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Upbeat folk metal with some dark undertones - 88%

hammersmashedeverything, February 23rd, 2013

Sometimes metal can take itself too seriously. As great as bands like Burzum or Behemoth are, one thing metal as a culture is known for is its sense of humour, and sometimes it is better to just have some fun than splash on some corpse paint and try to be more evil than the band before you. Enter Korpiklaani. A Finnish folk metal band, alongside bands like Finntroll and Ensiferum, Korpiklaani are one of the biggest and most popular folk metal bands in the world. They're different from other bands however in the sense that while most folk metal bands were originally metal bands who slowly integrated folk elements into their sound, Korpiklaani started in the early 90s as a folk band and slowly became heavier. As a result the folk elements are a lot more prominent in their music than in a lot of bands, and they are known for their style of very upbeat, jaunty folk metal and their ability to write extremely catchy songs that get stuck in your head for days. They are also known for their consistency and the fact that they release albums very regularly, normally one every year or two. 2012 is no exception, with Korpiklaani following up 2011's “Ukon Wacka” with their new album “Manala”.

Manala is the name of the underworld in Finnish mythology, so this is an album with a darker theme than Korpiklaani fans are used to, but is this reflected in the music? To an extent, the answer is yes. “Manala” is a very varied album, and many of the songs do show this darker influence such as “Metsälle” and the haunting “Synkkä”. There is even an atmospheric interlude in the form of “Husky Sledge”, which consists of some grating, creepy strings with bells jingling in the background, which provides an interesting little break in the middle of the album. In fact “Manala” is certainly a contender for the heaviest Korpiklaani album to date, and as a whole has more of a cinematic, epic feel than previous albums.

At the same time however, many songs are closer to the traditional, upbeat Korpiklaani style featured on folk metal anthems such as “Vodka” from 2009’s “Karkelo”. Album opener “Kunnia” is a bombastic, triumphant song which goes by in what seems to be a lot shorter than its three and a half minute run time. “Tuonelan Tuvilla” and “Ruumiinmultaa” follow suit, and anyone who has ever heard “Rauta” has had the word “iske” stuck in their head ever since. With its bass intro and generally jaunty feel, it is sure to become a live favourite. Some people may be disappointed that there is no drinking song on this album, as Korpiklaani are famous for showcasing their love of alcohol in songs like “Vodka”, “Tequila”, “Beer Beer” and “Let’s Drink”, but when you have a song as engaging as “Rauta” on the album it more than makes up for it. Songs like “Uni” and their cover of famous Finnish song “Ievan Polkka” remain nothing but massively enjoyable. Placed next to these darker, melancholic songs however, they make “Manala” a somewhat disorientating listen, making it an interesting addition to the quickly growing Korpiklaani back catalogue.

The folk instruments are great as always, and the more traditional metal instruments also sound very good in this album’s fantastic mix. Jonne Järvelä’s unique and instantly recognisable vocals are also as good as on previous albums, if not better at times. A debate for many listeners approaching this album however will be whether to listen to the Finnish version or the English version, as this album comes in both. I personally prefer the Finnish version as it sounds more natural for them, but some people prefer the broken English sang in Jonne’s strong Finnish accent found on earlier albums. The Finnish version has the advantage of coming with a fantastic bonus track, the doomy, “South of Heaven”-ish "Sumussa Hämärän Aamun". The way to solve this problem is simply to pick up the deluxe edition of the album, which contains both versions.

“Manala” is a somewhat confusing album, moving from sombre epics to joyful folky tracks that are catchy as hell and back again multiple times. As a whole however it is easily one of Korpiklaani’s strongest albums to date, and one any fan of folk metal should take the time to listen to, because it is definitely worth it. Roll on the next Korpiklaani record.