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By Phil Freeman
Published March 13, 2007

Since the mid-1990s, the Scandinavian metal scene has fostered more than its share of weird sociopolitical mini-movements, some quite disturbing (Satanic black metal acts burning down some of the oldest Christian churches in Europe, and unironically embracing Nazism). Other groups have similarly rejected Christianity, turning instead to paganism and the old Norse gods. Some, like Sweden’s Amon Amarth and Noway’s Einherjer, limit their old-country loyalism to their lyrics.

Others, though, have begun to create music that matches their beliefs, none with as much determination and vision as Finland’s Korpiklaani (their name translates to “Forest Clan”). A sextet, they have the roaring electric guitars, bass and thundering drums of thrash metal, but their melodies are based in classical Finnish folk, and in order to play them properly, the group also features a full-time accordionist and a multi-instrumentalist who plays violin, jouhilkko and flutes. Their third album, Tales Along This Road (the follow-up to 2003’s Spirit Of The Forest and 2005’s Voice Of Wilderness, all on Napalm Records), is a headlong sprint that will make metalheads and adventurous folk fans alike hoist mugs of beer in the air and chant along with the infectious choruses.

Violin and accordion get as much solo space on Tales... as guitar, and tracks have titles like “Spring Dance” and “Happy Little Boozer.” Anyone who’s seen the films of Aki Kaurismaki knows Finns have a unique sense of humor, and Korpiklaani’s music, though rooted in a real love for homeland tradition, is a lot more fun than the stone-faced Viking metal of Einherjer, Amon Amarth or Falkenbach, all of whom sometimes seem more concerned with proper beard grooming and onstage muscle-flexing than with writing songs capable of making a whole house jump up and down. Whether approached from a metal or folk angle, Korpiklaani is confounding, traditional, experimental—and, ultimately, just entertaining as hell.