Brandishing the black flame for more than a quarter of a century, Horna are firmly established as one of the most influential, trailblazing forces not just in Finnish Black Metal but across the subgenre as whole, ‘Kuoleman Kirjo’ being their tenth full-length and first since 2015’s exceptional ‘Hengen Tulet’. While founder and prime driving force Shatraug and his satanic acolytes could be forgiven for semi-retiring, leaning on past infamies and delivering a by-the-numbers album, they have in fact done the complete opposite. Thus, with the mesmeric ‘Kuoleman Kirjo’, we are served one of the most expansive and memorable records in Horna’s diabolical discography.
Fair to deduce that inspiration was flowing freely as, at 70 minutes, ‘Kuoleman Kirjo’ is the second-longest recording of Horna’s illustrious career, eclipsed lengthwise only by ‘Sanojesi Äärelle’, which was of course for all intents and purposes a double album. And the generous quantity is matched by sheer quality, with the album never overstaying its welcome.
One of the first things to strike me is the sheer power and potency of ‘Kuoleman Kirjo’, with Horna appearing positively reinvigorated. The impact of the music is helped by a more transparent production than we’ve become accustomed to. From the opening strains of ‘Saatanan Viha’, it becomes quickly apparent that the fiendish Finns are not about to stand on ceremony. This is the first album featuring the latest Horna line-up and the relatively-new rhythm section of LRH and VnoM make an abundant contribution to the blasphemy, the former’s drumming in particular hammering an ominous cadence all over proceedings.
‘Haudattujen Tähtien Yönä’, the album’s centrepiece, is bordering on experimental by Horna standards, mid-paced, atmospheric, with actual singing involved, but it manages to still sound imminently evil. Throughout the entirely of this surprisingly-diverse album, it’s impossible not to be impressed with how skilfully and seamlessly all the instruments are stitched into the music, Horna demonstrating an uncanny ability – borne of experience and devotion as much as ability, one assumes – to craft malevolent, infectious black magick of the very highest calibre.
All in all, ‘Kuoleman Kirjo’ is more ambitious than its predecessors, the addictive, ritualistic fourth spell, ‘Sydänkuoro’, the first to really stand out due to the use of deviant, chanted / sung vocals to complement Spellgoth’s inhuman rasps. This more varied, domewhat doomy vocal approach is evident again on the aforementioned ‘Haudattujen Tähtien Yönä’ as well as ‘Unohtumaton’, ‘Pyhä Kuolema’ and the parting shot, ‘Ota Minut Vastaan’.
There’s a mixture of moods and tempos smattered across the album – from blasting, shrill and piercing to head-banging and devil-horn-throwing, rich riffs darting around like Satan’s minions – Horna not only achieving the nigh-on-impossible by keeping a 70-minute recording interesting but also flexing their considerable song-writing muscle. ‘Rakas Kuu’ is another unforgettable work of sheer black alchemy; no need for keyboards when you can conjure and embed so much subtle melody into music that still retains a decidedly dangerous aura.
‘Kuoleman Kirjo’ shows that Horna are not just the godfathers of Finnish Black Metal but also an enduring, underivative relevant force of nature. All devotees of the dark arts are encouraged to check this thoroughly wicked, spellbinding and highly accomplished album out.