Thursday, April 15, 2004

Review: Finntroll - Nattfödd (2004)

Finntroll [ Website | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter ]
Spikefarm Records

I've been aware of the Finnish band Finntroll for a couple of years now, knowing them to be a Black Metal band that incorporated folk elements into their sound. Not being a fan of the extreme, raspy vocals associated with this particular style of metal I chose not to investigate further. Big mistake! While the vocals do fit the common vein, the band's use of Scandinavian folk melodies as an integral component of their songwriting means Finntroll has a lot more to offer than your everyday Norsemen in corpse paint.

To say that Finntroll is a "Black Metal" band would be a misclassification, however. While the vocals, blast-beats, and furious riffs are at the core of their sound they steer clear from the Satanic lyrical content and imagery, instead focusing on the trolls of Scandinavian folklore. A more proper way to describe their music would be to say that it is "brutal folk metal", slightly similar to Waylander. There has been a steady increase in the number of metal bands embracing folk and medieval melodies and traditional instruments, yet Finntroll separates themselves from this growing pack with their unique selection of folk music and instrumentation - humpaa. Humpaa is a Finnish form of Polka music, so you'll find significant contributions from such instruments as the accordion, klezmer, flute, and even a jaw harp. At first glance, even the most open-minded metalhead would shake his head in disgust at the thought of metal being blended with Polka, but Finntroll's formula works! The secret rests in their knack for creating catchy melodies that work to compliment and enhance what would normally be a rather one-dimensional aural assault.

Nattfödd is the fourth full-length album from the band (they also released an EP just prior to this album) since their debut in 2000. The first real immersion into the sound of Finntroll comes on the second track. The opening track being pretty straight-forward Black Metal, "Eliytres" dives right in with the klezmer, a traditional melody, and epic keyboard passages from Henri "Trollhorn" Sorvali. Though Tapio Wilska replaced "Katia" Jamsen on vocals for the EP and Nattfödd, he remains true to the vocalizations of the band's previous recordings. Delivering the lyrics, all of which are sung in Swedish, primarily in a mid-ranged blackish rasp, Tapio occasionally adds a bit more depth by lowering his pitch to a more deathish style. Another addition to the lineup is guitarist Mikael "Routa" Karlbom, replacing Teemu "Somnium" Raimoranat who perished last year in a tragic fall. Routa provides excellent lead guitarwork throughout the album, though soloing is non-existent. The heavy, crunching riffs of "Fiskarens Fiende" highlight Routa's skill, as well as that of rhythm guitarist Samuli "Skrymer" Ponsimaa, and the guitar interplay with the keys of Trollhorn contribute much to making this song my favorite of the disc. The beer-hall choruses add variety and an extra dimension to the vocals, giving the song more character and standout quality. A close runner-up as my favorite of Nattfödd, "Trollhammaren" has a strong traditional melody which sounds more than a bit Celtic and prominent bass lines from Sami "Tundra" Uusitalo. Flutes make an appearance here, and the cleanly shouted choruses are back. Tapio even cleans up the vocals for an occasional shout while singing the verses in a deeper, deathish way. The keyboards of classically trained Trollhorn figure significantly on this track, even opening up into a solo of sorts. More restrained than the keyboard wankery of bands such as Rhapsody, Trollhorn still manages to give this track a bit of a Euro Power Metal feel with his skill. Routa gets as close to a solo as anywhere else on the album with a few bridled licks. Finntroll liberally sprinkles sound effects all through the album, more so on the first track but again on "Marknadsvisan". Opening with a serene woodland soundscape complete with birds, a horse, and a gurgling brook, we're introduced to what I assume is a troll lord laboring away in his cave in an attempt to forge gods know what. Well, something goes awry and the peaceful forest is shattered by an angered, fearsome roar from the troll. I have to say, the entire sequence bears a striking similarity to the sounds coming from my garage as I strive to start my lawnmower. Anyway, the most ferocious metal attack of the album follows the troll's bellow as Samu "Beast Dominator" Ruotsalainen blasts away with the double-bass. The jaw harp makes a return to prominence to begin "Grottans Barn", giving this mid-paced crusher an Old West feel before the guitars and bass jump in to lay down some heavy riffs. Tapio sings in a nearly clean voice, enunciating the lyrics distinctly. On the choruses he returns to his blackish rasp, however. Although I enjoyed the album, if I could suggest one thing to improve the accessibility of Finntroll's music it would be a greater emphasis on the vocals as delivered on this track. Wrapping things up is "Routas Vaggvisa", an introspective acoustic piece from Routa accentuated by intermittent hoots from an owl. My partiality for the raptor aside, this composition is a classy way to end the album.

The brutal folk metal of Finntroll is a unique blend of extreme and traditional elements that sets this band apart from their peers. Reading about their sound is not enough to understand it, you must experience the music to appreciate the band's outstanding ability to create memorable melodies and one-of-a-kind passages. Folk metal fans should give them a try, as should open-minded fans of more extreme forms of metal. I wish I'd tuned in to these Finns a couple of years ago, but I will now definitely be investigating their back catalog.

Track Listing
1Vindfärd / Människopesten
3Fiskarens Fiende
8Det Iskalla Trollblod
9Grottans Barn
10Routas Vaggvisa

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