It is almost uncanny how the Vodka-fueled Finnish brigade of KORPIKLAANI continues to churn out a new album almost every year since 2003, with “Manala” bringing the overall count to an impressive eight by now. Who knows the Finns will have a fairly good idea of what to expect - pretty direct Folk Metal with lots of character and their basic formula of one hook to reel you in and then varying speeds and other ingredients around it.
“Manala” is a little different, though, maybe due to the lyrics dealing with the underworld of the Finnish mythology, because the album overall seems darker and less easy-going, both in melodies, tempos and overall feel. I am not sure, if the departure of long-standing violinist Hiittavainen and his replacement by Tuomas Rounakari has had anything to do with this, the latter being a renowned Finnish and Arctic Folk artist, but many of the songs seem to have some reduced energy and less of the good-natured character KORPIKLAANI have been known for for many years now.
“Kunnia” kicks things off in up-tempo and with the usual energy, but after that we get drawn a bit more into darker areas with the stomping “Rauta” or the energetic, but still dark “Ruumiinmultaa” prove. In many ways “Manala” also is among the heaviest albums KORPIKLAANI have crafted so far, the heavy riffing (that could almost come from a Thrash band) of “Petoeläimen Kuola” is something we haven’t really heard all that often before. “Ievan Polkka” is a furious version of a century old Finnish Folk song and is a good reminder of what energy KORPIKLAANI can unleash, when they just let go.
I’ve been a fan of the band ever since they came onto the scene for the first time after the name change from SHAMAN and this definitely has been the most difficult album so far for me to find my way into. While I am undoubtedly happy that they manage to diversify their style enough to avoid being stuck in the same rut over and over again, the change of pace and mood was something that hit me somewhat unprepared. But throughout repeated listens “Manala” started to reveal its surprisingly many layers that show a more mature KORPIKLAANI (the fact that there is not a single drinking song on the album also serves to that purpose), which might be related to the lyrics drawing from the Finnish national epos, the Kalevala.
KORPIKLAANI 2012 seem more grown-up, with an almost nostalgic feel at times, more melancholic, but at the same time also heavier, probably their so far most challenging album for the fan, but with some time and effort definitely worth it!
(Online August 15, 2012)