When I first crossed paths with Korpiklaani back in 2006, I took one look at the slipcase promo for Tales Along this Road, and finding them completely ridiculous, promptly discarded and ignored it. I don’t remember who was responsible for getting “Happy Little Boozer” into my earholes later that same year, but my mind changed quickly after that, and just in time for the big folk metal explosion of the late aughts, godfathered by the likes of Finntroll and Ensiferum and bringing along Eluveitie, Alestorm, Tyr, and (what felt like) so many others. Swept up in the unique sound and presentation, I rode that wave hard. While several of their contemporaries continued to hone their craft, though, Korpiklaani started to sputter. Turns out that folk instruments, humpaa rhythms, and drinking anthems can only hide lackluster songwriting for so long. By the time they included four of the latter on 2009’s Karkelo, it looked like they were running out of ideas – and this was after only two years.
Subsequent albums continued the trend, the band eventually bottoming out with 2015’s lifeless, by-the-numbers Noita. Still, I didn’t completely write them off, and was rewarded with the perfectly acceptable good time of 2018’s Kulkija, which brought along with it the minor revelation that this is a band that doesn’t have to be unique or break new ground every time, they just have to bring the energy and have a good time, and listeners will do the same in kind.
Another year passed and I found myself once again mired in unemployment and the depression that came along with it. In the Fall I was gifted a ticket to go see Korpiklaani and Eluveitie one Saturday night. If anything would cheer me up, it would be seeing these bands with my best friends, my inner circle. It almost worked. Everybody else did their part, but… I couldn’t get out of my own way long enough to enjoy it. I felt like I had wasted everybody’s time and money. On the bright side, the evening proved that both bands were still relevant, still had plenty to offer, and were worth investing in. (I wish I could say that this brought another revelation that I too was those things, but it did not.)
They waste little time in making a statement to the affirmative with the frenetic “Niemi”. Taking a thrash metal framework and embellishing it with accordion and fiddle is about as close as many of us are ever likely to get to the domain where the mythical beings they sing of live for eternity, and it’s perfect for your next hesher polka party. Once the jigging starts, all the problems of this physical world seem to just melt away. It’s a pretty thick layer, though, a lot of problems, so thankfully there are more parties like this one. The back-to-back shot of “Pohja” and “Huolettomat” more than take care of whatever is left, leaving only a state of elation. Some folks would say this is a Korpiklaani party at its best.
But even the hardest of partiers will tell you that you can’t party hard all the time (or, more likely, that partying moderately still counts as partying), and these guys are well aware. So before you can burn out, they bring you tracks like “Sanaton Maa”. You can see them in the middle of a village festival, bonfires raging, wild beasts roasting on spits, libations guzzled from the horns of said beasts. “Mylly” slows things down even further and lays down a groove so warm, so comforting that you may find yourself in a one person kumbaya circle. “Miero” meanwhile is part bonfire singalong, part spirit cleansing ritual. Some folks would say this is a Korpiklaani party at its best.
There is yet a third type of party, the most prevalent type, and that of course is the one that happens when the two other parties co-exist. Album opener “Verikoira” is one such party, and it sets up the album nicely by promoting that unity (not to mention invoking warm feelings of Running Wild’s “Fall of Dorkas”). Later, it doesn’t get much more party than “Pidot”, which uses a little bit of slide guitar – and there are times when that bass sounds like a troll blowing into a jug – to accentuate the hootenany There’s always at least one of these parties between those that lean towards one of the extremes, which makes the proceedings feel completely organic – and prevents more than a few cases of whiplash and/or system shock. Some folks would say this is a Korpiklaani party at its best.
Some folks are missing the point. Haven’t they ever heard the old cliche about the whole and the sum of its parts? Korpiklaani’s best party isn’t when they do one, the other, or both. It’s when they do all three. Read the room, change the tempo, change the mood, and keep that party vibe going. That’s exactly what Korpiklaani accomplishes on Jylhä. After all you’ve been through, you deserve to let loose, to escape, to party with a bunch of Finns who can drink and jig and celebrate life with the best of them. Not only that, you deserve to do it naked in the woods. OK, maybe just a loincloth. Your friends don’t want to see all that. Or maybe they do. In that case, more power to you all. Hell, some would say it’s not a party until people start getting naked.
That settles it then: Naked Korpiklaani Jylhä Party is what’s going to get us through this thing until live music returns (and possibly after, in the kinkier regions).