Though I'm fond of music that is sad, angry and bleak, there are times when I must put something cheery on to maintain some shred of sanity. When that mood strikes, I turn to Finnish folk-metal band Korpiklaani every single time. They put out albums frequently, so there's always something fresh to listen to, and this year it's Korven Kuningas. Not only is this a contender for my favorite album of 2008, I will go on record saying this is the best Korpiklaani release so far.
That said, those with a consistent dislike for Korpiklaani will probably not warm up to them with this release. There is never really a drastic change in style from one Korpiklaani CD to the next; instead, their fanbase can always rely on uptempo, folk anthems with loads of fiddles, violins, and accordions, topped with raspy, energetic vocals and frantic choruses.
With its festive feel and incredibly fast pace, opener "Tapporauta [Killing Iron]" makes it clear that Korpiklaani is not a band for those who take themselves too seriously. Many Korpiklaani admirers refer to the band's music as "drinking music" or "party music," so anyone looking for 'traditional' metal or something that stays within the boundaries of all that is normal should steer clear of this record and Korpiklaani in general. However, one shouldn't mistake fun music for sacrificing true musicianship: the Korpiklaani clan is technically skilled and never fails to impress.
One detail I love about Korven Kuningas is the way that the booklet includes English translations of the frequent Finnish lyrics. Many foreign bands who include songs in their native tongue do not take the time to do this, so it's an extra thing that I definitely appreciate.
"Keep on Galloping," the first single from Korven Kuningas takes the pace down only a bit to tell the tale of a man riding his horse to unknown lands. Of course, there are "neigh" sounds of a horse, and the consistent drumbeat which is not unlike that of a horse trotting. The melody is highly contagious, and to ignore the urge to sing along with the chorus is...well...abnormal.
Keep on galloping, my black horse!
Carrying me to unknown shores
Through these outlandish woods
And with confidence, back home
Unlike many modern metal albums, Korven Kuningas never falters. It is a consistent rollercoaster ride, sure to keep anyone's energy level up. "Northern Fall" pairs an inescapable accordion melody with vocalist Jonne Jarvela's contagious chants to create one of Korven Kuningas' most unforgettable songs. Then there's "Shall We Take a Turn?" which I will deem the most fun instrumental in the history of instrumentals! Imagine an old fashioned square-dance song gone metal, and that's the type of thing "Shall We Take a Turn?" presents. The first time I heard this song, I laughed so hard I had tears streaming down my face. I wasn't making fun of it, but was genuinely delighted by the atmosphere it creates. Prepare for exhaustion of the 'repeat' button when it comes to "Shall We Take a Turn?" -- that's my only warning...
"Gods on Fire" is considerably more delicate than the preceding songs. Not only is the pace taken down several notches, Jarvela's vocals are softer and the acoustic guitars really get a chance to shine. Obviously, most people listen to Korpiklaani for the chance to hear something fast, raucous, and merry, but occasionally songs like "Gods on Fire" are necessary, even on albums like this. Besides, it's not completely un-Korpiklaani; after all, they're a folk metal band through and through, so the occasional 'campfire' tale must be told. "Runamoine" is surely another highlight: it is a pure blast of adrenaline, mixing fizzy guitar riffs with the most chaotic violins one could possibly imagine.
Korven Kuningas is genius. Despite the way that Korpiklaani always maintains its triumphant signature sound, there is a constant innovation going on in that sound. It's difficult to think of another folk-metal band (and believe me, plenty are popping up lately) that's similar to Korpiklaani. Their music is genuinely a breath of fresh air in the occasionally too-serious metal scene, and I can only hope their fanbase will continue to grow. I would like to recommend Korven Kuningas to anyone looking for something interesting and EXTREMELY different from the music played on modern US radio. It will cheer you up and surprise you with its bombast. I promise.
Tales Along This Road by Korpiklaani