Thursday, July 1, 2010

Horna - Vihan Tiellä (2009)

With such an endless procession of product being spat out of the band's abyssal imaginations, it's a wonder that there aren't more live Horna experiences available on CD. The Finns are one of the stronger touring black metal acts, at least to stand loyal to a necrotic, filthy underground sound rather than a symphonic endowed fashion expo like some others. This is only the 2nd such offering I'm really aware of, the other being the Black Metal Warfare live released in 2004, and this was culled from a performance in Athens, Greece back in 2007, so it's not exactly current, but close enough.

I'll state that this is packaged extremely well, with some excellent, aesthetic artwork and the inclusion of the lyrics to the set. Not that this will help one as myself who cannot understand the Finnish tongue, but then, that's never stopped me from enjoying Horna before. At first I misled myself into thinking this was an album of new material being recorded live as opposed to the studio, since I'm not used to lyrics in live album booklets, and this is one band who's song titles rarely ring a bell due to my inadequacy with the language. It turns out the overwhelming majority have appeared before, once or numerous times on the band's prior full-lengths, EPs and split releases. But it's a testament to the band's history that the songs all sound so fluid together, regardless of their original era, about as savage as black metal gets. Vihan Tiellä was recorded with almost the same lineup the band maintains today, with the exception of Saturnus, no longer with them.

The sound mix of the material is quite sincere, but then Horna have always been a band without much gimmicks, and their songs translate to a rather live, brash feel even on the studio efforts. You'll hear some feedback or squalor in places, and occasionally a very minor turbulence in the performance, but the band's haunting riffs and Corvus' bloodthirsty, brutal throat-tones really hammer home the effortless despair with which this band has come to be associated. They're not exactly the most intricate riff writers, and occasionally they'll incorporate some chords that sound familiar to anyone that's been listening to the style for years, whether that be grim punk, rock or black metal. There's been very little deviation in their form, though, so the live pulls together the mix of faster and slower, more sorrowful material very evenly, as if it were a studio selection.

Earlier tunes present in the set include "Örkkivuorilta" from the debut album Kohti Yhdeksän Nousua, and "Verikammari" from the Perimä Vihassa Ja Verikostossa EP in 1999, but this is largely a 21st century Horna, with the largest representation hailing from one of the band's more popular efforts Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne: "Vihan Tie", "Musta Temppeli" and "Kuoleva Lupaus" were all selected. A few tracks from the Musta Kaipuu album of outtakes are also present here: "Marraskuusa" and "Sieluhaaska", though that album would only be released in the same year this live finally got out. Rounding this out, one track from the 2006 full-length Ääniä Yössä ("Raiskattu Saastasessa Valossa"), one from the Viha Ja Viikate EP in 2003 ("Mustasiipinen") and a track the band's split with Behexen, "Verta Koirille". The one track I didn't recognize was "Näkyjen Tuhkasta", a fast paced lashing which is one of the more inspired individual performances on this album.

Like most live albums I'm exposed to, I just can't see any reason which this album would replace the band's excellent studio works, or the experience of actually seeing them for myself. The track list is very steady and the songs often sound almost as good as their studio counterparts, in fact maybe too close, which reduces a little of the novelty or value here. I was also a little perplexed why the band did not include material from their 2007 album Sotahuuto, which is coincidentally my favorite full-length of Horna and my favorite metal album of that year. Whether this was recorded before or after that material I cannot say, since the exact date of the performance is not included with the booklet, but I would figure at least some of those excellent tracks had been written by this time. This all adds up to an experience that is less than optimal, though the band is frankly one of the best in Finnish black metal.

Since this is one band that appeals highly to the metal collector, due to their wealth of output, the great packaging and musical quality of Vihan Tiellä are really secondary to its inclusion on the CD rack in the mountain piles of 'stuff', all in the name of completion. It's by no means a bad exposure to the band's skills on the stage, but I will be unlikely to listen to this over one of their amazing full-length efforts.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

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