Album Review: Jylhä – Korpiklaani

“Jylhä” is Korpiklaani’s eleventh full length studio album, and the very first one I’ve ever had the opportunity to hear. Folk Metal isn’t typically my cup of tea, which often unnecessarily steers me away from listening to a super cool band. I think sometimes bands get hung up on being Folk Metal acts, adding instrumentation that doesn’t quite fit the narrative, so the music itself suffers. Kind of like too many jump scares, or exploding brains in a horror film. Folk Metal, keeping with the movie theme, could use more Hitchcock and less Eli Roth. More Kubrick and less Darren Aronofsky. 

Then you happen upon a band like Primordial, or Agalloch, and your mind opens up to what seems like a whole new universe. Music like this takes the heart of the land and seasons it with purposeful morsels of Metal, rather than dropping enormous chunks of it into a vaporous soup made with bits of begarly soil. A distinction one could be absolved for missing, given the rarity with which such distinctions exist. Korpilkaani, while sounding a bit more like a combination of Eluveitie, Finntroll, and Svartsot than the above mentioned groups, seems to understand this quite well, managing to keep dreariness at bay, and filling “Jylhä’s” one hour run time with a surprisingly even handed spirit. 

The vocal duties have been provided by Jonne Jarvela since day one, with Cane Savijarvi being the main guitarist since the band’s second release, “Voice of Wilderness” (That record, along with the next three (“Tales Along This Road,” “Tervaskonto,” and “Korven Kningas”) are pretty much what you’d expect from a Folk Metal band. Drinking songs, more or less. The band’s sixth, “Karkelo,” still suffers from a bit of that same simplicity, but takes Korpiklaani into both heavier and more melodic directions. Violinist (Tuomas Rounakari) and accordion player (Sami Perttula) have been with the band since album numbers eight and nine, respectively, and work together beautifully as a team, playing the equivalent of what would typically fall to the lead guitarist. These records (“Manala,” and “Noita”) improved upon the formula Korpiklaani had been chipping away at for nearly ten years, and helping keep that solid foundation for two more records, including the one that brings us together today. 

So, why the list of album titles and musical accomplishments? Well, to put it plainly, this proves the power “Jylhä” has. If I had started this journey with the first album or two, I doubt I would have bothered taking the time to listen to a new one. But, based on my experience with “Jylhä,” I felt some wayfaring was both warranted and necessary. A far cry from the silly sea shanties of bands like Alestorm or Turisas, or the cheese sandwiches that bands like HammerFall or Elvenking offer up for first impressions, my first exposure to Korpiklaani left me intrigued rather than aggravated. I wanted to know what the band was all about, which, as you may have noticed, I got through quite easily and painlessly. The process was not unlike getting to know some hardened yet friendly Finnish mountaineer who has spent the last twenty years learning from his mistakes, and perfecting his storytelling abilities. An idea that’s helped along by the frequent appearances of a man fitting this description on at least eight Korpiklaani albums. 

There are some polka-like moments on“Jylhä,” which are slightly disappointing, but overall the record’s success boils down the quality of the songwriting. “Tuuleton” is my personal favorite, but that’s saying very little as the majority are expertly crafted tunes, genre be damned. I don’t think it is terribly accessible music, at least not in the sense that enjoying it comes too easily. Indeed, said enjoyment does take some digging, which may turn some people away before it has a chance to make its mark. But the gusto with which Korpiklaani presents itself as a musical entity is really hard to ignore. I am quite grateful for the time I spent getting to know them. 

Rating – 4/5

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