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Korpiklaani – More Songs about Saunas and Drinking

Korpiklaani - "Karkelo"

Korpiklaani – “Karkelo” (Nuclear Blast, 2009)

In order to celebrate the release of Korpiklanni’s new album next week, I am reviewing their last long player, “Karkelo” (“Party”). Why? Because my brother-in-law, Joe, recently brought this CD back all the way from Finland for me. Thanks, Joe!

Korpiklaani’s story is pretty well known. They started as a house band at a restaurant playing traditional folk music that featured yoik singing in the Sami language and synthesizers churning out relentless hummpa-based rhythms. They were getting by but there was no danger of them turning into rock stars or even making a decent living doing it.  Then one day, Finntroll came to town and the rest, as they say, is history: The dudes chucked the yoik-ing, traded the synthesizers for accordion and fiddle, threw down some cash for a couple of Marshall stacks, changed their name to Korpiklaani, or “Forest Clan,” and became a folk metal band. “Karkelo” is their sixth album.

You can still hear the influence of humppa in their music. Humppa, a style of Finnish dance hall music from the 1950s, reinterpreted the old foxtrots and polkas from the 1920s and 1930s into a new hyperkinetic context. The tempo of humppa songs is fast – as fast as thrash – two beats per bar or approximately 220-260 beats per minute. Humppa is the reason why Korpiklaani are more successful outside of their home country. Outside of Finland they are thought of as almost a thrash folk metal band. Inside Finland, though, they know the truth – the tempos aren’t thrash; they are foxtrots revved up to warp speed. In fact, Korpiklaani are considered “old peoples’ music with heavy metal guitars” in Finland.*

The chorus of the album’s second song, “Eramaan Arjyt,” is the closest they get to hummpa hyperactive madness on “Karkelo”

Lyrically, Korpiklaani sing the praises of drinking, drinking some more, saunas and humppa. Here is the liner note description of “Eramaan Arjyt”: “This song describes what is best for a Finnish man in the style of a newer folk song. And what can be better than forest, sauna, lovely girls, humppa and more sahti than you can ever drink. Sahti is a strong Finnish beer made in the province of Hame. Lyrics contain many words and structures from the Western Finnish dialects.” This description summarizes Korpiklaani’s entire oeuvre; they don’t stray from these themes.

The song, “Vodka,” will give you a pretty good introduction to their body of work

Several reviewers saw “Karkelo” as some kind of departure from Korpiklaani’s previous work because of some of the slower more folk influenced like “Mettanpeiton Valtiaalle.” But, remember, they started as a folks band so how can folk songs be a surprising and unnerving departure?

Korpiklaani are the AC/DC of folk metal: they know what they are good at and they don’t stray from that formula. Pick up “Karkelo” and join the party.

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Categories: Folk Metal Tags: ,

Ensiferum – Symphonic Heroic Folk Death Metal

December 10, 2010 1 comment

Ensiferum - "From Afar" (2009)

Ensiferum – “From Afar” (Spinefarm Records, 2009)

Folk metal – it sounds like a joke or an oxymoron at least. It conjures up images of some bastard offspring of This Is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind and a Viking reenactor convention. But folk metal, the sub-genre that melds metal to traditional European folk music, is the most hip and happening thing in the sprawling land of metaldom right now. Folk metal bands are doing something unusual – they are moving units and selling a lot of concert tickets. You don’t believe me? How about this anecdotal information? My posts on Pitch Black Brigade about Finntroll and Eluveitie get 10 to 12 times more hits than any other post . . . every day!

Ensiferum is one of the pioneering Finnish folk metal bands. One fateful day in 1995, Markus Toivonen, who was toiling in a cover band that churned out Pantera covers, asked his friend, Kimmo Meittinen, a drummer, if he wanted to play some “heroic folk Death Metal.” Miettinen replied, “Hell yes!” (or whatever the Finnish equivalent of that phrase is) and then they went out and recruited Sauli Savolainen on bass. Now the only thing left to do was to come up with a name for the aggregation. One day, Markus happened to open up Sauli’s Latin dictionary – we all have one lying around – and came across the word, “ensiferum,” which means “sword bearer,” a pithy little tag for a Finnish band serving up heroic folk death metal, right?

Ensiferum have been busy since 1995. They’ve dished out four albums and one EP, and they have toured relentlessly. Their latest disc, “From Afar,” hit turntables in 2009. “From Afar” is vocalist’s (and guitarist), Petri Lindroos, second album with the band.

What does it sound like? “From Afar” features the ever present metal-ish guitars married to “galloping” drums. The keyboards, as usual, carry the folk part of the program. The vocals are one interesting aspects of the album. Lidroos’ leads are sung in the typical Death Metal growlies, but many of the songs utilize group parts where the vocals are clean.

What separates Ensiferum – and this record in particular – from other folk metal acts? The symphonic elements. In fact, I would have to categorize Ensiferum as a symphonic heroic folk death metal band. “From Afar” has orchestral arrangements – at times it seems like Jean Sibelius’ symphonic poem, “Finlandia” is going to erupt from the background at any time. And it is more than the usual synthesizers imitating an orchestra – I think from listening closely that they actually had strings and horns in the studio.

Listen to both of these songs and I think you will hear the symphonic element immediately.

Ensiferum – “From Afar”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALrjjJdmxgA

Ensiferum – “Heathen Throne”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRReRVcdIWk

Now this is a sound that is hard for them to recreate live unless they travel with a 20 or 30 piece orchestra.

In the end, I think that “From Afar” is a testament to the maturation of the folk metal as a sub-genre. It is evidence that folk metal has evolved to the point that it supports several different and distinctive styles, including symphonic heroic folk death metal.

Categories: Folk Metal Tags: ,

Eluveitie – It’s a Celtic Folk Death Metal World After All

Eluveitie - "Everything Remains As It Never Was" (2010)

Eluveitie – “Everything Remains As It Never Was” (Nuclear Blast, 2010)

I am astounded continually by the diversity of heavy metal today.  The combinations and permutations of genres are endless and, quite frankly, mind blowing: Maldavian progressive death metal, anyone? Check out Nothnegal. Greek operatic metal? Chaostar. Israeli Oriental metal? Salem. Chilean doom metal? Mar De Grises. Bulgarian dark industrial metal? The Bleeding Light. And if you need a fix of Celtic folk music thrown together with some death metal from Switzerland? Try Eluveitie.

Yes, that’s right – I said Celtic folk metal from Switzerland. Regardless of how strange it sounds, though, Eluveitie‘s interest in Celtic-influenced culture and language is historically accurate. How did things Celtic arrive in Switzerland? The Gauls occupied a region encompassing present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Switzerland. They spoke Gaulish, an early dialect of Celtic. Gaul culture and language flourished in Gaulish territories from c. 450 B.C. until the time of Roman conquest by Julius Caesar around 50 B.C. Talk about yearning for the good old days – over 2,000 years ago! So it is a Celtic world after all, right?

Eluveitie appeared in 2002 as a side project of the band’s self-described “mastermind Chrigel Glanzmann.”* By 2004 Eluveitie became a “real band,” as opposed to a side project.  Since then the band has contained between 8 to 10 members who play everything from guitars, bass and drums to bagpipes, a hurdy gurdy, a violin, whistles as well as a barrage of other “folk” instruments.

“Everything Remains (As It Never Was)” is Eluveitie‘s fourth album. Let start with the cover of “Everything Remains,” shall we? It has everything a red-blooded Gaul male would want: A hot chick with long blonde hair wearing a cloak and animal pelts, a thatched roof hut, some deciduous trees, and snow-capped mountains as a majestic back drop.

What does it sound like? It sounds like exactly the way the band describes their sound like “Eluveitie‘s sound is authentic, traditional Celtic folk music combined in a unique way with modern styled melodic death metal.”* An interesting combination, right? Obviously the guitars, bass, drums and “Cookie Monster” vocals provide the Death Metal part of the equation during the verses of the songs.  The folk elements usually – but not always – pop up in the intros, choruses and the bridges.  Clean female vocals, which contrast sharply with the Death Metal-style vocals, also crop up in the same places that folk instruments appear.

This is my favorite song on the album. It is a good illustration of how the band melds its two different styles:

Eluveitie – “Everything Remains (As It Never Was)”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddcl7_Yjj6Q

Here is another one:

Eluveitie – “Thousandfold”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb8WGig0MLU

The production on this album is amazing. It is one of the best-recorded and best-mixed metal albums I’ve heard in ten years. The production team did a great job. Tommy Vetterli (Kreator, Coroner, a.o.) engineered and co-produced the album, Colin Richardson (Slipknot, Machine Head, Behemoth, Trivium, a.o.) mixed it and John Davis (U2, Led Zeppelin, Kaiser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys, a.o.) for mastered “Everything Remains (As it Never Was).”*

Although I am just beginning to wade into the genre, “Everything Remains (As It Never Was)” is the best folk metal album I’ve heard so far. And the good news is Eluveitie is coming to Atlanta in February so I can see and hear how they bring these seemingly disparate elements together live. It should be a lot of fun.

*http://www.eluveitie.ch/en/ – accessed 12.4.10

Categories: Folk Metal Tags:

Eluveitie – Celtic Folk Metal in Atlanta

November 27, 2010 1 comment

Eluveitie - "Slania" (2008)

Yes, Atlanta folk metal heads, start saving your shekels and drachmas now because February is shaping up to be a busy month, a regular folk metal paradise. The mighty Polka Black Metal mavens, Finntroll, will rollick at Masquerade on February 1st and Eluveitie, the Swiss band that plays “authentic, traditional Celtic folk music combined in a unique way with modern styled melodic death metal,” will hit the Masquerade on February 26th with 3 Inches of Blood, Holy Grail and System Divide.

Now try and wrap your head around this: Eluveitie incorporates instruments like the hurdy-gurdy, flute and bagpipes (!) into their unique combination of Celtic music and death metal.  Did I mention that their early work was sung in Gaulish, a dead Celtic language that predates Latin?

Eluveitie – “Inis Mona

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iijKLHCQw5o&feature=fvst