The evolution of Korpiklaani has been so slight, we barely clocked it was taking place. The Finns’ debut, 2003’s Spirit Of The Forest, earned them a reputation as perennial boozers, known for putting on shows that resembled a folk metal Oktoberfest. For years, subsequent albums suggested the band had little inclination to deviate stylistically from that template, while songs like Beer Beer and Vodka insinuated they were content to operate on the outskirts of gimmickery.
On 2018’s Kulkija, however, signs of depth began to show through the grog-fuelled veneer. Sozzled-sounding banger Juomamaa, which translates as ‘Drinking Land’, took the spotlight, but if you looked close enough, Korpiklaani were playing with nuance and shade in a way they had never done before. Now, 11th record Jylhä is the band’s most concerted effort yet to step away from the shtick and sees them continuing to reign in their more hedonistic tendencies.
Buoyed by new drummer Samuli Mikkonen, who developed and arranged many of these songs, openers Verikoira and Niemi set the tone, interspersing polka-infused metal with ferocious Judas Priest-inspired riffery. Lyrically, too, it’s darker. Kiuru is inspired by the 1960 Lake Bodom killings, one of Finland’s most famous unsolved murder cases, while wistful waltz Miero considers how insignificant we are within the expanses of the universe. It all feels very… serious.
Unless you’re fluent in Finnish you’re likely to miss these intricacies, of course, but even without the detail, this doesn’t feel like your standard Korpiklaani record. Save for frantic jig Leväluhta and Sanaton Maa, Jylhä is missing the playfulness and madcap energy that has defined much of the Finns’ career to date. Fans who have longed for the band to show a little more variation will be intrigued, but others may long for the time they were the life and soul of the party.