07 March 2014
by Pete Long
When people talk about folk metal, they are often talking about metal with a bit of a rustic tinge. The odd flute trill, maybe a violin, some jaunty riffs on the electric guitars – very much more metal than folk. Bands who are as much folk as metal, where the traditional instruments and melodies play as big a role as the crushing riffs – more Pogues than Dropkicks, to borrow a punk comparison – they’re a rarer beast. Metsatöll have been firmly towards the Pogues-end of that spectrum ever since multi-instrumentalist Lauri ‘Varulven’ Õunapuu joined the band in 2000.
Metsatöll can be an odd listen at first. They’re Estonian, and proud of it, drawing inspiration heavily from the traditional imagery and instruments of their country. It’s refreshing if nothing else to listen to an album that isn’t trading on the same secondhand Finnish, Irish and Scandinavian melodies. The lyrics are all in Estonian too, which is a bit of a shame, as the numerous cleanly sung harmonies are begging for crowd sing-alongs. It’ll be a very dedicated fan who’s able to do that outside of Estonia.
Opening track ‘Külmking’ is proof enough of all that. It’s a fusion of raw, pounding metal, Lauri’s jaunty folk leads and Markus “Rabapagan” Teeäär’s vocals, which almost stray into anthemic punk territory at times. Õunapuu is usually the lead instrument and provides the standout performance on Karjajuht. On several songs, such as ‘See On See Maa’, ‘Törrede Köhtudes’, and ‘Talisman’, he lends a pensive, elegant air that contrasts well with the more primal tone of the rest of Metsatöll. With ‘Metsalese Veri’, Õunapuu gives the song a more martial bent, a little like Ensiferum.
Basically, this album is the Õunapuu show. That’s said with no disrespect to the other musicians – who provide an excellent platform – but there’s been a deliberate decision here to put the folk melodies and Teeäär’s vocals in the forefront. Of the two, the folk is by far the most interesting and unique part. The singing is what the music needs; the many instruments of Õunapuu are what the music is all about.
Metsatöll do however lack the epic grandeur of a Moonsorrow, or the raucous entertainment of Finntroll. Without such things, Karjajuht suffers for a lack of variety. They are a band that could possibly be more ambitious with their song writing, but they do have Lauri Õunapuu, and that makes it worth listening to all by itself.
Sounds Like: Finntroll, but Estonian. And sober.
Standout Tracks: See On See Maa, Törrede Köhtudes, Metsalese Veri