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Great fun, if brief... - 88%

Dr_Funf, January 24th, 2023

In the world of metal, being a 'fun' band (i.e. something you'd stick on at a house party that's on its way to getting messy) is often a ticket to a certain degree of success irrespective of actual quality, particularly for folk metal acts, as that particular sub-genre can otherwise get very samey, very quickly. But while all that would explain how a band as God-awful as Tyr ever got anywhere, Finntroll is thankfully one of the folk metal bands that brings both a unique sound - a unique fusion of Scandinavian folk, black metal, and humppa (Finnish polka, basically) - and songwriting quality, backed up by solid musicianship.

Given everything that happened between Nattfodd and their previous studio album, Jaktens Tid, it's a minor miracle that Finntroll were able to keep going at all, even with a couple of EPs released in between). The band sadly lost both its founding members - Katla (vocals) and Somnium (guitars); the former due to a throat-based tumour preventing him from singing again, and the latter tragically suffering a fatal fall from a bridge whilst drunk. But the band elected to continue, replacing both members with Wilska (best known for providing guest vocals on a couple of Nightwish releases) and Routa on vocals and guitars, respectively, whilst remaining members Trollhorn (keyboards), Tundra (bass), Skrymer (guitars) and Beast Dominator (drums) had virtually been in the band since the beginning.

A good thing they did continue, too, as the resulting Nattfodd (Nightborn) proved to be Finntroll's strongest record by that point, still ranking among their best albums as of this date, and remains the best starting point for new listeners. Stylistically, it's closer to their debut album, Midnattens Widunder, than Jaktens Tid, dropping the more epic and war-like feel of the latter. But it is more refined and improves upon Midnattens Widunder and is more focused than Jaktens Tid. From the opening track, 'Vinfard / Manniskopesten', it's clear that the band mean business, full of catchy hooks and keyboard melodies while Wilska growls and snarls away in troll-like fashion. This is then followed by the blistering 'Eliytres', one of the standout tracks on the album, which exemplifies the blend of black metal, folk metal and humppa.

Remaining strong from the opening, Nattfodd continues to churn out a number of classics, including fan-favourite 'Trollhammeren' and the stunning title track. The only real point where the album loses a little momentum is at the seventh number, 'Marknadsvisan', a two-minute piece largely comprised of sounds effects where the only music is a brief 20-second black metal freak out. It disrupts the flow of the album a bit too much, but 'Det Iskalla Trolblodet' quickly brings the focus back, before the album finishes strongly with 'Grottans Barn' and acoustic closer 'Rok' (called 'Routas Vaggsvisa' on some versions).

Perhaps the main issue with Nattfodd, however, is that for all its quality, it's a bit on the short side. Lengthy albums have never been Finntroll's thing, and that's more than appropriate, but this outing feels like it could have done with a song or two more. It's something that the band appears to have acknowledged, as all subsequent albums have generally been in the 40-45 minutes range, which is just right for this particular style of music. But even so, what's on offer here is very good.

As far as Finntroll's albums go, when considering the best starting point for newcomers, Nattfodd immediately springs to mind. It's the most focused and refined of their early work, before the darker atmosphere of the Vreth-era began, and you can hear in the record what a good time the band had recording it.

Recommended tracks - 'Eliytres', 'Nattfodd', 'Grottans Barn'.