I’m aware many readers think I pick promos to review based solely on the presence or absence of a sword wielding barbarian on the cover. I can certainly see the reasoning behind that school of thought, but you’ll note there is no such angry warrior here, only a solitary dude in feathers and native garb. That dude is none other than Jonne Jävelä, vocalist and guitarist of Finnish folk-metal pioneers, Korpiklaani, and Jonne is his new solo album. Those familiar with Korpiklaani know that Jonne’s hoarse bellow is an integral part of the band’s charm and his vocal style has been described as that of a Viking protesting a questionable tax assessment. So is his self titled debut another chance for him to air pre-Festivus grievances or is there something else afoot here? Well, this is definitely still folk music, but not the madcap, alcohol-fueled variety he helped popularize over the past decade. This is much more restrained, stripped down, primitive Finnish folk with a deep respect for the source material. The promo speaks of a desire to craft a “minimalistic and raw interpretation of shamanistic folk music” and though I’m hardly steeped in the shamanistic arts, I’d say Jonne accomplished what he set out to do. The question is, will there be and audience for this kind of music outside Finland?
This is an interesting collection of songs, so very folksy and loaded with the traditional sounds of Finland, they almost make Korpiklaani‘s material seem like an entirely different genre. Opener “Viuluni Laulua Soutaa” is a laid back composition full of tribal chanting, soft folk instrumentation and a vaguely funky groove. I’m sure I’ll take some flak for this, but it sometimes reminds me of Sully Erna‘s world music-themed cuts from his Avalon album, and while it’s nice, it doesn’t really grab me. “Ken Söi Lapsen Lattialta” is much more engaging and Jonne sounds more like his drunken pirate self. It’s simple and at times, even threadbare musically, relying on rudimentary percussive elements to drive the song, but the vocal harmonies by Jonne and Natalie Koskinen (Shape of Despair) are quite captivating and bounce around in your head after the song ends.
The most immediate and memorable cut is “Kuku Käki” due to the traditional song structure and the hooky chorus which bears slight traces of the classic Korpiklaani style. Jonne’s vocals are more urgent and impassioned here and the smooth but powerful female vocals prove an effective background upon which they layer unobtrusive percussion, lutes and a host of other folky sounds. “Metsään On Iäksi Mieli” stands out for incorporating traditional Native American chants and the song works much like the lighter Eluveitie tunes do – relying heavily on female vocals and syncopated chants. It’s a beautiful piece with a heavily spiritual component and it’s quite hypnotic too.
The best songs are definitely on the first two-thirds of the album, with the last few feeling a bit less interesting and unnecessary. Things close out with a Finnish language version of the Styx song “Boat on a River” and a traditional cover of Simon and Garfunkel‘s “The Boxer,” which is rendered awkward by Jonne’s uber heavy accent and raspy delivery.
And Speaking of Jonne, he does a yeoman’s work across the album, singing, playing guitar, hurdy gurdy, kantele and violafon. He generally keeps his vocals less “metal” than we’re used to, and much of his singing is low and understated. All the lyrics are in Finnish, so that may be a barrier for some, but with this type of music it just makes it seem more genuine. There are all sorts of guest appearances scattered throughout, with keyboards from Santeri Kallio (Amorphis) and backing vocals from Eero Haula (Oceanwake), but no instrument or singer dominates the sound or steals the show.
The biggest question mark surrounding the album, is when would one want to hear this kind of mellow folk music? It could work as background music and would be ideal to pipe into a park during Yea Olde Renaissance Faire, but for the average metal fan, I doubt this will find a place in rotation. That shouldn’t diminish what Jonne accomplished here though, because this is listenable and enjoyable music, even to a fat, ignorant American like myself with no connection to the woodland gnomes and spirits of Finland. I can’t see coming back to this much, but I respect what it is and the intentions behind it. Worth hearing and definitely different.