Korpiklaani, Karkelo (Nuclear Blast Records, 2009)

I suppose it's a sure sign that New Nordic folk music has gained a foothold in the Scandinavian mainstream when heavy metal groups have embraced the folklore, mythology, and in in some cases the sounds and incorporated them into their own music. Then again, there is a darkness in the old stories and an edginess in the traditional melodies that make them very compatible with the most primal elements in contemporary music, so the connection is more natural than it may look at face value. I've already spoken plenty about the Faroese band Týr and their intriguing hybrid of folk and metal, and the Finnish band Korpiklaani covers a lot of the same ground. The band consists of Jonne Järvelä (vocals and guitar), Jaako "Hittavainen" Lemmetty (fiddle, mandolin, whistle), Kalle "Cane" Savijärvi (guitar), Juho Kauppinen (accordion), Jarkko Aaltonen (bass), and Matti "Matson" Johansson (drums), with J. Jyrkäs supplying the Finnish lyrics (Jonne composes the music and writes the English lyrics). Their newest album is called Karkelo, which roughly translates to "party."

Most of the songs on Karkelo are in Finnish. The lyrics are original, but rooted in the myths and folk stories of Finland. This actually gives them something fairly significant in common with the folk band Värttinä, even if the similarities more or less end there. Happily, the inherently lyrical Finnish language remains fun to just sit and listen to even on a heavy metal recording, and that doesn't depend on whether or not you actually know what Jonne is singing. There are two songs in English as well. The lyrics of "Vodka" and "Bring Us Pints of Beer" both celebrate, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion ("Everyone is gorgeous! Yeah vodka!"), a recreational activity cherished by Finns across the centuries.

Like Týr, Korpiklaani are much more metal than folk. The band rocks as loud and hard as you would expect any metal band to do. I'm partial to the song "Kultanainen (Golden Woman)." Based on a story in the Kalevala, this song has a cool intro with the guitarists revving it up on separate speakers; it's definitely worth a listen through headphones. I don't feel that Korpiklaani completely succeed at fitting their folk instruments into their overall sound, though. When the accordion or fiddle leads the tune, like on the thrash polka "Vesaisen sota," they sound fine. But most of the time they get completely overwhelmed, or come across a little too much like novelties. The joiking (a style of wordless vocalizing native to the Sámi people in the extreme north of Scandinavia) that Jonne does on "Kohmelo" works really well, but I wish he didn't wait until the last song to do it.

As somebody with more of an interest in Nordic folk music than heavy metal, I probably have a very different perspective on Karkelo than most Korpiklaani fans would. I'd be the guy in the back of the club making ponderously academic comments on the effectiveness of alliteration in Finnish lyrics, or the common musical ground the Sámi have with Native Americans, while everybody else is moshing up front and throwing bottles of beer around. I guess there's more than one way to party.

Overall grade: B

reviewed by Scott

"Vodka." But don't forget to drink responsibly, everybody!

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