Korpiklaani’s tenth album Kulkija (Nuclear Blast) is the tale of a wanderer; “Kulkija” meaning, well, wanderer. I didn’t find this out until after I listened to the album. Learned something new! What isn’t new is the incredible musicianship of Korpiklaani and the compositional depth of their music. Kulkija showcases fourteen songs and spans an hour and twelve minutes where each song tells a tale of our illustrious wanderer and his life during his travels. It isn’t necessary to speak the Finnish language to enjoy Kulkija but I’m sure it adds an insightful layer to the album if you do.
Kulkija starts strong with some metal-infused folk music; ‘Neito’ boasts steady drumming over galloping guitars while Sami Perttula on accordion takes on a lot of the main melodies. ‘Korpikuusen kyynel’ (which apparently means “moonshine” – yes, the hard homemade alcoholic beverage!) flows like the Manchester Punk/Ska music of the 80s and is a song you can pogo to while you visualize Bez dancing to it and, even if you don’t speak Finnish, you can sing along phonetically. The third song starts with some wickedly cool power chords courtesy of Cane and the feel of the drumming and bass is very purplish and dark. To wit, the song is about the lakes and seas being unpredictable. ‘Aallon Alla’ (“under the wave”) is a cross between Metallica’s ‘Until It Sleeps’ and Lacuna Coil with a Dave Matthews Band breakdown about seventy seconds in where Matson Johansson’s drumming is a beautiful mix of Lars Ulrich and Carter Beauford. During the last-minute, Tuomas Rounakari’s violin is very much a nod to Boyd Tinsley. It’s my favourite track on the album, in part due to its familiarity.
‘Harmaja’ is full of highland mournful beauty and Jonne Järvelä’s vocals have haunting shades of Til Lindemann that make you feel super sad. As a point of fact, in 1853 Finnish poet Zachris Topelius wrote a poem called “Sylvian joululaulu” about homesickness which ‘Harmaja’ references as “laulu kaipauksen” (a song of yearning). The ending violin is heartfelt and another glimpse of Boyd is heard. ‘Kotikonnut’ is powerful in its simplicity, a solid rock and roll song that makes you want to get up and dance is another favourite – the construction is a straight metal formula that works brilliantly and, of course, I’m enamored by Jarkko Aaltonen’s bass solo.
‘Korppikalliota’ is about a raven that sits atop an old spruce tree telling tales of those who died at its roots. There are so many different elements to this song. It’s a testament to Korpiklaani’s superior songwriting abilities. This is followed by what must be the most complex song on the album, ‘Kallon malja’. ‘Kallon malja’ clocks in at nine minutes forty-six seconds and is a beautiful juxtaposition of fast and slow music. The bass line used for emphasis has the strength of oak trees. There is a trippy black metal interlude that segues into a Metallica metal riff. The song boasts an impressive avant-garde progressive jazz fusion structure. It has a singular heaviness in the last two minutes that is very Black Sabbath and should be required listening for all music students as it’s super complex and encompasses so many diverse musical genres.
‘Sillanrakentaja’, the bridge builder, is taken from a story I actually know! I had my drama students perform a short play based on the tale of a giant building a bridge whilst the maiden of a nearby farmhouse made fun of him. The giant, being quite pissed off, heaved a large stone at her and where the stone landed became a boundary between two towns. The song is very much atmospheric death metal. There is a tinge of evilness in the sludgy black velvet vampiric sound. The song is wickedly chocolatey creamy with a bass line to die for. ‘Henkselipoika’ is quite the opposite as it reminds me of a post football match drinking in the pub type of song. And different still is the instrumental ‘Pellervoinen’, another strong epic highland song with strong folk violin. It’s almost a pop country song in its execution. ‘Pellervoinen’ is hobbit approved!
‘Reimu’ is so familiar that I swear I’ve heard the song before. It’s got such a positive vibe to it. It’s another song you just start singing along with, while‘Kuin korpi nukkuva’ reminds me of Romani music. It’s very romantic and free with an underlining hint of warning. ‘Juomamaa’ is a ruckus, get-on-yer-feet and dance Bez-loving, happy, raise-your-stein, share this with mates type of song. I want to be in the audience when this song is played live!
But now, dear readers and listeners we come to the end of our journey. ‘Tuttu on tie’ is sad. It’s the end. No more. But you can always play Kulkija over and over again.
Overall Kulkija is the most gobsmackingly complex album I’ve heard in quite a while, blending disjunctive styles that work seamlessly together. The different musical elements are at first overwhelming – it’s like being back in my music theory and composition class – but, ultimately Kulkija is an album by people who love music, for people who love music.