If there’s one band that conjures up the image of “folk metal”, it’s Helsinki, Finland natives and genre pillars Finntroll. Finntroll has a new release out: Natten Med De Levande Finntroll, a toothy 19-tune live album showcasing the band in full glory, performing at Amsterdam’s prestigious Melkweg Concert Hall on September 20th, 2008.
Combining arguably the best elements of folk, mirth, and ale, along with catchy and traditional sounding melody, the band here puts it’s best dancin’ feet forward. Befitting of a veteran touring band with multiple studio releases for a major indie label, this record has a crisp, enjoyable sound quality, superior to some of the better produced underground demos and definitely far superior to fan-filmed “cell phone” footage on websites such as YouTube. The music is a little “busier” or more layered then some of the more intense, to-the-bone artists (Manegarm comes to mind).
If this is a soundboard recording, it’s multi-channel. The sound is very crisp, detailed, and clear with no instrument becoming “lost in the mix”. A detail-oriented listener will be able to pick out the layers (and even some of the finest details in those layers) because everything is mixed and balanced so well. What even a novice listener will hear, are some of the ‘production touches’ like keyboard sampled “spring peeper” frogs, bird songs, banjo, country fiddle, or accordion patches.
As with most pagan or folk metal, an intelligible, appreciable drum and bass guitar part drives the entire song. The band is tighter then tight here: well-rehearsed and performing at a very high level. While not as strictly melodic as some of their counterparts, they expertly interleave very heavy parts to very European-sounding, fresh melodic parts. A gruff extreme metal vocal delivers a variety of lyrical themes in the “Finno-Swedish” tongue: Swedish with a Finnish accent. Non-Swedish speaking fans will immediately appreciate the band for their moving and exceptional command of the universal language of music. Some of the song introductions are oddly done in English; just another quirk of the music to enjoy. The vocalist Vreth‘s delivery isn’t really the same ‘bleeding emotional’ as some have been – Finntroll don’t really try to beat you over the head with a vocally emphatic performance. Appreciable is the “correct” amount of bassiness: usually, concerts are very bass (and bass drum) heavy to make them have more visceral feel and impact. This recording is neither too trebly nor too bassy: it replicates the band’s balanced sound very well.
Fans of the band will love all of the flourish, but new fans who don’t know what to expect might be a little put-off by the very prominent keyboards (accordion sound) found in almost every song. It’s used in place of a “lead guitar” line in some instances, and it can get a little cinematic. With many ‘fan favorite’ songs on this release, if you don’t love it within three or four, the album might get swapped out for a band with less accordion… like Amon Amarth. To single out a tune, “Fiskarens Fiende” has a bit of the ultra-heavy, catchy, mid-tempo folkiness. “Svartberg” which follows, is a similar, but more layered and logical sounding followup. Picking out the audio layers in either tune is easy and fun. “Forsvinn Du Som Lyser” wades in to quasi-punk territory, brushing shoulders with melodic hooks and ‘rock and roll’ catchiness (“hey hey!”).
Criticism: What’s distracting are the ‘cuts’ between songs. Some are very obvious. It doesn’t have the cohesive “beginning to end” feel of your typical live concert, where the between-song banter is just as entertaining as the music. Some effort should have been made to maintain the same cohesion and feel a listener would get as a fan attending one of the band’s live shows. Sequencing a live set is an art just as much as sequencing a studio release… and Finntroll’s material isn’t sufficiently mood-diverse to warrant so much cutting.
While the intersong (and intrasong) tempo varies, as previously mentioned, Finntroll’s material isn’t really what would be considered diverse. Listeners don’t have to contend with ‘ballad, rock tune, metal tune, country tune, ballad’ type mood shifts; they only have to listen to nuances of extreme metal. Logically, genre-wise, this is “on 11” most of the time. Songs tend to pleasantly blur in to one another when considering the release as a whole. Where the band really excels and stands out as one of the genre’s finest, is the musical arrangement and performance. This album is a nice, very listenable cross-section of the band’s material and sound. Natten Med De Levande Finntroll is a fantastic sampler and “taste” of what the band is about, and will be a very fine addition to a new or old fan’s collection.
Slaget Vid Blodsälv
Försvinn Du Som Lyser
En Mäktig Här
Det Iskalla Trollblodet
Vreth – vocals
Skrymer – guitar
Routa – guitar
Tundra – bass guitar
Trollhorn – keys
Virta – keys
Beast Dominator – drums