-produced Death Metal, moreso than having anything to do with Black Metal. The drums are way too high in the mix and the guitars are buried underneath everything else, when it should have been the other way around. I recall the confusion when I first put this CD in, as I thought I had been sent the wrong album. While the band's earlier efforts were all slightly too modern-sounding for my taste, this one crossed a line that no one can deny. The fact of the matter is that Sudentaival is not completely worthless, musically, but the horrible sound makes it nearly impossible to enjoy. Only during the slower sections are the sombre guitar melodies allowed to breathe. It is a shame as, with a more underground production and a little more work on the material, itself, this could have been a decent album.

Sudentaival is the one Horna record that I would not recommend. The few positives that it possesses are not really worth enduring the rest. Obviously, this did not have the greatest effect for the band members, either, as Nazgul left to start Satanic Warmaster and Shatraug began putting most of his energy into Sargeist, not long after this. After developing his style a bit more, with that project, the following Horna releases began to really take on an identity of their own. My advice would be to skip this and move on to Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne.
 
(6 Nov. 2006)


Sudentaival (2001) [2017 remaster]


After sixteen years, Horna's third full-length finally received a much-needed overhaul. Sudentaival was an absolutely atrocious album, a record plagued by a terribly modern production that was at odds with the material itself. Upon hearing other recordings of the songs, it became clear that the songwriting was not as bad as I'd initially thought. The problem was that the awful sound made the L.P. completely unlistenable and best forgotten. Finally, in the summer of 2017, a new version of this album emerged, with the end result being immensely superior to the original release.

Taken from the original studio tapes, the whole thing was remixed and remastered from scratch. The biggest difference is that the drums are much lower in the mix, with the worthless triggers completely removed. Anyone familiar with Horna's older work likely noticed that each album possesses a louder and clearer drum sound, until reaching a point on Sudentaival where the drums totally dominated and destroyed everything else. Gorthaur was spending far too much time with his death metal side project and it seemed to have a detrimental effect on Horna. With this major obstacle out of the way, one can actually hear the guitar riffs during the faster parts, rather than primarily during the slower sections. The guitar tone is a little murkier than on the original, but still not bad. In this form, one can actually hear what is going on, beyond the insanely loud drums and the irritating vocal echo, the latter of which was also removed. As such, Shatraug's riffs are able to breathe more and songs like "Talventuoja", "Haudanusva" and "Hautajaisyö" actually stand out as opposed to being consumed by the wall of noise. One is actually able to get a better feel for the material and to see the band finding their own style. 

Even though it's been remixed, the manner by which the instruments were played at the time could not be changed. Though downplayed to a large degree, the execution of the material differs from the previous versions, in some cases. For example, the drumming has been lowered in the mix but one can still hear what sounds like a dulled clatter, which still has an effect on the atmosphere. There are also instanced of pinch harmonics creeping into the songs, despite not being present on the demo recordings. Things still sound overly rigid, in some respects, betraying the highly-professional, fake, plastic sound of the original.

For those who were disappointed with the 2001 L.P., releases such as Ordo Regnum Sathanas, Korpin Hetki and the second split with Musta Surma offered listeners a chance to hear some of these songs in a much more appropriate manner, already. In fact, those renditions of tracks like "Synkän Muiston Äärellä", "Noidanloitsu" and "Kun Synkkä Ikuisuus Avautuu" are superior to even the ones found on this remixed album. Honestly, even the demo versions found on Kun synkkä ikuisuus avautuu are better, in many cases, just possessing a gloomier feeling. "Vihasta ja Arvista" is an interesting case where the faster riffs come across better on the demo, producing a grim, droning effect, while the mid-paced sections seem more developed on the studio version. However, it must be said that the song "Black Metal Sodomy", regardless of which incarnation, is total trash. 

While this remastered version of Sudentaival is a vast improvement over the original release (and came many years too late to matter), certain elements of the modern sound could not be entirely erased and previous recordings of this material still feel more genuine, in a lot of cases. It is still nice to finally be able to give it a listen and to count it as a worthy part of the band's discography, as opposed to rejecting it and utterly denying its existence. In one of my earliest album reviews, I recommended that no one, not even the most die hard Horna fan, go anywhere near Sudentaival. Now, I can say that it definitely warrants a listen. Hopefully, it won't take them an additional sixteen years to actually release it on CD, as it's presently only available on vinyl.

(22 Dec. 2017)

Musta Surma split (2002)
 


Following the utter disaster known as Sudentaival, the Horna camp was seemingly devastated. Nazgul exited the band and focused on Satanic Warmaster. Shatraug's side project, Sargeist, similarly demonstrated a total rejection of the fake, plastic sound of the most recent Horna record. It looked as if the band ceased to be, for a time. However, 2002 saw a second split album with the rather unimpressive Musta Surma, featuring re-recorded versions of the Varjoissa material. As Horna was beginning a new phase of existence, it was sort of appropriate that Shatraug revisited these songs.

There is a dark and haunting atmosphere created by the abundance of mournful tremolo melodies and the anguished vocals. At times, there is even an epic feeling, such as the riff that appears around the middle of the title track. There is a close connection between this music and that of the early Norwegian black metal scene, with Shatraug often citing Emperor's earliest work as one of the primary influences for forming a band. In fact, the songwriting is quite a bit stronger than a lot of the aforementioned band's works, with a strong sense of consistency that runs through all of the songs. There is a decent amount of variation in tempo, though most of the songs are built round the typical northern sound, with fast-picked tremolo riffs and intense drumming. The pace slows down, at times, when needed. The vocals sound influenced by Count Grishnackh's efforts on the early Burzum records, being sort of a tormented shriek instead of anything particularly demonic. While this is probably the weakest part of the recording, it definitely suits the sombre tone of the guitar riffs.

Another factor in making this such a good release is that the production is exactly how it should be. Whereas the band's first albums sounded a bit too modern, at times, this has a pure underground production that really helps with the obscure and sorrowful atmosphere that the music creates. Everything is arranged to allow the guitars to be the center of attention and to have space to breathe. The vocals are buried in the mix, a bit, but this only helps the overall feeling. The drumming is clear enough to keep time but never interferes with what is important. This may not compare to the necro sound of Wrath of the Tyrants, but it is far more fitting than the sort of production found on the band's earlier full-lengths.

It may be tempting to overlook this as some meaningless split album, but to ignore this release would be a mistake. This re-recorded version of the Varjoissa demo definitely improves upon the original and sets the stage for the sort of raw and miserable material that would eventually emerge from the reborn Horna. Like a malignant cancer, this band fed upon the darkness that resides within us all, growing and improving with time.
 
(11 Sept. 2012)

 
 

Though a brief and somewhat rare offering, this is one of my favourite Horna releases. The material presented on Korpin Hetki dates back to 1999 and, despite the erroneous claims of many online sources, is not the first recording with new vocalist Corvus. This is a case where one faulty report is made on the internet and various other sites use the original mistake as a basis for keeping such misinformation alive. This material predates Sudentaival and features the band's original vocalist, Nazgul von Armageddon. This E.P. includes only three songs, one of which is a cover tune and another that can be found on their previous full-length, yet the recording is still just as vital as any other from this period.

Musically, this of course belongs to the band's early period. The music owes a lot to the early Norwegian bands, yet Shatraug's style had begun to develop a bit and to become more his own, by this point. The first track, "Ikuisuuden Pimeyden Varjoihin", relies on brilliant tremolo melodies that interchange with more old school riffing, displaying a very accomplished mixture of First and Second Wave sounds. There is a gloomy atmosphere that is easily conveyed by the guitar riffs, with the rest simply serving its purpose as an unassuming background that in no way distracts from the primary focus. The melody is very haunting and possesses kind of a horror vibe. "Condemned to Hell" is a cover of an old Impaled Nazarene track and, though not done poorly, does not quiet hold up to the other two songs. It is impressive that Horna manages to sound more necro and under-produced than the 1992 original; then again, Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz... had a rather good sound for its time. The other original track is "Synkän Muiston Äärellä", which displays a similar type of raw and grim Black Metal. The thrashier parts seem a little more pronounced, at times, giving this a decidedly '80s feel. Some riffs seem to hearken to the early days of Emperor, as well, betraying another of the band's Norwegian influences. It certainly kills the over-produced version that is found on Sudentaival. Too bad they didn't release more necro versions of some of the other tracks from that record.

It must be stated that the production found on this E.P. truly suits the material much moreso than the imitation Abyss Studio sound on the aforementioned full-length. The true weakness of that album was not so much the material but the slick and overdone sound that ruined any attempts at atmosphere. By hearing one of the tracks in an earlier and more natural version, one can really begin to see past the mistakes and realize that the material was not so bad. Korpin Hetki features the kind of necro sound that rivals that of Wrath of the Tyrant or Under A Funeral Moon, at times. The percussion is not as overbearing and, as a result, the riffs are actually able to breathe and to maintain the listener's full attention. The raw and fuzzy sound serves greatly to accentuate the musty, old school songwriting and to take you back in time a decade or more (from the release date of the E.P.).

In the end, this is an absolutely essential release for any Horna fan and it fully deserves as close of a listen as any of their other records. As the band was in a period of transition, this E.P. helped not only to keep the name out there and to clear off material with their past vocalist, but also to present fans with more filthy Black Metal in a way that few others were able to deliver at the time. Korpin Hetki may be somewhat overlooked, but it should not be. Seek these songs out in whatever way that you mus
t.
 
(7 July 2012)

 
 


Released in October 2002, Risti Ja Ruoska was the first official post-Nazgul recording and served as a means to get the band back on track and to test out Horna's new vocalist, Corvus. This effort does well to bridge the first and second periods of the band's existence. Obviously, there was never a truly drastic change, as certain elements have always remained, and yet the character of Horna underwent some sort of transformation after Sudentaival. As the band had become kind of predictable and the sound quality was getting ever closer to the realm where such useless bands as Marduk and Dark Funeral were dwelling, Shatraug took a rather sharp turn and returned to the bloody and filthy roots of Horna, which were firmly entrenched in the old school Black Metal sound of the late '80s and early '90s.

This E.P. features only two songs, yet it manages to speak volumes. For starters, Corvus establishes himself as a very distinctive voice for the band, as opposed to just someone to fill the shoes of his predecessor. In some ways, he keeps to the higher-pitched territory favoured by Nazgul, yet his voice is much more strained and miserable-sounding. This is more evident on the title track. He seems to be completely possessed by some horrible anguish that can hardly be contained, adding something quite needed to the ever-more-mournful guitar melodies unleashed by Shatraug. In truth, it can be said that this unholy union took place at the perfect moment. Just as Horna's creator was truly finding his voice as a composer, he was joined by a man whose literal voice suited that in a way that Nazgul simply could not. The music is sombre and features the same influences as before, yet sounds somewhat more unique than certain older releases. In a sense, this E.P. represents a band that has regressed and become even more primitive. The necro production job accentuates this feeling, dimly illuminating these musical ideas in a gloomy manner.

For those that tend to stick to the full-length releases of a band and to ignore everything else, as is easy to do with a band like Horna, that would be a dreadful mistake in this case. Risti Ja Ruoska may be short, yet this will satisfy all those that seek truly grim and hateful Black Metal. The fact that there are only two songs only leaves you wanting more, which is a good thing. As Shatraug progressed with Sargeist and Horna, the atmosphere was to become blacker than darkness, something that really began to take shape on this E.P. Seek this out, by all means, and let the raw and miserable Black Metal wash over you like the rotten blood of an ancient sacrifice long forgotten.
 
(7 July 2012)

 
 

The period between 2002 and 2004 witnessed what could be called the rebirth of Horna, in a somewhat different form. It was around this time that Shatraug's songwriting abilities really began to take on a character of its own and the addition of Corvus, on vocals, added yet another integral piece. Musically, Horna continued to offer up grim slabs of raw Black Metal, yet it possessed a different feel than that of the band's earlier efforts. During the years where the band's sound was being redefined, several splits and mini-albums were issued, as Shatraug fine-tuned everything in preparation for the forthcoming full-length. Released in September 2003, through Woodcut Records, Viha Ja Viikate was the second E.P. to arise since Sudentaival.

The material on this release is very lo-fi and has sort of a necro feel, yet is more dynamic than some of Horna's influences. Though there are more than a few riff changes throughout the tracks, from blast beats to mid-paced sections, the dark vibe is always present. Songs like “Viha Ja Viikate” and “Ars Laternarum” have moments that hint at some kind of epic feeling, yet there is a down-tempo atmosphere that hangs over everything. This atmosphere of gloom is most noticeable on “Mustasiipinen”, which features a handful of sombre tremolo melodies. This is accentuated by the miserable vocals of Corvus, particularly as the song slows down a bit. There is a sense of desperation that comes through, imbuing the listener with a sense of hopelessness. The final track counteracts this a little, offering up a solid dose of '80s-inspired Black Metal that disrupts the flow to an extent, yet still maintains the same old school feeling that is present during the other songs. Why Horna decided to cover an old Carpathian Forest tune is unknown, but it is done well enough.

Production-wise, this represents a step in the right direction. This sounds much more raw and underground than the band's 2001 L.P. Still, Horna does not make the error of going too far and ruining any chance that the music has to make an impression by over-doing the necro sound, either. The guitars have a rough edge and a decent amount of fuzz, and are rather high in the mix. Not that the bass and drums are totally negligible, but the prime focus of this rests on the riffs and the vocal performance given by Corvus. Of course, with Black Metal, the drumming is not important anyway and is just there to keep time rather than to take over. Too many bands forget that it is all about the guitar melodies, rather than the rhythmic pounding that countless bands rely on.

Viha Ja Viikate is a worthwhile release and certainly belongs in the collection of any Horna fan, as well as anyone into raw Black Metal, in general. While it may be too bad that this is an E.P. instead of a full-length, the very minor inconsistencies prove that it was wise to wait a while longer before moving ahead with such a project. Pick this up if you can.
 
(8 July 2012)

 
 

Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne is the fourth full-length album from the stalwarts of Finnish Black Metal, Horna. It was released in 2005, which was four years after the release of their previous album, the horrible Sudentaival. Following that trainwreck of a record, Nazgul left the band to focus on Satanic Warmaster, while Shatraug's energies went toward Sargeist. Once he recruited Corvus, though, Horna seemed to begin anew. Despite the fact that they took so long to release another L.P. it cannot be said that the band was unproductive during these years. They continued to participate in split releases as well as the occasional mini-album, as they worked toward the goal of releasing a new full-length.

Being somewhat familiar with the band, I was surprised to find this in a used record store within a year of its release, appearing as though it had hardly been touched. Though I was not planning to buy anything, I simply could not allow this CD to sit on the shelf among so many rejects. Once I got home and tossed it in the stereo, night had fallen and only a few candles illuminated the room. The atmosphere was not expected, as this was dark, melancholy and even a bit unsettling.

Musically, it seemed that Shatraug had really found his own identity as a songwriter, in the years that preceded this release. Possibly as a result of the wretched path that Horna followed, briefly, or simply by expressing his ideas through the outlet known as Sargeist, he managed to really define his style of guitar playing and the way that he created melodies and structured the songs. My first impression was that this had more in common with Satanic Black Devotion, from Sargeist, than with Horna's earlier material. There are a lot of similar melodies and rhythms utilized, though there are quite enough differences to distinguish the two entities from one another.

"Vihan Tie" opens at full throttle, with blasting drums, fast tremolo-picked guitar riffs and hellishly raw vocals. The more folk-inspired rhythms make brief appearances before going back into the fast-paced Black Metal assault. The melodies are mournful and dark, with a miserable feeling that permeates your very spirit. The arrangment displays great skill and shows just how far the band has come since their previous album. And though the early material was good, it still bore many similarities to the Norwegian bands and did not truly possess its own identity. By now, Horna had been more firmly established and its sound was becoming well-defined.

The second song, "Musta Temppeli", is quite a different beast. It begins with slow, morbid riffs that consume you in utter blackness. As the song progresses, the speed picks up a bit and yet the aura remains as dark as ever, giving off eerie and unpleasant feelings that almost make you want to crawl out of your own skin. The track shifts back and forth, between the slow and fast riffs, leaving behind an overwhelming sensation of desolation and despair. You get the feeling that this was recorded in Hell, at certain points, as the atmosphere is just so hopeless and bereft of any light.

"Vala Pedolle" seems a little more upbeat, at the onset, with another riff that is somehow reminiscent of Sargeist. It is sorrowful but not completely oppressing. After a few minutes, a faster section emerges and the sombre feeling begins to grow, as a more epic melody arrives to slice your heart out of your chest. Other riffs are introduced, as the tempo changes again and again. At this point, one has to wonder how Corvus can continue with the style of vocals that he employs, since it sounds as if his throat is totally shredded. Clocking in at eight and a half minutes, this song takes its time in the dissection of the listener's soul, slowly dragging you through the depths of the abyss.

The overall vibe changes again as "Kirous Ja Malja" begins, with a more uplifting melody. As it goes along, the feeling sinks down into the realm of misery and an epic sense of negativity bleeds through. While not bad, this song does not stand out from the rest so much. "Saastainen Koste" follows the same pattern, in a sense, making good use of some old school riffing.,but not coming off as overly exceptional. However, by this point, it is noticeable that the band made the conscious decision to leave in bits before the songs actually start, giving a less formal impression.

The real highlight of the album is next, in the form of "Kuoleva Lupaus". This song is more mid-paced and filled with epic melodies of pure misery. The strained vocals add to this feeling, really helping to pull the listener down into the depths of suffering. The song is quite melodic, but still retains the same raw feeling that is present throughout the rest of the album. With each repetition of the mournful guitar riffs, one can better see the glow of the funeral torches, leading the way down a dark and bloodsoaked path. As the song speeds up, the tremolo melodies tear you into shreds, and the one final desire that you possess if for death to claim your miserable body and to allow your spirit to be free of such hell. It is only in the final moments that the realization becomes very clear: death is not the end of this journey, but only the transition to a deeper level of suffering.

"Zythifer" symbolizes this, in a way. It is an instrumental track that feels like a nightmare that has come to life, draining the energy from you and leaving nothing but a wretched pile of waste in its wake. The pace is rather slow, very appropriate for a descent into the black abyss. The melodies possess a dark beauty, the type that imbues the listener with an image of laying helplessly in a bloody heap, struggling to get up but only managing to fall face-first back into the crimson pool. There are faint glimmers of hope, but these are quickly stomped into oblivion and soon forgotten.

The album ends with "Kuilunhenki", which is less abysmal as the previous songs, yet still manages to breed darkness and a sense of tension. There are ephemeral passages that lessen the feeling of suffocation, but these catchy riffs cannot hope to undermine the soul-crushing atmosphere that dominates the majority of this record.

Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne is an album that shows Horna truly developing their style and breaking away from the strict adherence to their influences. It is dripping with a dark and melancholic atmosphere that really has the potential to affect the mind of the listener. In many ways, it exceeds all of their past efforts and should really be looked at as a new starting point for the band, as they became even more productive following this release. Seek this out and buy with confidence.
 
(11 Sept. 2011)

 
 

Originally available as a limited edition cassette, released in 2006, Kun synkkä ikuisuus avautuu somehow slipped under my radar for the past several years. Given the prolific output of this Finnish horde, it is certainly no surprise. Immediately upon hearing this compilation of demo material, recorded in 2000, it became clear that this was yet another essential Horna release. Thankfully, it has since been reissued on CD (and also on vinyl, I believe).

Kun synkkä ikuisuus avautuu features demo versions of songs that later appeared on Ordo Regnum Sathanas and the ill-fated Sudentaival L.P. While the former is not a bad release, and fits in rather well with the likes of Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua and Perimä Vihassa Ja Verikostossa, Sudentaival was an absolute abomination and the blackest mark on the face of Horna until the recent acquisition of their new Mansonite vocalist. The material on this release represents the pure, raw Black Metal spirit that Horna had kept alive for so long.

Whereas the album versions of several of these songs were utterly ruined by the completely plastic and modern production, the demo recordings present these songs in their true form. The quality is pretty lo-fi, to say the least, though not quite as rough as the Moonblood rehearsals. This is more along the lines of Emperor's Wrath of the Tyrant, in sound and atmosphere. Actually, it is most similar to Tyranny Returns, by Sargeist, probably even using the same equipment and location. The guitars are thin and possess a fair amount of fuzz, though still the dominant aspect of the tape as the drums are kept to the background. This is a massive improvement, of course, as the Sudentaival album was rendered worthless largely due to the over-produced drums that were so high in the mix as to drown out most of the other instruments.

The single most important element of Horna's sound, over the years, has been the brilliant songwriting of Shatraug. The grim and necro approach of Kun synkkä ikuisuus avautuu allows the guitar melodies to create a morose atmosphere of impenetrable gloom. Nazgul's vocals do well to match this, as he utilizes more tortured screams in songs like "Sudentaival". As opposed to his more forceful and aggressive delivery on the full-lengths, he took the opportunity to explore other parts of his vocal range on some of the other recordings, such as this one. These morbid cries accentuate the haunting melodies of songs like "Hautajaisyö" and "Vihasta Ja Arvista", almost as if the mournful riffs are draining the life from him. Without the overbearing dominance of the drums, as found on the 'proper' studio versions, the guitars take on a ghostly effect that envelopes the listener within each sombre passage.

Kun synkkä ikuisuus avautuu is highly recommended for fans of Horna or, indeed, those who are drawn to the more necro and lo-fi Black Metal of the early '90s. These demos allow for Shatraug's riff-craft to be truly appreciated, bereft of those foreign elements that ruined the more well-known versions. There is nothing polished, modern or easy-to-digest here. This is pure Black Metal, as it should be. Perhaps, with the exception of the folkish Isengard influence of "Skaldiriimu", which still fits in with the rest of the material, despite the bit of clean vocals. Seek this out or perish!
 
(26 June 2016)

Ääniä Yössä (2006)
 

Ääniä Yössä is a concept album, dealing with the Black Death that ravaged Europe in the 14th century. Though it was released in September 2006, work began on this record as far back as 2004. Horna is an extremely productive band, at times, thanks to the overwhelming creativity of Shatraug (who also had time to release a handful of demos, splits and albums with his other band, Sargeist, during the same period). For whatever reason, he is joined only by Corvus on this, the band's fifth full-length. They had been using session drummers, but chose to program the drumming on this one, which hurts the record.

"Raiskattu saastaisessa valossa" begins with the sounds of disease-ridden rats, before picking up from where the most dismal moments of Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne left off. The mid-paced riffs carry a feeling of lifelessness and the extremely raw vocals add to the overall harshness. The drum programming detracts from the atmosphere, a bit, not sounding nearly organic enough. After a couple of minutes, this no longer matters, as there is a section that features only bleak guitar melodies and horrible screams. The open-arpeggio riffs are reminiscent of Burzum, though the sound here is far less clear. The pace picks up a bit, near the middle, but the riff is not exactly complimentary to those that preceded it. These two alternate, a couple times, before the initial theme returns. All in all, not a bad start but the song runs a little long and struggles to maintain a consistent vibe, at certain points.

The next song hearkens back to Horna's early days and seems more in line with a release such as Hiidentorni. Unlike the rest of the tracks on here, "Noutajan kutsu " is rather short and does not attempt to create an epic feeling. A darker riff is introduced, after a minute or so, but it is ephemeral and the pace picks up rather quickly. This song feels kind of average and does not do a whole lot to contribute to the morbid atmosphere than one would assume that the band was going for.

"Mustan surman rukous" starts with a slower riff that possesses an eerie feeling. The guitar melodies that follow are not as impressive. The song sort of drags, with no real inspiration. There is nothing unpleasant or annoying about the track, just that it seems more suitable as background music rather than something to be focused on. Under close scrutiny, it fails to live up to the listener's expectations.

The fact that this album was recorded in two separate sessions becomes clear with the title track. "Ääniä Yössä" sounds completely different from the rest of the material, possessing a distant quality. The first riff is reminiscent of Darkthrone, and the drumming pattern is much faster to match this. Of course, the production is so weak that the song comes across like something heard in a dream. Some open chords are interspersed with the main tremolo melody, giving it an otherworldly atmosphere. Listening to this, you get the sense of falling into a dream that soon turns into a horrifying nightmare. All around you, visions of torture and suffering, as the dreadful notion creeps into your mind that this shall be your fate as well. Waves of misery and anguish pour over you, as you are soon swept away by a river of sorrow and doom. Those damned waters threaten to swallow you forever, as another melancholic tremolo riff accompanies tormented howls that echo within your being. With each new melody, the darkness becomes ever more impenetrable. A woeful strain rises from the utter blackness, woeful in character, extinguishing whatever hope that remains.Despite the obvious similarities with old Darkthrone riffs, the arrangement is well-done and the repetition is carried out in such a way that the introduction of each new piece means something and helps build to the final climatic melody.

Ääniä Yössä would be a rather disappointing release, if not for the 21-minute long title track. In a sense, this album is like Venom's At War With Satan, in that one lengthy song really dominates the album and serves as the centerpiece. Though it is strange for a full-length to feature such a noticeable difference in production, among the tracks, it actually works in this case. While it is not as solid, all the way through, this album is certainly worth hearing for the final track, alone.
 
(15 Oct. 2011)

 
 

Sotahuuto is not an ordinary album. The title is Finnish for "War Cry", and that is fairly appropriate given the nature of this L.P. As the liner notes state, the material was written in the spring of 2004, in tribute of Bathory. This was oddly timed, as Quorthon would pass from this realm a short time later. In general, gimmick albums should be avoided, but it is more acceptable considering Horna's prolific nature.

The quality of the material is decent enough. Of course, there are a good number of stolen Bathory riffs mixed in, as well as others that are greatly inspired by Quorthon's older works. It can get repetitive at times, since some of the ideas sound too similar. Both "Lähtölaukaus" and "Tuhontuoja" start out with riffs that are reminiscent of "Born for Burning", from The Return... Though the album features a lot of old school Black Metal riffs that hearken back to the 80s, Horna's distinctive style still bleeds through and even the melodies that come off as extremely plagiarized are only pieces of a larger framework. "Sodanjano", in particular, actually seems to break away from the tribute altogether, yet still fits in with the rest. Along with the different style of songwriting that dominates Sotahuuto, the length of the individual tracks is much shorter than the last few Horna albums, as a result.

As for the production, this album is even more raw and abrasive than its predecessors. Thankfully, the band recruited a real drummer this time around, so it all sounds much more natural than on Ääniä Yössä. The guitars are very thin and trebly, though are somewhat surpassed in the mix by the vocals. One major complaint with the band is the vocal style that Corvus utilizes, since he almost always sounds strained and as if he is pushing the limits, meaning that there is less variation and less opportunity to accentuate the atmosphere of the music. His voice gives the whole album a feeling of harshness that can be irritating, at times, especially being so prominent in the mix. While this may be what Shatraug had in mind, Horna would probably benefit from getting a new vocalist of for their current one to learn his craft a bit more.

Sotahuuto is a solid album of primitive, raw, ugly Black Metal with a lot of old school feeling. While it is a tribute to Bathory, it does not sound like a total clone of Quorthon's old sound (other than a handful of stolen riffs that are worked in), but definitely in the same vein. There is still enough of Horna's original sound present for this to be easily identified. Not essential, but a good dose of hellish music.
 
(17 Oct. 2011)

 
 

Pimeyden Henku was released in September 2007, on Debemur Morti Productions. This E.P. was the first Horna release since Sotahuuto, which was a tribute to Bathory. Therefore, this was more of a follow-up to 2006's Ääniä Yössä. As one might expect, this effort features four songs of very raw and aggressive Black Metal, sounding much rougher than any of their full-length albums.

The first song, "Nostalgiaa", rises from the darkness and rips you face right off with a vicious thrash riff, before a razor-sharp tremolo melody saws you in half. For a raw and primitive tune, this is rather dynamic. There is a mid-paced riff, albeit brief, that bridges the tremolo riff and the initial thrash theme. Things slow down, by the middle, and a chaotic atmosphere is created. The song seems to slowly wind down, before the first riff returns to take another chunk out of you.

"Avain Tuhossani" is more of a mid-paced track, being far more relaxed than the previous song. It gets better as it goes along, as a mournful melody is introduced. Sadly, it is all too brief. The strange production sort of limits its impact, as well. All in all, not a bad song, but not one of the band's better ones, either.

The next song is a mixed bag. "Kirotun Käden Kosketus" starts out with a rather generic riff, which is soon followed by a brilliant tremolo melody. Unfortunately, the first one is the more dominant of the two. Things slow down, near the middle, and the sound of Corvus's throat tearing and ripping apart is very clear, which suits the excessively raw production of this E.P. This track shows a bit of potential, but more focus needed to be placed on the good riff, while the other one could have been scrapped altogether.

"Verisellä Ovella" starts out with a very dreary riff, reminiscent of early Mütiilation. This feeling is carried on by the following riff, though a more decidedly Finnish-sounding melody takes over by the middle. After a fast-paced part, the music kind of falls apart and the gloomy atmosphere reasserts itself for the last minute or so.

Neither bad nor terribly necessary, Pimeyden Henku offers up a decent slab of raw Black Metal that possesses a few shining moments, along with some rather dull ones. Chances are, the material that was presented here could have been worked on a little more and been all the more effective in a more developed form. Either way, most Horna fans will probably like this.
 
(29 Nov. 2011)

 
 

Released through Debemur Morti Produductions in September 2008, Sanojesi Äärelle witnessed Horna returning to their normal style, after the previous year's Bathory tribute had some listeners wondering if the band had made a permanent shift in their sound. Their seventh full-length album is quite an ambitious effort, containing nearly an hour and a half of music. One reason for the sheer length of this record was for Shatraug to clear up a lot of the material that had been written and waiting. This album is also notable for the fact that it features a full line-up, rather than the main core of Shatraug and Corvus, with whatever session musicians they could find.

The first disc is more straightforward, as "Muinaisten Alttarilta" displays. It bursts forth with hellish fury and a morbid feeling that permeates the melodies. The opening tremolo riffs carve through you, making way for the pestilence that soon spreads, courtesy of the slower riffs and the demented vocals spewing from Corvus. Aside from the two main themes, there is another mid-paced riff that has a more upbeat, almost folk-like, vibe and works well to contrast the darker atmosphere conveyed by the rest.

"Verilehto" features riffs that are a bit more primitive, though with added darkness thanks to the presence of open chords that come at the end of each repetition. These are used throughout the song with increasing frequency as it progresses, helping to create a sombre tone that imbues the listener with a sense of unease.

The next song hearkens back to the band's earlier years, in a way. "Mustan Kirkkauden Sarastus" is fast-paced and features a good deal of tremolo riffs, mixed in with mid-paced sections that are not the most memorable. This is a solid track, but not one of the highlights.

"Katseet" possesses a more melancholic vibe, from the opening moments, as a mid-paced riff creeps from an old grave, bringing the stench of death and rot. The songwriting is rather simplistic and minimalist, while maintaining a decent amount of variation and song progression. The slower riffs are contrasted by fast tremolo-picked melodies that offers a Finnish take on a style made famous in Norway, nearly two decades earlier. Horna has done well at incorporating these elements into their music and creating their own identity, which is quite a feat considering the sheer number of bands out there. This song has kind of an epic feeling, thanks to the additional riffs that appear, later on.

"Askeesi" starts with another fast tremolo riff, though the pace slows down and the overall feeling becomes increasingly dark and morbid. While the slower sections seem to be where the band is most comfortable, Shatraug displays a lot of talent for writing the faster riffs. The raw sound of the recording is emphasized by the guitar tone and the overly strained vocal style that Corvus employs. If he had the ability to control his voice and to only scream with such intensity when the song called for it, he would better serve the band.

The title track explodes from the silence, in a manner similar to some of the other songs on here. It is fairly straightforward and maintains a fast pace, more or less. Of course, it also includes some of Horna's standard mid-paced riffs. By this point, it would be nice to have one track that just keeps up a furious tempo all the way through. Still, that might detract from the morose quality of the music, to some extent.

"Orjaroihu" starts out in a way that, somehow, reminds of the hideous atrocity known as Sudentaival. This song includes a lot of thrashy riffs, mixed in with sorrowful tremolo melodies. This combination is not the best, and the song would have been better with the thrash parts removed. It is natural, with a band working on such a massive album, that some track would not come out as they would have if more time had been allowed for each one.

The next song is "Risti Ja Ruoska", finally breaking from the formula and maintaining a consistent pace, bereft of the slower parts. The riffs are filled with tension and this feeling builds as it goes along, driving you forward to some unknown doom. Other melodies are infused, adding to the epic nature of the song, and dragging it deeper into the dark unknown. From the grating vocals to the harsh guitar riffs, the track appears to build in intensity, before an abrupt ending leaves you, once again, surrounded by nothingness.

"Wikinger" is a cover song, originally by the German band Pest. Oddly enough, Horna picked a song that sounds a lot like their own material. The songwriting is very similar in feeling and style, and even the vocal performance was in the same vein, being more over-the-top and intense. Perhaps, Shatraug thought is sounded enough like his own work and the fact that Saturnus was an original member of Pest was all that was needed to choose this.

This is followed by "Merkuriana", which is the longest track on disc one, clocking in at just over six minutes. Again, tremolo melodies are mixed with mid-paced riffs with some open-arpeggio chords arriving later in the song. This is one of the more memorable songs on the album, and also more miserable. This would have been a good way to end the record, and it seems that was the initial plan.

Disc two begins with "Liekki Ja Voima". One has to wonder whether or not these songs were intended for a separate release, as they are obviously from a different recording session. The production is not the same, and the length and style shifts as well. Perhaps, the second disc was meant for an E.P. or a split release. The first song is eleven minutes long, starting with a mournful tremolo riff that is dripping with utter misery. As this melody flows from the darkness, so to does the blood flow from the wounds that such hopelessness inflicts upon the listener. Somewhat similar to the title track from Äänia Yössä, the riffs are given ample time to draw you into the abyss of suffering and despair, raping your spirit and leaving you vulnerable to the assault to come. The production boasts a rather spectral essence, when compared to the previous songs, and the atmosphere is somewhat distant. Listening to this, one gets a sense of the peace gained by hanging from a noose, lifeless and cold with no remaining connection to the mortal world. The guitar melodies are brilliant and the dismal and nostalgic aura is unforgettable. The only weak point of this would have to be the vocal performance.

"Ruumisalttari" starts out with a riff that is sorrowful and kind of catchy at the same time. There is an introspective and nightmarish quality to this song, which is enshrouded in darkness unheard of on the first disc. While mostly mid-paced, the song includes faster sections that really help to spirit you away to a realm of everlasting shadows and unending pain. Just when it seems that you are nearing the end of your suffering, it becomes clear that you have but reached a deeper level of misery and that the anguish that you have heretofore known was only the beginning.

One of the most haunting and freezing cold riffs of the entire album is featured at the beginning of "Musta Rukous", which is another track that nearly reaches the eleven-minute mark. The faster riffs do well to build a sense of tension, carrying you up into the night sky, while the slower ones represent an unavoidable descent that delivers you to the depths of the shadowed abyss. The mournful riffs and tormented screams work well in conveying a gloomy and lachrymose atmosphere. All that has been lost shall remain so, never to be regained. The end has come, though the process is slow and agonizing, there is no turning back and you can only wait and suffer until the final moments. As the song nears its conclusion, the woeful melody slows down and howls out into the night, summoning the final darkness.

"Baphometin Siunaus" is the final track and a strong way to close out this collection. This one is a bit more catchy than the last one, yet still possesses the same dark essence. It is rather mid-paced, though the middle is considerably slower and delivers the final crushing blows to your spirit. By this point, you have been so utterly annihilated that your arms shall be outstretched, welcoming the end.

Sanojesi Äärelle is a great album, though it may be too much for one to digest in one sitting. It is recommended that the listener take a decent amount of time to really focus on all that is going on here, to fully appreciate it. Shatraug did well to clear up his musical ideas, and though the material here could have resulted in two separate albums, the two-disc concept was not a bad idea. This collection of songs encompasses the band's career and would be a good place for newcomers to start, as well as a worthy addition to the collection of any Black Metal fan.
 
(18 Oct. 2011)

 
 

Released in July 2009, Musta Kaipuu is Horna's eighth full-length album, though not officially recognized as such. The material presented here was recorded during the epic Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne sessions, back in 2004. For whatever reason, these songs were not chosen for that album and were left on the shelf. A few years later, Shatraug was looking to clear out a lot of unused songs, which resulted in a double L.P. in 2008 and then this collection of tracks being released the following year.

"Piina" is first up, and features several memorable riffs. It is mostly mid-paced and the guitar melodies work well to create a sombre atmosphere. The sound is identical to that of Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne, with an emphasis on the raw guitar tone and the extremely hoarse vocals of Corvus. While being fairly solid, this was not the best song to use to open up the album, as it seems more suited for the middle of the record.

The aura darkens from the initial moments of "Haudanvarjo", which is a longer track that features more variation in the tempo. It alternates between slower ad faster sections, not impressing too much, but remaining decent enough. There is a great tremolo riff near the middle that is very memorable, which returns near the end. Overall, it is clear why this song was left off the 2005 release.

"Aldebaranin Susi" is a bit more upbeat, with a somewhat more energetic pace for the first couple of minutes. Following this, the atmosphere becomes increasingly morose as things slow down and the vocals convey a tormented feeling. This one is a bit shorter, only around five minutes, and could have benefited from a little more development. It is a good song, more enjoyable than the previous two, but it had the potential to be even better.

The arrangement of the songs is quite strange, as they did not bother to start with the strongest material. Instead, the tracks seem to display a higher level of quality the deeper you get. "Unohdetut Kasvot, Unohdettu Ääni" is an example of this, showing a lot more thought in songwriting and arrangement. It is somewhat melodic, compared to the more primitive songs on here, but still very grim and melancholic. The tempo is dynamic, but the atmosphere remains consistent. The guitar melodies conjure up a sense of loss and regret, with subtle hints of a more optimistic aura; much like one that mourns the passing of something meaningful, briefly remembering pleasant things before the realization hits that it is forever gone. There is no turning back.

"Vuohenlahko" is a rather primitive and straightforward track, though still bearing a dark and sorrowful quality. It is one of the shorter songs on here and the mournful tremolo riff that appears in the latter half could have been expanded upon. Instead of a supporting role, it should have been featured more prominently as it is the strongest and most effective riff of the whole song.

Another shorter track follows this. "Oi Kallis Kotimaa" begins with a woeful guitar riff and it looks to be one of the more memorable ones of the album, initially. The clean guitar adds to the miserable atmosphere as well, but the vocal approach ruins it. This sounds like something that one would expect from Isengard or some other Viking Metal project. It certainly does not suit this song, or Horna at all. Even if I was in the mood for that type of music, this would not be my cup of tea. This song should have been scrapped.

"Pohjanportti" is another mid-paced song that seems kind of bland, until the middle. At that point, the pace gets even slower and some open chords are utilized to give the track a more dismal feeling. Unfortunately, this part is too brief and only appears again at the very end. Once again, this is a song that is decent but completely pales in comparison to the material on Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne.

The next song is "Sieluhaaska", which comes off as another average track that is pretty good but not great. Though the sound is raw and unpolished, one can hear what sounds like an almost folk-like melody with a more up-tempo feeling.

"Marraskuussa" is the highlight of the album, starting out with a haunting tremolo riff and soon transitioning to one that is even more miserable and desolate. Waves of misery and pain wash over you, dragging you to the abysmal depths and drowning you in utter grief and despair. You get the sense of no longer being able to breathe, as the mournful guitar riffs carve your flesh and the blood escapes your veins. The tortured vocals and the slower sections serve to create a morbid feeling, while you struggle to resist the horrible realization that it is all over. The hell that you are experiencing is eternal. Whatever good times you once enjoyed are forever gone and shall rapidly fade from your memory like a dream. In time, you will begin to question whether or not they ever existed, as the idea of anything pleasant will seem like some sort of product of your imagination. As the song draws to a conclusion, the woeful guitar melody confirms that nothing awaits you but suffering, and nothing else has ever existed.

The final track on here is "Menneiden Kaiku", which continues the gloomy journey into the depths of agony. You feel as if you are being pulled down or simply too weak to move. Your will is broken by this point and your spirit is weary. It is only a matter of time now. The grave is calling for you and nothing that you do will avoid this fate. Your feeble body shall fail you, and this world of misery will loosen its grip as you pass on to the realm of eternal pain and everlasting torment.

Musta Kaipuu is an interesting collection of songs. It possesses the consistency of a normal full-length album, as the material was written and recorded at the same time. On its own, it would be a decent record and only has one bad track. However, when compared to Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne, it becomes quite evident that only "Marraskuussa" is on the same level and is worth the price of the CD, alone. That being said, Musta Kaipuu works well as a companion to the aforementioned album and is certainly a safe buy for any Horna fan.
 
(21 Oct. 2011)

 
 

Herran Edessä - 15 Vuotta is a very interesting E.P. in that it was done to commemorate Horna's 15th anniversary and saw the original line-up reunited to record two new songs. Released in October 2009, and limited to 500 copies, this 7" demonstrates just how much this band meant to those that created it. Though three of the four had moved on to do other things, this was significant enough to bring them back together. It is quite a fascinating concept and one that is not often pulled off with success. The end result is sort of a window back in time, to the band's earliest days.

In keeping with the overall theme, the sound is very much a throwback to those times, being rather muddled and under-produced. The percussion is distorted to the point where it interferes with the guitar riffs, at times. The guitars, themselves, have a fuzzy tone that lacks much power but suits the material just fine. The clarity of such later releases as Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne is absent here. It is not clear whether or not the necro sound was intentional, or if it was due to the band just using someone's home studio to bash out a couple of tunes. Either way, it works within the context of the release.

Musically, it has much more in common with Hiidentorni and Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua as opposed to Horna's later efforts. This is very raw and primitive Black Metal, with nothing added. The ugly riffs, primal drumming and grim vocals combine to take the listener back in time, a bit. It must be said that Nazgul did a much better job here than one might have expected and seems to fit in better than Corvus, as difficult as that is to say. The songs feature a decent amount of variation in tempo, making sure to avoid being one-dimensional. However, the tracks do not break any new ground for the band, which is probably the point.

Recorded especially for a gig that celebrated the band's 15th anniversary, the purpose of Herran Edessä was to pay homage to the band's formative years and to serve as a treat to longtime fans. This is not essential, unless you are a devoted Horna fanatic that must collect everything that they release, but it is definitely worth checking out.
 
(24 Nov. 2011)

 
 

Released in late November 2011, the Adventus Satanae E.P. is the first sign of life from Horna in over two years. This marks the second recording with new vocalist Spellgoth, and yet one has to wonder why there has been such a break. Shatraug has long been known for being an incredibly creative musician, as the massive output of his bands can attest. It may be that he wished to focus on creating Sargeist's long-awaited third full-length, Let the Devil In, as well as giving the other members of Horna a well-earned break. With this mini-album, this Finnish band has returned to show that they have not missed a step, nor have they progressed into the 21st century. This is a recording with firm roots in the Black Metal sound of the 80s and early 90s.

Musically, one can immediately hear traces of the early Norwegian Black Metal sound that has long held a special place within the heart of Shatraug. Once citing Under A Funeral Moon as the definitive Black Metal album, it is no surprise that the two songs found on this E.P. bear some influence from Darkthrone's classic period. With that said, the trademark Horna sound is ever-present and is noticeable from the moment the title track blasts forth from the silence. The music is grim and primitive, as could be expected, keeping in line with the established traditions of the Second Wave. Spellgoth's vocals suit the band, perfectly, and he shows some variation by adding certain shouted parts that add a layer of depth. As the song progresses, some of the riffs betray a possible Mayhem influence, hearkening back to the days from 1988 to 1993 when the likes of Dead and Euronymous were at the forefront of this musical movement. The riffs show a mixture of tremolo picking and old school thrashing, as the drums pound away with barbaric wrath. This atmosphere of strife and unease carries over into "Mustan sydämeni laulu", the longer of the two tracks. With this song, the hints of Under A Funeral Moon are a little more pronounced, regarding some of the riffs in the first half of the song. Shatraug proves to be one of the more skilled and loyal followers of the Second Wave sound. Meanwhile, Spellgoth does well to follow Nazgul and Corvus, while setting himself apart from them. The second half of this song sounds like a tribute to Emperor, with a section that seems to be ripped right out of Wrath of the Tyrant, from the riffs to the necro vocals and percussion. All in all, this material is solid and memorable.

The production is as old school as it gets. The guitar tone is rough and has a nasty sound to it, while the vocals are drowned in reverb and the drumming keeps its appropriate place in the background. The focus is on the guitar riffs and that never changes throughout th course of the E.P. It is very reminiscent of the albums that were released two decades prior, themselves a product of wishing to go back to the sound of 1980s Black Metal. This is very primitive and filthy, just how it should be. As long as bands like Horna exist, the true spirit of Black Metal will persevere, despite the increasing waves of poser scum that infiltrate this form of music.

Adventus Satanae proves that Horna has not missed a step and is still one of the most reliable bands when looking for a continuing output of raw, old school Black Metal that upholds the traditions while also possessing a character of its own. You are well-advised to seek this out and pick it up as soon as possible and to not delay in doing so.
 
(23 June 2012)

 
 

Since the release of Sanojesi Äärelle, Horna had been unusually silent. There have been a handful of releases, including a live album and a collection of songs recorded some years earlier, as well as an anniversary E.P. that featured the band's original line-up. Shatraug also took time to work on side projects, such as Sargeist and Mortualia. In the meantime, Corvus left the band to focus on other things. Fans were given their first taste of new vocalist Spellgoth on the Adventus Satanae mini-album. After some delays, in March 2013, Horna finally returned with a new full-length, Askel Lähempänä Saatanaa.

The production is pretty grimy and primitive, which is usually a good thing. In this case, the drums are far too loud in the mix and the guitar melodies are somewhat difficult to follow. The more active the percussion becomes, the less one is able to discern one riff from another. Horna has been going for a rather lo-fi and raw approach for the last decade or so, but this is sometimes hit-and-miss. The sound here isn't on the level of an old Moonblood rehearsal, but it could have been tweaked a bit.

Stylistically, there are no surprises to be found. The band's roots in the early '90s Black Metal scene are on display, as usual. However, this record does seem to be lacking the eerily haunting riffs that characterized Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne and Sanojesi Äärelle. The songwriting is solid and maintains a consistent feeling throughout, never straying from the pure Black Metal sound that Horna is known for. Unfortunately, the album comes off as a little too safe and predictable. This can be a good thing in some cases. For any other band, this would be an above-average album. Released under the banner of Horna, it seems to be missing something. Spellgoth's vocals don't help, either. He isn't bad at his job, but he relies a bit too much on the random shouts that Nazgul was known for, years earlier. For the most part, he is a capable vocalist, but he doesn't really command your attention in the way that Corvus did. Still, he suits the music well enough. The songwriting is rather straightforward, with a few less meaningful tempo changes than before. There are also less of the catchy riffs that Shatraug is known for, though a few are present. Over the course of the album, the quality of the music seems to improve a bit. Songs like "Ei Aikaa Kyyneleille" and "Kärsimyksin Vuoltu Hänen Valittuna Äänenään" feature some of the first really memorable riffs on the whole record, outside of those found late in the title track. During the faster parts of the latter track, the tremolo melodies are almost hypnotic and epic, with the drumming seeming to fade into the background like a heavy rain on a metal roof that you gradually come to disregard. "Aamutähden Pyhimys" features a slower section, near the end, that somewhat captures the mournful feeling conveyed by much of the band's output.

All in all, Horna fans have no reason to dislike this, though some may have been expecting something a little more monumental after such a long wait. Askel Lähempänä Saatanaa is a solid album, better than any of the full-lengths from the Nazgul era. Judging by the songwriting and production, this sounds like it could have been released in 1993 and is recommended for anyone that is looking for old school Black Metal with no traces of modern filth. While it is not the type of album that will floor most people on the first listen, it will likely grow on you over time.
 
(11 Mar. 2013)

 
 

Two years have passed since the last Horna album, with little activity beyond a couple split releases. So the band's latest full-length, Hengen Tulet, has been much-anticipated. I was quite wary of this record, due to the disturbing pattern of poor choices that have plagued both Horna and Sargeist in the last few years. My initial impression was quite negative, but repeated listens have allowed many of the guitar melodies to seep into my subconscious and to grow on me a bit. Horna has long been one of the few bands managing to keep the black flame burning in the dark times. Still, there are elements of this recording that are off-putting and it struggles to compare to the classic works that preceded it. In some aspects, it displays a marked improvement over some of the shortcomings of the previous offering, but it is not without certain flaws that work to ruin this album. Some may be disappointed, so the best approach would be a cautious one.

There are two significant things that are severely detrimental to this release: the production and the vocals. After Askel Lähempänä Saatanaa, and then especially following Sargeist's Feeding the Crawling Shadows, I worried that Shatraug would continue down the path of horrible production. Sadly, this concern has turned out to be very much justified. One guess would be that the cleaner and more accessible sound on Sargeist's Let the Devil In triggered a reaction toward future recordings and he has sort of gone overboard in trying to avoid repeating that 'mistake'. As a passionate fan of the old Moonblood demos and rehearsals, an immensely lof-fi and necro sound is actually very appealing to me, so this isn't a matter of the production not being 'good' enough. It sounds like they recorded with modern, digital technology and then tried to 'dirty it up' in the studio, after the fact. The various effects do nothing to help the music and actually make it more difficult to enjoy. One of the most perplexing things has to be the decision to mic the drums so thoroughly and to make them so loud in the mix, burying the haunting riffs underneath a lot of unnecessary clutter. Also, whatever awful effects they used for Spellgoth's substandard vocals did them no favours, as well. His voice really does not fit Horna, anyway, and he is vastly inferior to his predecessors Corvus and Nazgul. For that matter, even Shatraug's vocals would be a vast improvement over this ridiculous, Manson-esque poser.

Regarding the music itself, much like Askel Lähempänä Saatanaa, Hengen Tulet is rather mediocre when compared to earlier Horna albums. For over a decade, the band was on the right track, probably peaking with Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne. Yet, in recent years, the consistency and reliability of this band has come into question and can no longer be blindly trusted. In the past, the focus was on the dark and mournful guitar melodies as well as the tormented vocals, creating a very obscure and often nightmarish atmosphere. Here, one has to listen several times to get accustomed to the clunky sound created by the loud drums, bass and pointless meandering of the main riffs. Shatraug's trademark songwriting style is still evident, with some decent melodies here and there, but they serve merely to remind one of past glories. This is evident in tracks like "Amadriada" and "Saatanalle". That is not to say that the material is bad, but that it mostly fails to live up to the expectations that some would have based on previous recordings. That said, the compositions are still clearly rooted in the old days of Black Metal, with obvious influences from the '80s and early '90s. The overall vibe is more aggressive than most of what the band has done in several years, with a lot of intense, fast-paced tracks. Most of this would be on-par with an album like Hiidentorni, if only Spellgoth were even half the vocalist that Nazgul was. Unfortunately, his distorted shouting just does not belong. Tracks like "Nekromantia" and "Ikuisuuden kynnyksellä" slow things down enough for the riffs to breathe a bit, but the Manson-wannabe manages to spoil those to a degree as well. The former is a bit strange and sticks out, with some rather bluesy riffs that are slightly reminiscent of old Danzig. As for the latter song, it is definitely the highlight of the album. It is here, finally, where the guitars step out of the shadows and work to create a darker atmosphere and to convey a feeling of mourning and dread. This is immediately negated with the completely out-of-place and upbeat "Sodan roihu", as well as the filler tracks that follow, so one may want to just stop the disc after track 7.

The sad thing is that even Hengen Tulet's best moments pale in comparison to the likes of "Musta Temppeli", "Marraskuussa" or "Baphometin Siunaus". The old school Black Metal feeling is here, it's just buried under a lot of refuse;. i.e. terrible production and totally pathetic vocals. This album would have sounded much better with a different mix, a raw demo-quality sound that focused on the guitars and left the drumming to the background. No amount of effects or studio trickery can replicate genuine rawness and Horna should have known better. While the record isn't a bad one, and is likely leagues ahead of most of the current crop of bands, it fails to live up the the standard set by the rest of the band's discography. Hopefully, they use a different studio next time, as well as dump the urine-soaked frontman and find someone more suitable for one of Finland's most respected Black Metal entities. Worth a listen, but do not expect too much.
 
(26 Sept. 2015)

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