Review Summary: The party bards but not as you know ‘em.
Here’s something to set the skeptics abuzz: Korpiklaani have legitimately delivered something unexpected with the release of Kulkija
. Now I hate to burst the bubble before anyone gets too
excited, but it isn’t exactly subversive enough to challenge the opinions of many hardened naysayers, nor impressive enough to change the game even amongst seasoned folk-metal aficionados. And yet, the alcoholic Finnish larrikins we all know and love (well, we all know them at least) have seemingly sobered up, followed their 12-step program, and emerged with a clear vision packaged in a cohesive concept album. The result is surprisingly lucid and refreshingly earthy.
Translating to “Wanderer”, Kulkija
explores a variety of folkloric tales with simpering sentimentality, treating its travelling themes with more presence of mind than a Korpiklaani album can generally muster. The listener is invited along to trespass through the countryside, arm-in-arm with the titular wayfarer, exploring many jovial settings across fourteen tracks of folky goodness. While maintaining a largely positive and jolly tone, Kulkija
is much less rambunctious than its predecessors, aiming for feel-good tunes rather than the typical in-your-face celebrations the band has become known for. There’s a genuine sense of maturity and progress present here. It's still a Korpiklaani album, but an authentic effort to stay focused has lent the troupe an emotional depth which has hitherto been absent. The folky side of the band’s sonic palette clearly had its thumb on the scale throughout the writing process, heavily outweighing the metal elements that poke through, and honestly the record is much better off for the injustice. Overdrive has been rolled back, tempos have softened, and in general relaxed contentment seems to be the aim of the game. Something feels bitter-sweet about the optimistic gaiety which bleeds through in tracks like ‘Aallon Alla’ and ‘Harmaja’, matching the album’s general concept of reflection and reminiscence. More than anything, Kulkija
comes across as an honest and organic attempt to capture something personal about the life and origins of the band members.
Though the source of this praise-worthy material may seem unlikely, Korpiklaani have indeed managed an album capable of stirring hidden feelings – who knew they had it in them. Rather than resuscitating their bombastic drinking music for another round, the crew have resurrected memories of homely atmospheres, and one ends up strangely appreciative that they've managed to do it so well. A few duds aside, most notably those out-of-place romps where well-worn paths are travelled, Kulkija
is a wholly pleasant experience. Ironically, this ode to the past bodes well for Korpiklaani’s future.