Korpiklaani – Kulkija, A Brief Review
Fifteen years of growing commercial success, critical panning and terrible football songs down the road, is the latest Korpiklaani any good?
Once Korpiklaani was known for their festive brand of folk metal, speeding their songs of folklore, nature and drinking into a frenzy matched by few. Brandishing violins, accordions and even a jouhikko in their arsenal gave them a unique sound, which made it easier to overlook the fact they never made a truly excellent record, mostly dwelling in inconsistency and incoherence. Around Ukon Wacka it became apparent the band was taking desperate measures to avoid painting themselves into too small a corner. Collaborating with the well respected Tuomari Nurmio (who is, in fact, the greatest) on the title track – and going as far as talk about a collaborative album, bound to never manifest, to bring about an air of reverence without completely stepping outside their boundaries. The inclusion of the cover songs, Motörhead’s “Iron Fist” and Peer Günt’s “Bad Boys Are Here” seemed attempts at conga-line and morris pit inducing crowd pleasers without having to retort to the obstreperous manner of their drinking songs. Perhaps for that very reason the one such song included, “Tequila” reached a braindead nadir, with the most embarassing lyrics Jonne Järvelä had ever sung to tape.
Manala, attempted to rectify many of it’s predecessors flaws. It’s tone far more serious and ambitious, but tepid songwriting harpooned the record, and especially multi-instrumentalist/violinist Hittavainen’s effort was missed. So when Noita dropped, I was caught unguard by how much fun it was. New members Perttula and Rounakari had found their respective places in the band, and the balance between their more and less serious sides was better than ever. Filled with all the trad influences and hooks you could hope for, nothing seemed glued on, and several of the songs fared replay as well on the record player as they did on the dancefloor. Yet it was much too long, and saw the band trying to keep playing to their strengths throughout without succeeding.
Following a loose concept, detailing the life of a wanderer, Kulkija attempts build on this recent evolution. Contrary to the frontman’s statements that solo bands calmer, acoustic-minded efforts would make certain Korpiklaani would remain boisterous and heavier, it seems influence from Kallohonka has seeped into Kulkija. On Korpiklaani’s level it’s mood is almost contemplative, a largely mid-tempo offering where their humorous side remains subdued. The easy hooks have been replaced with softly flowing and constant cavalcade of accordion and violin. Every instrument has been left room, and they’ve been better integrated with each other, inspiring Rounakari to the most evocative and wide-ranging performance ever heard on a Korpiklaani – these are not the melodies of a metal band played on a violin, there is no attempt to play like a rock musician. Matson gives his best performance on the kit, since the demise of Depravity, even Aaltonen’s bass takes the lead now and then.
Kulkija does not present Korpiklaani’s best songs, and being even longer than Noita it can be a trek to get through. It’s longest songs, like the ten minute “Kallon Malja” try their best, but don’t account for their length. Whereas others, “Korpikuusen Kyynel” primarily, show a newfound, proggy side to the band, essentially becoming another song halfway through and tying the halves up with a shared chorus. While it’s every bit as easy to pan as the rest of their output, it finally sees Korpiklaani release a consistent record, and as such, their best album. I very much doubt it will become a regular on my record player, but if I had to return to one of their albums, ten years down the road – it would most likely be this.
3/5 FLAMING TOILETS OV HELL
Kulkija will be released on September 7th via Nuclear Blast.