Now, I’ll admit that polka-influenced folk metal isn’t for everyone. Complaints about the genre vary, ranging from derision of the unmetal instruments and arrangements, to nitpicking remarks about some flute wrecking an entire song, to outright dismissal of the genre as “gimmicky.” It’s true that folk metal just doesn’t appeal to some metal fans. Also true is the fact that some bands simply have no business recording sylvan soundscapes and calling it folk metal (folkcore?). But Korpiklaani stand apart. They have overwhelmingly proved their mastery of the genre. Manala is their eighth studio album in a ten-year span—that’s more material and dedication than most bands produce in a career.
As on their prior releases, Manala wastes no time demanding your attention. At this, Korpiklaani are masters. They understand the importance of mass appeal and getting an audience to listen, dammit, beyond a song’s first ten seconds. “Kunnia,” heavy and fast and folk-lite, opens the album with a bang in much the same way that “Happy Little Boozer,” “Vodka,” and “Cottages & Saunas” tore open earlier albums. “We love booze, we love the sweat lodge—let’s get drunk in the sweat lodge!” says the music. “Strip to your boots and belly-sled down the hill!” says the music. “What are you waiting for? Don’t worry, we’ve got the soundtrack covered.” The recent single “Rauta” further proves the band’s talent for writing damn catchy songs. It gets in your feet, then your head, it stays in your head all day, chanting—play it again, play it again, play it again. Infectious is an adjective overused in music reviews, but in this case there’s no better word.
The joyous vibe that runs through much of Korpiklaani’s music builds up in the album’s first half. But then the tone shifts in “Husky Sledge,” a minute-and-a-half interlude of harshly sawed fiddle accompanied by sleigh bells and soft percussion, a transition that takes us north, to some remote, inaccessible place where the skies are darker, the air colder, the people more stoic. An instrumental track, “Dolorous” (which is titled exactly as it sounds), expresses the overcast mood in a way that lyrics would only muddle. Don’t get me wrong, though: the second half does not rapidly deflate into crushing dread or hopelessness or anything like that. This is not doom in the genre sense. The music just bears a little more gloom than some fans might expect from Korpiklaani, just a little. And because I don’t understand a word of Finnish, the overall effect of the music is hard to pin down. I have to rely on the tones and textures alone. It’s very difficult to describe, but a pleasure to hear.
Manala is a great folk metal record that will only strengthen Korpiklaani’s already widespread fan base. Some metal fans will never accept the genre, but anybody who’s been craving a fix of new Korpiklaani probably doesn’t care. In fact I think my wife has fallen in love with Jonne, the frontman. His dreadlocks, his knowing grin, the way he rolls his R’s—well, he is pretty much irresistible.
Available August 3 from Nuclear Blast Records.