Release Date: February 4, 2011
The “Forest Clan” Drunkenly Trips on a Tree Branch in the Woods, Releases a Less-Than-Wonderful Album
Can lighthearted fun ever become tedious? With their seventh full-length studio album Ukon Wacka, Finnish folk-metal “humppa” metallers Korpiklaani push toward that line. Since their 2003 debut, the incomparable Spirit of the Forest, Korpiklaani has become well-celebrated for their jolly, singable, melodious anthems about drinking beer, the woods, drinking beer IN the woods, and generally having a great time. Nope, songs about melancholy and woe are quite the opposite of what listeners could ever expect to get with Korpiklaani — and it’s difficult not to love them for it.
However, I can’t lie: beginning with 2009’s Karkelo, I noticed what seemed to be a bit of a regression in songwriting. Now, that may sound downright absurd, given that all technicalities and small nitpickings are really not supposed to apply to music this carefree, lighthearted and fun. But what else can be said when, after repeat listens of an album, everything blurs together and very little stands out? Yes, even Korpiklaani aren’t exempt from such an occurrence, and Ukon Wacka is more or less unfortunate proof of that. Where there were impossibly infectious melodies coming from every imaginable direction before, there is now… not much. When several songs can pass right by me and I can not remember a thing about them a few minutes later, that’s no good.
Is this a terrible album? No, not at all. Nothing here strikes me as downright awful. I would simply call it Korpiklaani’s weakest outing to date. One may wonder how many times a certain “style” can be rehashed over and over, but I find that there simply seems to be less effort put into the overall sound of the songs. Compelling, interesting, unusual songs such as “With Trees” (Spirit of the Forest) or “Northern Fall” (Korven Kuningas) are all but absent here.
The uptempo “Louhen Yhdeksäs Poika” opens the album with a merry, spontaneous feel; drummer Matson Johansson certainly stands out here, and vocalist/guitarist Jonne Järvelä’s trademark scratchy, fast-paced singing is typically charismatic. I could easily envision this song as a concert opener, and the call-and-chant-back segment toward the song’s end creates some interesting momentum before seguing right into “Päät Pois Tai Hirteen,” which contributes a necessary crunch and Järvelä”s addictive vocal melodies are a sure highlight. “Korvesta Liha” contains fizzy, bouncy guitars and is sure to awaken the human pogo-stick in “Tuoppi Oltta” and “Lonkkaluut” pass by without leaving much of an impression; a shapeless mishmash of violins and guitars begins to take form, and at this point, Ukon Wacka really all starts blending together. Variety is something this album sorely needs. Sure, even Korpiklaani‘s best albums consisted almost entirely of fast songs depicting the various stages of gleeful inebriation — but it just sounded better back then.
“Tequila,” an ode to Korpiklaani‘s South American fans, is basically a more obnoxious rehash of “Vodka” from Karkelo. Perhaps this song will hold more, um, sentimental value to the fans in those countries who had great times with the band, but musically, it offers very little entertainment to me. Järvelä shouts out random countries, then reminds us all of the song title — rinse and repeat. “Argentina, Colombia, tequila!” It’s repetitive almost to the point of being annoying. Bring back “Beer Beer” and “Wooden Pints,” the truly awesomely composed Korpiklaani songs about drinking.
The grand finale “Surma” is unquestionably Ukon Wacka‘s finest and most unique offering, allowing fans to experience a diverse range of tempos and atmospheres all in one song. Beginning slowly and wistfully, then working its way up toward a gritty, pounding rhythm before escalating into insanely fast territory, “Surma” is suspenseful, fascinating, and listeners quickly learn to expect the unexpected. I would have liked to see more songs like this on Ukon Wacka instead of the several songs which were practically indistinguishable from each other.
Ukon Wacka is not horrible, but it’s surely not going to rank amongst the most impressive releases of 2011. I expect many Korpiklaani fans will be disappointed by the apparent lack of creativity, focus and energy put into this album when compared to the rest of their mostly amazing discography. There just isn’t much to really remember with this offering, and I hope Korpiklaani can redeem themselves next time.
Rating: 5 /10