It seem like only a few months since these wily Finns graced us with their last folky firestorm of speed-infused polka, Ukon Wacka, and here they are again with the righteous follow-up Manala. It’s more top-notch, humpa-metal from the wilds of the Finlandian forests, guaranteeing good times and merriment for all. While they haven’t tinkered much with their winning core sound, this one features a new fiddler, darker subject matter and a heavier, more aggressive approach. Taking a page from the Amorphis playbook, Korpiklaani turned to the Kalevala, their national book of folklore for gloomy tales of the underworld, trolls and the like. The heaviness is a nice touch but the material is still the tried and true folksy nuttiness you’ve come to expect and yes, it will still make you dance around like a fool as you quaff more ale than anyone should. In fact, this review is so beer soaked, it may short out your monitor. Forget Tankard, this is the real deal in rowdy drinking metal, and it’s not just for people renting a room from seven boozy dwarves.
Kicking the renaissance faire off with aplomb, “Kunnia” rocks out with their woodblocks out in classic Korpiklaani style. You get cheerfully gruff, angry troll vocals and infectious fiddle and accordion lines playing off the crunching, heavy riffs. There are the expected sing-along chants, cheers and call backs and the whole contraption is plain old fun. “Tuonelan Tuvilla” is heavier, but even more hooky and instantaneous. Meaty thrash riffs rumble along and keep things mean and heavy, while the folk instrumentation keeps it fun, bouncing and jaunty. The first proper single is the rousing “Rauta,” which is as close to a drunken party as any song can get. The steady, simple chant of “iske” along with the fiddle/accordion drone is a great tension builder, and when the song finally kicks forward, its like a dam bursting (I especially love the way Jonne Jarvela sounds like he’s conducting a frantic livestock auction the whole time). These early tunes are all solid gold with a beer batter coating.
Other standouts include the Exodus-like attack of “Peteolaimen Kuola,” the somber, mellow acoustics of “Synkka,” the zippy, light-hearted “Uni” and my personal favorite, the cover of the classic Finnish folk song “Ievan Polkka.” This one is loaded with fun and good feelings as the band rips a high-speed humpa polka while weaving their funky instrumentation in and out. It has more energy than 90% of modern thrash and sports 100% more heart (and to make AMG’s day, here’s a link to a killer J-Pop version ). Also worth noting are the dual instrumentals “Husky Sledge” and “Dolorous,” both of which feature new fiddle man Tuomos Rounakari in interesting ways (“Dolorous” features particularly effective, mournful fiddle riffs (is that the right terminology?)).
No song is filler and all offer interesting spins on the classic folk concept. Hell, they even incorporate doom riffs during lengthy albumcloser “Sumussa Hamaran Aamun.” While I’m aware the concept revolves around the underworld and some dark stuff, the lyrics are all in Finnish, so the actual story is lost on me. However, that in no way impaired my enjoyment of the jolly rocking material.
Musically, Korpiklaani has always excelled at incorporating the various folk elements into the metal paradigm and they succeed again here. Jonne and Cain provide a constant flow of heavy riffs to anchor the folksy insanity and Jonne’s angry but somehow humorous growls and shouts are as endearing as ever. There’s no shortage of ripping fiddle action and I never get enough of Juho Kauppinen’s groaning accordion. By the way, the sound and mix allows you to hear everything going on (which is quite a lot) but the guitars still have crunch and bite.
So what are the downsides? Things are a bit front loaded, with a few of the tracks on the back-end being less instant and powerful. While I like “Synkka,” it does run on a bit long and may have benefited from trimming. Also, the placement of the two instrumentals back to back is a bit odd. Pretty small complaints because this is a mighty solid release.
With albums appearing like clockwork, one could forgive Korpiklaani for the occasional dip in quality. Happily, there’s no need for such forgiveness since the past few albums have been so damn strong. If you liked Ukon Wacka (or any of their albums), you’ll like this too. They somehow manage to keep the sound fresh and lively and I keep wanting more. The best beer drinking, pipe smoking, gnome chasing music out there, bar none. Not everyone’s doing the toxic polka, but these guys sure do it right.
[Edit: This album will also be released in a “deluxe version” including a second disc with English lyrics. I personally think the material sounds better in the original tongue, but hey, options are good.]