Over the past several years, Korpiklaani have become one of the prime punching bags for metal purists who want to single out a folk metal band to attack. Their popularity, clean production, bouncy rhythms, redundant output, and booze-obsessed lyrics have all fed into the general image of them as the bubblegum pop princes of folk metal. The band has never pretended like they were trying to be serious or intellectual, so personally I enjoy them for the light-hearted good times that they offer, but for many metal fans they represent all that is wrong with the metal world today.
Because of all this, I was quite surprised by this newest record. In contrast to the enjoyable but empty calories that most of their previous work has offered, this album actually has some meat on its bones. Don't get me wrong, this is still jubilant, polka-infused folk metal ideal for drunkenly dancing to in a pub somewhere, but there's a hard edge to it that has been lacking on every record after their debut. The guitars have a crunchier tone, and there are actual metal riffs present on several songs instead of just folk riffs played on an electric guitar. The drumming is a little sharper, the bass factors into several tracks, and the accordion/violin duo aren't quite as dominant in the mix as they have been on other releases. The vocals feel like they have a little more force behind them than usual. Stylistically they haven't changed much, but they just come across as being a little gutsier and more assertive.
Ultimately, there are three big factors worth noting about this album. One is that the songwriting feels like it has begun to shift toward a more metal sensibility. Folk melodies still dominate the record, but there are traces of riffs and progressions that were clearly not pulled from their traditional folk playbook. Another factor is the production, which for the first time in years actually sounds like production that belongs on a metal record. It's still clean and clear, but there's a trace of dirt in there and it makes a noticeable difference. Finally, and by far most importantly, when I heard it I did not think to myself "this sounds just like the last one did". Over their past several releases Korpiklaani have fallen into a major rut, simply producing the same record again and again every year or two with nothing but with a new title. This sounded different, though. I mean, it still sounded very much like Korpiklaani. It was by no means a reinvention or anything, but it was an audible change from its immediate predecessors.
Manala, in my opinion, is an extremely important release for the health of this band. For the first time in several years, it feels like there's some life and vitality back in their music. Hearing this got me excited to see what Korpiklaani will put out next, and that's not something I expected to feel when I sat down to give this thing a spin.
The best Korpiklaani album in years, this is a strong folk metal record for those who just want to have a good time. But be warned: it's still relatively shallow and goofy.
I'd just like to note that this is my 400th post on this blog. I really didn't know when I started it if I was going to stick with it for long, so it's kind of cool to get to any kind of productivity milestone like that. This comes just a couple days after I officially got my 15,000th hit, so I'm glad that my time on here has been noticed by at least a few people. I realize that other metal bloggers have produced far more content and have received far more views, but I'm happy with the feeling that I've made some kind of dent in my little corner of the metal blogosphere. Many thanks to Metallattorney and Full Metal Attorney for linking to me from their own blogs, for the shout-outs and featured reviews, for all the comments, and for making me decide to start writing about metal in the first place.