June 17, 2014 Metsatöll – Karjajuht (Album review)
Otherness; it is a word we usually reserve for more disturbing, mind-bending forms of death and black metal. It rarely pops up when talking about folk metal, but with Metsatöll the term crops up each and every time they come on the stereo. It could be that their country of origin, Estonia, has remained a mystery while most of the world has shrunk down to the more intimate size of the twenty-first century. One of the oldest cultures in all of Europe, its language is very close to Finnish yet manages to be that much more alien to our Latin sensibilities. It is more than location and language, though. Metsatöll incorporates the singular influence of their own culture’s traditions so strongly; their music is consumed and embellished by it. The effect is magnetic and extremely endearing. The band has risen through the ranks of the folk metal legions, even touring twice through North America in recent years. A big deal in their small home nation, they have won awards there while even playing the main stage at the famous Tuska festival in Finland.
Having formed in 1999, Metsatöll has just released their ninth studio album called Karjajuht, which translates to ‘pack leader’. Their mixture of ancient Estonian melodies and traditional instruments blended with heavy metal continues in fine form on the new record. As soon as opener “Külmking” begins, it is clear there is something special going on. Some scratchy notes herald the use of an elder form of music, giving way to the oddly timed, upbeat signature pacing Metsatöll has made their own. Next up, “Lööme Mesti” features Estonian bagpipes and a voice that should be familiar to all who dance beneath the forest moon of folk metal. Jonne Jarvala of Korpiklaani guests on this one, lending his pipes to a very fast paced, enjoyable romp.
“See On See Maa” slows up from the frenetic pace of the first two songs, retaining strength through some good melodies. Lauri’s baritone walks us through it like only he can, punctuated by a solemn clean sung chorus. The swift, short “Must Hunt” follows on, an adventurous flute lead taking us on jaunts through the forest; we are limned in moonlight and snow as we are immersed in the utter strangeness of the elder tongue of forgotten Estonia. “Terasest Taotud Tee” shows us that a flute can kick major ass, especially when it is underscored by double-bass drumming. The awesome chorus, shouted alternately by the band members, combines with a few good breakdowns, killer riffs, and the flute to encapsulate perfectly what Metsatöll is capable of.
Best song title ever, “Öö,” is led by those Estonian bagpipes again. There is a mid-section break about 1:30 in which could get a room full of nursing home patients up and dancing. Metsatöll’s use of traditional instruments and melodies is as flawless as it is deliberate. They manage to meld it together as only people who deeply respect both their culture and heavy metal’s culture could manage.
On “Surmanüür” and “Mullast”, Metsatöll craft two of their strongest songs, featuring a plethora of vocal styling and driven, upbeat melodies. The title track brings back that feeling of otherness, as the traditional elements combine with an off-beat structure to render a song truly unique in this genre; and that is what Metsatöll does so wonderfully. Throughout their career they have honed this unique otherness into an unmistakable mosaic of sounds, a tradition they expand and improve upon with Karjajuht. Folk-metal this genuine and unconventional will only serve to raise the bar of the genre. Join the Metsatöll pack over at Spinefarm Records and bask in the sounds of an unknown land. CrypticRock gives this album 5 out of 5 stars.