Inferno Festival Day 4, April 4th 2015
The clan of the wilderness, aka Korpiklaani, has been one of folk metal’s most productive members in the 12 years of its existence. For five years they had this one album per year thing going, but after Manala it took them an unprecedented three years before coming out of the forest with their ninth epos Noita. And the usually so easy-going and energetic Finns show a bit of a different side on this album, a darker one that so far had not really come to the fore on a broader scale. Some of the main complaints about the Finns in the past had been their predictability and the at times almost too simplified catchiness, which often resulted in somewhat tritely lyricised drinking songs about beer, vodka and drinking in general, and over the last few albums they already had worked on all three of these points and now with Noita probably have managed to go the furthest.
Equipped with new accordionist Sami Perttula, the jolly troop around Jonne Järvelä still has not changed their very own style, which is as easily recognizable as Korpiklaani as ever, with the violin and accordion playing an important role in the band’s sound. And opener “Viinamäen mies” is as energetic and upbeat as fans of the Finns have remembered the band, with the folk instruments excellently incorporated into the rest of the sound and Jonne’s characteristic gruff voice above it. “Sahti” with its infectious melody and dynamic chorus is destined to become a live favourite and is another proof that there still is a lot of life in the Finns.
The darker side comes through in borderline brooding “Lempo” that is considerably slower and melancholic, one is almost tempted to label it as more mature, but without betraying the core of the band’s sound, which also threads through “Minä näin vedessä neidon”, which feels even more introspective. And closer “Sen verran minäkin noita” actually somehow manages to combine these two with the energy of the former and the darker hues of the latter. Outside of these two veins of folky ore there also runs “Jouni Jouni”, which not just puts the original fully through the folk metal wash, but also adds Finnish vocals and pretty much makes it a pure Korpiklaani song. Oh, what is the original? “Mony Mony”, originally from Tommy James and the Shondells, a no. 1 hit from 1968, which saw a revival through a cover by Billy Idol several years ago. Great version!
Noita is the maybe most varied album of Korpiklaani, showcasing their characteristic upbeat folk metal with accordion and violin as well as a more mature and darker side that still remains decidedly Korpiklaani. And these changes in dynamics are what make the album so interesting and one can only wonder, if maybe it did the band good to take a little more time to put a new album together rather than continuing to belt them out every year, but whatever the reason is, Korpiklaani have never sounded as variable and this could be the way to go to keep their sound and career fresh. Noita is not a reinvention of their sound, but definitely a welcome fresh breath that should boost these Finns back into the vanguard of folk metal!
The dirty dozen.
Stockholm’s Unleashed must be one of the steadiest and sturdiest bands of the death metal universe. Ever since their debut Where No Life Dwells in 1991, the quartet around former Nihilist bassist Johnny Hedlund has been plodding on, releasing album after album of viking influenced death metal. After quite some fluctuation in quality and as follow up to 2012’s acclaimed Odalheim album, the Swedes now are finishing their first dozen with Dawn of the Nine and as quite often the question is, which of their two directions are they going to go into?
Conceptually picking up exactly where Odalheim had left off, the four-piece puts way more thought into the lyrical side than many of their contemporaries, yet 20 years into the current line-up, Dawn of the Nine is an album that actually is taking a surprising amount of time to make up its mind musically, at first coming off as somewhat lacklustre in places, missing good parts of the gripping edginess of Odalheim, with only two or three tracks getting some attention. However, despite the straightforwardness of their material, the album actually is a grower, more so than in the past. Subtlety has never really been Unleashed’s biggest strength and where others prefer a more intricate way of delivering their stories of Viking valour, they continue to be the battering ram of the bunch and the opening one-two punch of “A New Day Will Rise” and “They Came to Die” will be enough to flatten an army of unsuspecting soldiers, be it through relentless blasts or merciless riff grinding.
Never known for anything flashy, Dawn of the Nine sounds drier than usual, which may contribute to the initially underwhelming appearance of the album. “Where is Your God Now?”, “Let the Hammer Fly” and “Where Churches Once Burned” are three more tracks that will prove that Unleashed still have plenty of pugnacious power (and no love lost for the Christian mission), aggressive, to the point, adequately putting the battle-ridden story of the album into music. “The Bolt Thrower” and brooding “Dawn of the Nine” on the other hand show a way darker, slower and ultimately more powerful direction, culminating in closing “Welcome the Son of Thor!”, which strikes the probably best balance between the melodic and the heavy side of the band, resulting in a gripping closer to the album.
Hedlund sounds ever more like a gnarly, grizzled Viking, who seems to be highly unhappy with the intrusion into his comfort zone, which fits with the musical direction. While Dawn of the Nine as a whole will probably not go into the history books as one of Unleashed eternal masterpieces (for that a few songs still can’t fully keep up, even after numerous listens), it is pretty much what you would expect from the Swedish battalion, not more, not less.
Reclaiming the crown.
It’s been ten years since doom veterans Acid King released new material, and although the genre has been undergoing a reinvention in the interim, the wake of III left a void not so easily filled. For their return with Middle Of Nowhere, founding duo Joey Osbourne and Lori are joined by bassist Mark Lamb, marking his first recording with the band despite having entered the fold seven years ago. In short, it’s fair to say that things take their sweet time in the Acid King-camp, both on and off the stage. Luckily some things are worth waiting for.
The laid back grooves that have become synonymous with Acid King are back with a vengeance, with Lamb’s mega-fuzzy bass sounding like it was born for this band. Lori, the acid queen herself, belts out easygoing psychedelic solos like nobody’s business, while drawing out every syllable of the lyrics as long as possible. Meanwhile, Osbourne keeps busy with relentless fills and other subtle touches, showing why he’s been with the band since they began in 1993. Averaging at around eight minutes, every song on Middle Of Nowhere builds upon a memorable bassline, crawling deliberately along with a carefree attitude that somehow still feels like being crushed under an avalanche of sound. It’s intensely mesmerizing, sucking you into a vortex of smoke, dim strobes, and a general purplish haze. The slow and steady repetition on cuts such as “Coming Down From Outer Space” only reinforces the hypnotic qualities of the band, while outclassing any younger challengers to the coveted stoner throne.
It’s frankly amazing how easy Acid King makes everything sound, and despite the mammoth size of these tracks, they all float along like a warm desert breeze. An hour flies by in what feels like minutes, yet the riffs and solos stick around, reverberating for days. Heavy, massive, gargantuan, no matter what you want to call it, Middle Of Nowhere is an incredibly solid piece of work. Even the instrumental intro and outro-tracks feel like they serve a purpose here, leaving no room for filler whatsoever. With producer Billy Anderson returning to the chair, there was little doubt about how the album would sound, but it feels as though the unique Acid King-touch has taken another step in the right direction. Dense to a point where breathing is obstructed, the sheer substance of this record would have been physically imposing if it wasn’t so damn relaxing.
From the cover painting of a wizard riding a tiger in space, to the stellar songwriting and earthshaking sound, Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere is a triumph on every level. Turn up the volume and brace yourself for some ridiculously crushing tunes. Newcomers take note; this is how stoner doom should sound.
Inferno Festival Day 3, April 3rd 2015
Inferno Festival Day 2, April 2nd 2015
Inferno Festival Day 1, April 1st 2015
The Carcass axeman gets stuck in to At The Gates, Avenged Sevenfold and people who don’t like Swansong.
Bigger names and a few hidden gems dominate this month’s best offerings
And Shawn goes rogue. Again.
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call Evan’s Favorite Records of MMXIV.
One of a series of articles that gets down and dirty, where Metal Observer writers’ favorite music of 2014 is uncovered. Here, Shawn lists his favorite albums of the past year.