From their very first demo releases (‘Musta Uni‘, 2012 / ‘Ruttokieli‘, 2013) as a solo project Sielunvihollinen presented a distinct style of melodic black metal guitar phrasing which many had likened to melodic punk and black n’ roll to start and likely because those folks’d only ever given their debut ‘Hautaruhtinas‘ (2015) a quick pass through the first couple of tracks. Over the years we see their music described as “bouncy” most consistently and this strikes me as truly awkward when absorbing the hateful spirit of their discography in approach of their (now) four full-lengths and interstitial demos; A fundamental ignorance of punk music as an artform guided by “playful” rock melody alongside the insular nature of metalhead tunnel vision can surely give a band like this a superficial reputation that is necessary to cast aside. There is partial truth to any ignorance, though, and the lead guitar ideas posited by their early works do translate a certain street punk lead-in early on but as we move on to Sielunvihollinen‘s duo of releases for Darker Than Black, a demo (‘Tuhontuoja‘, 2016) and perhaps their most vigorous statement up to that point ‘Ruhonkantaja‘ (2017) these observations appear to have been symptoms of formative years as we’ll soon hear tightened guitar compositions communicating both current Finnish black metal melodic standards and some vague influence from Swedish black metal. Where am I leading you with all of this? Instead of spitballing a half-assed melodic punk reference we could probably assume the guitarist’s compositional influences come with some conscious appreciation of all manner of muse including melodic black metal itself alongside some shades of folk metal, melodic death metal, and hey, perhaps even power metal. Hell, the main hooks from “Aamutähden Sarastus”  (from ‘Ruhonkantaja’) could’ve come straight from a late 90’s Sentenced song if you squint your ears a bit. They’d reached a sophisticated and nigh signature sound at that point, heavily repeatable melodic black metal with a bit of a triumphal spirit and, eh, at this point such catchy music cannot do well to hide within Finland.

This is especially true when Sielunvihollinen is counted among the handful of Finnish black metal artists who see the hypocrisy of not blinking an eye at rote anti-Christian sentiment in music but being careful to tiptoe around anti-Islamic expression, equal hatred for all monotheism is absolutely warranted and should not be seen as controversial. The project had become notable enough beyond their second album to warrant demand for live performances nearby the third full-length, ‘Kuolonkylväjä‘ (2019), where I would suggest their Swedish black metal influences are most notable to my ear even if we might be better off looking to Goatmoon and Horna for a more complete comparison in spirit and sound. At this point we can say with some conviction that Sielunvihollinen offer their own melodic voice compared to many peers, whom often just borrow heavily from Shatraug‘s work or other notable bands nearby for technique and song structure. ‘Kuolonkylväjä’ was and still is a notable record for its fluid update to 90’s melodic black metal movement, triumphal but soured and lead driven when it counts. This reflects positive changes to the dynamic of the band with live performances in mind, and with greater consideration of songcraft; The main songwriter has notably sharpened his blade, now writing confidently for a two guitar arrangement while still conveying his point of view as a thread traceable back to the ‘Musta Uni’ demo. Distinct and somewhat “upbeat” lead guitar guidance features through all eight pieces of ‘Teloituskäsky’ and showcases some smart refinement beyond the Svensk vibe carrying the rhythms of ‘Kuolonkylväjä’.

Though the opener “Tulen kaste” functions as an immediate pull into the experience the three tracks that follow present the argument for Sielunvihollinen being defined by pronounced use of melody or, worthy of the melodic black metal tag. More importantly, they bring a solid modern example of the craft that isn’t entirely reliant upon the underground treasure troves of the 90’s. “Murtunut peili” forces the issue first, a signature mid-paced lead and a simple heavy rock song structure make for a repeatable and expressive melodic statement, though it is “Varjot” that brings the first appreciable peak of triumphant lead guitar heroism on the album, reaching the ~2 minute mark and hitting the hook the song had been leading into. This will either serve as a major highlight or force too much of a melodic rock guitar moment for some. I find this far more brave than the sad, pretty and fairly sluggish sort of melody we often find in modern atmospheric/melodic black metal for the sake of a certain heavy metal boldness within these statements that lends Sielunvihollinen an even more robust personality. If we punch through the obviate melodic driver of most pieces the rhythm guitar work is only slightly less consistent: On “Kahleidenkatkoja” they’ve hit some similar notes you might find on one of the calmer pieces on ‘The Coming of Chaos’, though again the main lead guitar hook takes us far from the ‘old school’ melodic black metal ideal and closer to the melodic rock side of things. In direct contrast the rhythmic arrangements on “Noitavaino” are far from plain but, still nearing typical fare in terms of what we can expect to find on any decent Finnish black upstart today. The title track is a bit of a savior for the sake of burning into some of the groove that’d made the deeper cuts on ‘Hautaruhtinas’ outlast that album’s first impression. This is unfortunately the last “big” moment on the full listen as ‘Teloituskäsky’ falls into what I’d call Sognametal-itis, running a bit low on energy and ideas after the first half hour wraps up but still presenting well crafted pieces that fit the theme and mood of the full listen.

Pushed hard out of the gates and easing on the gas in approach of the end, we’ve seen and heard far worse fates for half as strong artists, the result is ultimately a winner but not necessarily anything mind-blowing beyond the ease of approach and replayability. As the most polished recording and deliberately accessible work of Sielunvihollinen this might be the best introduction to their heavily melodic style and otherwise traditional black metal point of view. Though I struggled to find an conversation, depth beyond blasphemy, or any real generative idealistic interest to pull from my time with this Finnish black metal record, there is some satisfaction in hitting a brick wall for information at every turn and being forced to focus on accessible rock hooks rather than whatever poetic dearth the difficult to (properly) translate Finnish language has to offer. “Easy”, austere and repeatable as ‘Teloituskäsky’ often is there is still the underlying sense that Sielunvihollinen would still like the listener to fuck off and I appreciate that as the best possible aftertaste. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Hammer of Hate Records
RELEASE DATE:April 2nd, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Black Metal,
Melodic Black Metal

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