Korpiklaani : Manala

I find the world’s need to create genres baffling. Convenient, but baffling. There was a time when there was one type of heavy metal, and its name was Black Sabbath. Today most metal heads could probably identify a good 25 or so genres and subgenres. A little online research will yield a list of over 50. One of the most interesting genres—at least from my perspective—is folk metal.

What makes folk metal folk? Fiddles, accordions, hurdy-gurdies. What makes folk metal metal?  Drums like battering rams, guitars like metal turbines, bass like thunder, vocals like an angry Norse god. And when you want these combined in a way that doesn’t sound like a ridiculous cacophony of sonic shit, I suggest you turn to Korpiklaani. Korpiklaani cranks out folk metal that makes you want to roll down your car window and push your Infinities to their limit, much to the annoyance of all neighboring vehicles.

Manala is Korpiklaani’s eighth album. As a special treat, or perhaps in a compromise to the record label, they have issued a special edition that includes not only the original Finnish version but also the entire album in English. For my money, I say the Finnish version is better. The lyrics sound more natural . . . and there’s something really cool about hearing someone growl and chant in a language you can’t understand. If you’re Finnish, maybe you should buy the English version. Oh, wait, it’s only the Americans and British who aren’t bi-lingual.

Manala is based on the 16th poem of the epic Kalevala.  The cliff notes version goes like this: the hero, Väinämöinen, travels to the underworld, Manala, in search of necromantic knowledge. After journeying across the river of Tuoni he arrives at his destination, the isle of Tuoni, but is denied his prize. He then realizes that hanging out in the underworld is no place to be if you are a living person, so he books it back to the mainland and barely survives to tell the tale.

What Manala is missing that other Korpiklaani albums feature is a drinking song. I guess you could drink to any of the songs, but there is no one song actually dedicated to the act of drinking. No “Beer, Beer, Beer”; no “Vodka”; no “Tequila.” Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but there you have it.

I should also mention for hardcore Korpiklaani fans out there that Manala features a new violinist, Tuonas Rounakari, who replaces Jaakko Lemmetty. I don’t know what Jaakko has lined up after this gig. I mean, is there a market for heavy metal fiddle players? If there is, then I would guess it would be in Finland. God bless Scandinavia.

To be honest, I think the notion of folk metal is silly. And I’ve heard my fair share of silly folk metal. Korpiklaani doesn’t fit that stereotype, though. They come across as a serious metal band that happens to play to a mean polka beat. Sure, you’ll have the compulsion to break out your 20-sided die and get you some D&D action, but there’s no shame in that.  And there’s no shame in listening to folk metal. Korpiklaani’s Manala rocks.