Metsatöll - Karjajuht - (9/10)
Published on May 26, 2014
I’ve been following Metsatöll for some time now, but none of the Estonian quartet’s earlier albums made a really big impression on me and I’m not sure why. Perhaps I never invested enough time to really get into and get what they were about, but I don’t remember any album being this good and after listening to Karjajuht the last few weeks, I’m definitely going to revisit some of their earlier albums. One thing all Metsatöll’s albums have in common though, is very unique and eye-catching album covers and “Pack Leader” – created by Estonian artist Jüri Arrak – is no different. I’ve always felt there’s more to enjoying an album than just the music and quality of artwork plays a big part when you’re kicking back and taking in the music.
There is a clear divide in how I enjoy and experience the styles of Western European folk metalists and those of the East – including the Baltic and Slavic states and further East into Russia. Overall, I’ve found the Eastern styles to be more bombastic and rather abrupt at times and I always thought the main reason for this could be linguistic, so I did some research. Turns out, the Estonian language is a Uralic language and is not part of the Balto-Slavic family as I originally thought; it shares ancestry with Finish and Hungarian. As far as musical influences go however, Metsatöll fits squarely in my impression of Balto-Slavic folk metal bands that I’ve always had a tough time getting a handle on.
The album has a strong rhythm coursing through its veins and the vocals generally are short and sharp, like the thump of a beer mug on a table. The tempo and style is solidly founded on straight-up heavy metal, though traditional instruments, including an Estonian bagpipe are used frequently on the album. This is the main factor driving the music into the folk metal realm and becomes the pulse behind the melodies, it can put quite a jump in your step when you have a few leagues to cover and this is great music to travel with. Another instrument that adds some great texture to the music is a stringed instrument I believe to be a kannel – a type of zither – and “Surmamüür” is served beautifully by this instrument and it makes for a great intro to the song. On this one, the flute is also used during the middle parts and provides a melodic counter to the gruff vocals that are accompanied by short, sharp riffs and rather plain but superbly effective drumming. I’d say this is the ‘most folky’ song on the album and really fun to listen to.
The tempo is kept up through most of the album and there are a few tracks that turn it down a notch and give you a little breather from the savagery of the beasts. As mentioned, the album is very bombastic and it’s only very rarely that the vocals are lightened and elevated to the notes on “Talisman,” the final track on the album. Some of the other stand-out tracks here include the epic sing-along “See on See Maa,” the mosh-pit stomper “Külmking,” the short folk “dance” numbers “Must Hunt” and “Öö” and of course, the ravaging title track “Karjajuht.”
The trouble many people have with folk metal is that it’s sometimes too airy-fairy-my-chest-is-not-very-hairy. Well, Metsatöll is carpeted like a brown bear and I imagine they could share a stage with guys like Finntroll and leave the crowd battered, bruised and thrilled. The production is very clear and the album is well polished, but it doesn’t take away from the slight griminess that’s a result of the gruff vocals and chugged-choppy guitars and drumming. Metsatöll has done very well to carve out a lively and at times epic album that’s sure to be one of the alpha males in the race to be #1 in the folk metal world 2014. I think this is their best album to date and I’m sure their already-strong fan base will enjoy this album as much as I have. If you haven’t already introduced yourself to Metsatöll then I suggest you start here – it may be the best Folk Metal album you’ll hear this year.