The Forest Clan returns from their zippy and zany Finnish coppices to throw us another pine-wafted, ale-guzzling metal party, albeit with a twist. From the beginning of their speed-folk tampering vocation with "Spirit of the Forest" and "Voice of Wilderness", KORPIKLAANI has managed to outpace the once-lightning fast Celtic punk of FLOGGING MOLLY. KORPIKLAANI has thus reaped quite the following as happy little boozing hosts of one of the most lunatic shindigs around. In danger of riding a one-trick pony into the ground, however, KORPIKLAANI has of late begun to branch themselves further and further without sacrificing their hectic applications.
What's particularly fun about KORPIKLAANI these days is how much effort they're putting into showing off their extra dynamics. While fast and fluid has well served their speedfreak purposes over the years, "Manala", like its predecessor, "Karkelo", mixes things up considerably instead of relying on the thrash-folk polka foundry KORPIKLAANI's staked their reps on.
Sure, you get pounded hastily on "Kunnia", "Petoelaiman Kuola" and "Tuonelan Tuvilla", but it's not so much a stunner as it's a buoyant change of pace when KORPIKLAANI switches to mid-tempo on the loud and marching "Rauta" and "Ruuminmultaa". You don't even need to know a lick of Finnish to get a groove on with the latter two tracks. More than likely if you don't know the native tongue, though, you're apt to sound like you're slogging with marshmallows in your mouth if you try and keep up. Best to let Jonne Jarvela do what he does best and just bang your goddamn head. Then again, Jarvela enunciates "Ievan Polkka" with such a rhythmic jive you're not to be blamed for trying to replicate him.
Fiddles and accordions take on more personae throughout "Manala" and that's a gift. They add to the pulse of the album instead of serving as a background novelty, not to discount their omnipresence in KORPIKLAANI's music. This time around, they breathe louder and create tempo all unto themselves instead of merely decorating. As ever, Juho Kauppinen's accordion keeps KORPIKLAANI's hummpa two step methods in check along with drummer Matti "Matson" Johansson. Meanwhile, "Husky Sledge" takes a stab at turning electric violin into something only Jimmy Page could've imagined possible decades ago. This ZEPPELIN-fused solo by Tuomas Rounakari (in replacement of the ailing Jakko Lemmetty and his short-term stand-in Teemu Eerola) is nearly profound by its studious sense of rock it treads wildly close into guitar territory. This before Rounakari whirls a more traditional, moody folk solo atop a punching undercurrent on the hefty instrumental, "Dolorous". The couplet is a commendable experiment which reveals the proficiency of this troupe, much less their ability to think outside the box.
The pace whirls back up on "Uni" and later, "Soil of the Corpse", rousing metal shanties fit for pretend pirates and bouncy buccaneers. In the vein of jolly rockers ALESTORM, "Uni" is still KORPIKLAANI through and through with its gusty folk measures. The melancholic instrumental sequence leading the shifty and grinding "Metsalle" begins what might be considered an authentic mini-epic for KORPIKLAANI, complete with mathematic time signature rotations and an outro as equally articulate as its protracted, formative bars. Appropriately enough, all of this expansion in songwriting comes in support of "Manala"'s more serious storyline about a shaman in search of knowledge about the realm of the dead (Manala).
The production on "Manala" far transcends KORPIKLAANI's early works and even "Tales Along This Road" and "Tervaskanto". Whereas KORPIKLAANI's sound used to be as rustic as their home environs, they now emit a crisp, air-tight cadence that seldom forgives slip-ups. They are nearly letter-perfect as they are far ahead of where they were even on "Korven Kuningas", which might as well be the official flagging point to KORPIKLAANI's recent forking modes. As "Manala" unravels itself, KORPIKLAANI exhibits where they've come from and where they're heading. For all the infrastructure changes to their writing plans on "Manala", KORPIKLAANI has evolved substantially.
This is a heavy, heavy album that kicks you in the nuts when it wants to and makes you feel like seeking your roots. Never really a part of the Viking metal trade some writers have dumped them into, KORPIKLAANI does tread a few steps into TYR territory on "Manala", but never so much they lose their core identity. Jonne Jarvela will assumedly still be content to ringlead a pint raising for mosh maniacs, but this time around, he and KORPIKLAANI have more tricks to tide us even when the pub closes.