22 February 2010
by Tom Dare
Folk metal: how divisive it has been. There are those would rather listen to the first Bring Me The Horizon record played backwards on out-of-tune guitars, than put on anything recorded by the violin-carrying brigade. Well, to all of those who fall into the former category, may I say the following:
Would you kindly crawl out from your own arse, have a listen to Finntroll’s latest album, Nifelvind, and learn to have some fun? As fun is what Finntroll are all about.
To the uninitiated, Finntroll are a cross between a black metal band and a humppa band. Humppa, for anyone not from Finland, is a type of Finish polka- kind of a fast, jazzy foxtrot. If you’re still none the wiser, imagine Immortal invading a cockney knees-up along with a bunch of blokes playing non-heavy metal instruments like folk violins and accordions and you’re as probably as close as you’re going to get.
However, like many of their compatriots and imitators, Finntroll have always been struck down with the real flaw of folk metal. A musical style as focused on having fun as this struggles to make consistent, attention-holding records. Bands like Ensiferum and Turisas have released good, fun albums that put a smile on your face, get your foot tapping and your head banging, but the joke frequently gets old after a few plays – or in some cases, half-way through the album. To attempt to counter this, they throw in a few pure folk numbers to try and maintain your interest with varying success – Eluveitie’s Slania being one of the best examples. Have Finntroll finally managed to escape this trap?
Sadly, the answer is a qualified no. Nifelvind is a genuinely entertaining, likeable record, from the party anthem of first track proper ‘Solsagen’ through the more overtly black metal ‘I Trädens Sång’. Add to that the pure folk ‘Galgasång’ through to great drunken-antic-inducing songs like ‘Under Bergets Rot’, and there’s some great stuff here. On casual listens, this feels like an authentically great record. In some ways it is: if you are having a party or settling down to read a book set in some frozen northern kingdom, you’ll struggle to find a better soundtrack than Nifelvind. It’s only on closer inspection that something is lost.
Watch the video to ‘Solsagen’ by Finntroll
The music struggles to maintain interest when you concentrate on the music alone. In part, that’s because certain striking similarities to other bands begin to jump out almost immediately- reminders of the great and the evil of black metal such as classic Emperor or recent Dimmu Borgir abound. More importantly however, the style continues to simply be too limiting to keep the listener interested for more than about twenty minutes. The complete unintelligibility of the lyrics (death metal vocals roared Swedish is a tad incomprehensible) doesn’t help maintain interest – it may sound ‘trollish’, but it rapidly becomes rather monotonous, and not even the occasional burst of clean vocals can rescue it completely.
That said, it’s be a grumpy git or a pedantic purist about Nifelvind. It’s good fun, and has some genuinely top-drawer songs on it. Finntroll write some seriously catchy tunes, and orchestrate a sinister party better than virtually anyone else. Just don’t listen too closely.
Sounds like: Immortal playing at a wedding party in the 1930s, Turisas, Eluveitie
Top tracks: Solsagen, Ett Norrskensdåd, Under Bergets Rot
Finntroll – Nifelvind tracklisting:
Den Frusna Munnen
I Trädens Sång
Tiden Utan Tid
Mot Skuggornas Värld
Under Bergets Rot