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Korpiklaani's eighth full-length, Manala, comes out with a bonus CD containing the whole album sung in English - of which I will not talk about, since I will focus only on the "original" twelve tracks of the Finnish version - and it marks a significant break in the not-that-long career of this always-enjoyable Finnish folk metal band.
Some relevant differences compared to the past have to be punctualized. Firstly, the long-time violinist and multi-instrumentalist Hittavainen left the band in 2011, and he has been replaced by the brilliant composer and musician Tuomas Rounakari, who has been playing for many years traditional Finnish and Arctic songs with his violin and his ankle-bells. His contribution to Manala is enormous, playing a solo song ("Husky-Sledge") and another violin-dominated song with the full band on the background ("Dolorous"), but more than this literally overwhelming Juho Kauppinen's accordion, which in the whole Korpiklaani discography has historically played a fundamental role. Although in some songs Kauppinen still manages to lead the melodies, Rounakari's violins are for the first time truly the best and the most cleverly used instrument on a whole Korpiklaani album.
Secondly, on Manala we can appreciate a return of Korpiklaani, I would say, not actually to their origins as a folk metal band but to the origins of the Finnish folk music. We do not have a single "happy" drinking song on Manala, and as the lyrics on the album are based on the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland, we are mostly going to hear more melancholic, nostalgic and nature-inspired songs compared to the Korpiklaani past albums.
However, after all these enjoyable features and great innovations, Manala presents some noteworthy flaws. Among its twelve tracks, indeed, there are some fillers like "Tuonelan Tuvilla", a pretty boring track with few folk aspects, or some nice songs such as "Sumussa Hämärän Aamun", a long, heavy and slow track also featuring some gloomy violins and accordions, which unfortunately remembers too much older songs like "Huppiaan Aarre".
Apart from this, and from "Petoeläimen Kuola", a strange thrash/folk experiment which gets boring after two listenings (and even from the two instrumental songs of which I have already written about), the rest of the album is a bunch of catchy, greatly-played and truly enjoyable folk metal songs; the first track, "Kunnia", also features some great joik by Järvelä, the traditional Finnish singing style of which he made great use in many old songs; the track itself is very catchy in its chorus, accompanied by a brilliant accordion melody.
"Rauta" features a hurdy-gurdy, and it is a great exemplar of the last part of Korpiklaani's career, with heavier guitar playing and slower, more "various" drums and changes of tempo compared to their first albums; "Ruuminmultaa" is instead a pure folk song in the Korpiklaani style, with some astonishing violin melodies and solos and catchy choruses as always. "Uni" follows a similar path, but on here Kauppinen's accordion has more room, even if Rounakari's brilliant violins - and I insist another time by saying that this is the greatest innovation on Manala - soon get the prominent role when Matson's double bass and Järvelä's vocals start the heavy chorus.
"Metsälle", over five minutes long, begins with a slow, nostalgic folk melody in order to burst out into a heavy part, in which - another time - a hurdy gurdy precedes a nice, traditional Korpiklaani folk metal song; "Synkkä" starts with a similar melody, and has the same length of the former song, but it is actually fully acoustic, and a great guitar playing leads the whole track in a desolate, melancholic way. Again, Rounakari's violin plays a fundamental role. The last song of which I will talk about is the famous "Ievan Polkka", whose video with some anime girl with a leek in her hand has probably been watched by everyone in the last years on Youtube. Well, that version was the a cappella one of the Finnish quartet Loituma, but the original track dates back to some centuries ago and its lyrics have been written by Eino Kettunen in the 1930s in some Karelian dialect. The song itself is a Finnish polka and Korpiklaani's folk metal version gives many space to the accordion melody, while Järvelä's vocals are fast, raw as always and appropriate to the velocity of their greatly enjoyable cover.
Analyzing most of the tracks of Manala has been practically necessary, since Korpiklaani's eighth studio album is, in my opinion, one of the best of their career and it features many innovations and brilliant melodies, thanks to Rounakari's violins, Kauppinen's accordion and Järvelä's always-"pertinent" vocal styles, adapting themselves to the different feelings of the various tracks, although Järvelä has not, of course, an astonishing voice. Manala probably manages to surpass Ukon Wacka, Karkelo and even the older Tales Along This Road among the others, bringing one more time some fantastic - although more melancholic, reflexive and refined - Finnish folk metal to the world.