Finntroll - Nifelvind 3.5/5
1. Blodmarsch (intro)
3. Den frusna munnen
4. Ett norrskensdåd
5. I trädens sång
6. Tiden utan tid
8. Mot skuggornas värld
9. Under bergets rot
For all the success Finntroll have enjoyed over the last few years, interviews given over the course have hinted at a sort of resentment at the kind of exposure they have received. On one hand you could see their point – debuting in 1999 and really coming into their own 2 years later with ‘Jaktens tid’, Finntroll definitely preceded (some would say ignited) the subsequent explosion of modern folk metal bands, and deserve better than being seen as some sort of comedy act. But then again, a band promoting themselves with music videos that show them dressed in loincloths and partying in a cave may have a bit of a cheek expecting to be taken seriously.
2007’s ‘Ur jordens djup’ seemed like something of a reaction to this – gone was much of the eccentricity the band had built their name on, the riffs less direct and punchy and Trollhorn’s keyboards more focused on creating sweeping background soundscapes than on the myriad quirky melodies that used to be front and centre, and the end result suffered for it. Feeling halfway between a Moonsorrow and a Finntroll CD, it captured the best of neither band, lacking the massive epic scale of the former and the vibrant liveliness of the latter.
‘Nifelvind’ goes some way to mending this error, retaining the increased symphonic aspects of its predecessor while also being re-injected with the manic energy of the band’s earlier releases. The overly dark and downbeat aspects of ‘Ur jordens djup’ remain integral aspect of the sound, as they always were, but are not as played up this time around and are better balanced against a rich tapestry of colourful keyboard melodies.
An increase in genuine folk instruments is also added to the mix to create an even more organic feel, the most notable being the violin (provided by Olli Vänskä of Turisas, no less) on “Ett norrskensdåd” which adds a certain moody wistfulness to the song. At the same time, when ‘Nifelvind’ gets heavy, it pulls no punches, and the thundering drums and guitar of “I trädens sång” sound positively violent.
The decision to add a 2nd keyboard player to the line-up in Alexei Virta (mostly for the purpose of live shows, probably, but having his hard work rewarded with full member status anyway) is an indicator that this is the most densely-layered Finntroll CD to date, with all kinds of unusual background sounds forming a jumbled yet rich palette. There is said to be an over-arching theme of some sort of evil carnival that binds the songs together, and while I can’t penetrate the Swedish lyrics to find out if there is an actual story being told, the music makes enough references to menacing twists on fairground melodies that it goes on to create vivid imagery in the mind of the listener. Indeed, the intro track, “Blodmarsch” is so damned cinematic that you can practically see the caravans being hauled through the forest as subtly grand orchestration and the growls of throat-singing (or a decent approximation thereof) drift over booming percussion.
Vreth acquits himself better as vocalist on his 2nd appearance with the band, and seems to have grown into the role over the last few years, with more variety in his scowling tones this time around. While I still don’t think he matches original singer (and continuing lyricist) Katla for pure viciousness, he shrieks are a better fit for the band than the guttural grunts of his immediate predecessor Tapio Wilska. ‘Nifelvind’ also features the most extended passages of clean vocals on a Finntroll CD to date (relax, its only for 2 songs) and Vreth impresses greatly with a sombre baritone performance. The first of these songs, “Tiden utan tid” is a pounding slow march, opened with an extended clean passage that show off the increased ethnic influences that have been incorporated, while the other “Galgasång” is a truly excellent acoustic ballad-type song accented by twanging banjo playing and another turn from Vänskä, and stands out among the heavier songs on the CD as maybe the best of the lot.
In terms of quality, ‘Nifelvind’ probably stacks up against ‘Nattfödd’, perhaps lacking a couple its stand-out moments of brilliance, but at the same time feels far more cohesive and without the couple of throwaways that interrupted the momentum on their breakthrough CD. The magic of ‘Jaktens tid’ still remains just out of reach though, and regardless of this being arguably their best work since, it seems more and more evident that the missing x-factor is late guitarist Somnium, the chemistry created by mixing up his and Trollhorn’s compositions something that will never be recreated.
To end on a more positive note though, ‘Nifelvind’ is representative of a band back on track, emerging after a cathartic act of defiance with a CD that contains some of their strongest work. With the comparative gloom of ‘Ur jordens djup’ out of their systems, they are back to doing what they do best with another fine outing into the freakish wilds of the Finnish forests, and those that thought they had lost their way in 2007 can breathe a deep sigh of relief.
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