Brighton Music Hall – 5/24/15

Giddy girls wearing glittery fairy wings waited in line next to a company of medieval warriors donning chainmail and black warpaint. Even in Allston, the costumed fantasy characters were turning heads while they waited to enter a sold-out metal show at Brighton Music Hall. All three bands on the bill were playing the Boston area for the first time, and the anticipation you could see on the street matched the sellout at the box office.

Costumed concertgoers packed the dance floor for European folk-metal mainstays Trollfest, Korpiklaani, and Ensiferum. The latter two groups hail from Finland and each broke out separate, hour-long, headlining sets full of medieval-themed, accordion-powered metal. Despite Korpiklaani getting stuck with the middle slot on the bill, they ultimately stole the show with heartfelt sing-a-longs and dueling accordion and fiddle solos.

The crowd erupted in a cultish fervor as the Fins filed onto the stage for their debut performance in Boston. Korpiklaani (Finnish for “Forest Clan”) originally began as a traditional folk band called Shaman, until 2003 when they changed their name and signed to Austrian metal label Napalm Records.

Their first album in the new genre, Spirit of the Forest, introduced the world to the unlikely yet awesome marriage of distorted thrash metal and fiddle-fueled Finnish folk melodies. After the release of their newest full length Noita last month on Nuclear Blast, Korpiklaani has built a discography spanning nine albums in only 12 years.

Noita was well represented at the Brighton gig; the group opened their set with the opening track “Viinamäen Mies” or “Vineyard Man.” The crowd instantly joined the deafening chorus of “Hey”s to start the tune. A wild flurry of accordion and fiddle flitted along to thunderous heavy metal drumming and fuzzy guitar strumming. Frontman Jonne Järvelä was equally abrasive and charismatic onstage, barking into the mic as his bleached dreadlocks swayed underneath his bowler hat.

Speedy tunes like “Journeyman” kicked the show into a whole other gear with a punk rock gallop, electrifying the circle pit of dancers. Other heavy rock-folk success stories such as Flogging Molly and The Dropkick Murphys certainly sound similar to Korpiklaani at times, but the fact that Järvelä and company rarely write songs in English sets them apart. “Journeyman” is only one of very few songs not sung in their native Finnish.

 

The traditional folk influences blended into Korpiklaani’s music have a polka feel—and “Vaarinpolka” challenged just how metal the band can make polka music. Fiddle player Tuomas Rounakari and accordionist Sami Perttula played dueling solos over a chugging rhythm section. Rounakari wore what looked like a cross between the robes of a medieval monk and a Jedi Knight, while Perttula, besides hoisting up an accordion, looked like he should be shredding guitar for a death metal band.

The dancey “Rauta” (Iron) had the crowd endlessly chanting the Finnish word “Iske!” (to strike) in unison. Fans needed no introduction or practice. An epic song about forging a sword—or striking the iron—not only added to the mythos of Korpiklaani, but also got the English-speaking audience involved with the Finnish language.

However, some of the band’s biggest hits (at least in the U.S.), like “Vodka” and “Wooden Pints,” leave nothing to be lost in translation. Of course a Finnish folk/metal band is going to appreciate a good ale or mead—or in this case, a whole boatload of vodka that they claim “wipes away your tears / removes your fears” and “makes everyone gorgeous.”

From Rounakari’s frenzy of folky fiddle leads to Järvelä’s rough growls and snarls, the Korpiklaani formula still feels fresh after 12 years and nine separate full lengths. It’s a shame it took this long for them to perform in Boston, because they offer a fascinating, unexpected look into Finnish musical culture. Given the rabid fandom that has already been established here, it’s safe to say that Korpiklaani will return for another expedition—and hopefully many more.

Finnish Folk Metal: Korpiklaani
Pros
  • Debut performance was sold-out; crowd energy well harnessed
  • Language barrier a non-factor with such catchy, entertaining material
  • Dueling accordion and violin in a metal context makes for a highly original sound
Cons
  • Korpiklaani can be a bit one note; wish there was more variety in song structure
  • A few lulls around the mid-point of the set, but still ended strongly
8.3Fiddle-fueled

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