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Kivenkantaja 2.0 - 83%

Larry6990, March 25th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, CD, Scarlet Records

I can't even remember how I encountered Verikalpa, but my instant grin upon hearing the opening motif of "Naulattujen Vaellus" for the first time will remain in my mind for a long while. This is the kind of pompous and triumphant pagan folk metal that I've been unknowingly depriving myself of. Sounding something akin to Moonsorrow's 2003 effort Kivenkantaja, but after chowing down on piles of candy thus compacting the sprawling compositions down to 3-5 minute chunks of grandiosity. Despite existing in some form or another since the mid-2000s, this European sextet didn't release anything in any official capacity until 2018, with their debut full-length Taistelutahto. Here in 2020, the folk metallers return with Tuoppitanssi, an expansion of sound since the debut, 10 minutes longer and overall more grand.

The comparisons to Moonsorrow's early studio work are inevitable, due to the jig-like folk melodies, bombastic atmosphere and - most notably - Jani Ikonen's voice. Choosing to sing entirely in their native Finnish and utilizing a blackened growl makes his resemblance to Ville Sorvali almost eerie. His vocal performance quickly becomes the star of the show, and my prime reason to return to this album over and over again. The grating harsh vox add a basting of adrenaline to proceedings and, when backed up by the gang-shouts of the rest of the band, can be truly dramatic. This is especially true of the anthemic "Piekon Kieli". As this track builds to a theatrical close, you'll find yourself shouting the song title over and over with glee as I did.

The folk instrumentation is well performed by keyboardist Jussi Sauvola, and there's rarely a moment where the texture isn't being aggrandized by accordions, strings and flutes...but mainly accordions. Verikalpa's signature sound is that of a swinging jig in 12/8 time with a rumbling rhythm section and bouncy accordion over the top. When complete with Ikonen's awesome growls, the timbre alone is enough to keep a listener coming back for more. Unfortunately, even after many listens, I find it difficult to distinguish one song from the next; there's a sort of memorability factor missing. That doesn't lessen the powerful effect of the music, but I find it frustrating not being able to sing along save for a few standout moments. The pounding anthem "Sankari, Saatana, Kostaja" springs to mind.

The tracks that do stand out will find you grinning, headbanging and raising your tankards of ale to the sky. The furious title-track is a breakneck speed affair; the noble "Naulattujen Vaellus" makes for a splendidly flamboyant opening; and the martial "Varjosahti" is fist-pumping heaven. Though, in my eyes, not much can compare to the fiery gallop of "Karhunkaataja". I wish the finale "Tuonen Miekka" had a more theatrical ending to bring the record to an appropriate close, but overall this is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. If you find yourself drawn to the likes of Finnish folk metal icons like Moonsorrow, Ensiferum, Finntroll or even Korpiklaani, then Tuoppitanssi will be right up your street. It's a well-trodden path, but Verikalpa do it extremely well. So far, my favourite folk metal release of 2020. Oh, and that artwork is brilliant.