Released: 2010, Century Media
Reviewer: Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
Finntroll is one of those musical entities that consistently defies all rational thought; how can their eclectic sound, not even considering their outlandish shtick, manage to be so darn accessible and catchy at the same time? I first got into them around the early days of JAKTENS TID, and was stunned that some tracks made me want to get up and DANCE like a possessed animal, instead of just headbanging. Finntroll’s inimitable sound hails from their melding of traditional Finnish humppa (a form of polka) with blackened folk metal, enabling them with a degree of musical creativity rarely seen in metal’s “stay true” culture. While the humppa blend still forms the core of Finntroll’s sound, their newest effort NIFELVIND showcases how the band is now able to incorporate more diverse forms of music without relying exclusively on the bouncy backbeat that is their trademark.
After the mandatory intro, NIFELVIND opens with what may be the strongest song in Finntroll history; “Solsagen” is a thrashing, rollicking slice of masterfully orchestrated black metal featuring one of the most murderously catchy, growl-along choruses yet heard. This will undoubtedly become a concert favorite, since they’ve already released a suitably disturbing video accompaniment. Older fans will recall the giddy infectiousness of “Trollhammaren” from NATTFODD, but “Solsagen” showcases a great deal more maturity and discipline in both songwriting and production. With this track, Finntroll is clearly vested in the business of skullcrushing black metal, with a lot of other elements flavoring the mix. “Solsagen” is such a strong track that the rest of the album almost doesn’t match up to its thunderous, cinematic fury. That’s not to say that NIFELVIND is only good for one song; thankfully, there isn’t a single mediocre track on the album, but “Solsagen” is so damn good that it overshadows everything that follows.
Past Finntroll albums have always kept a very even blend between the metal and folk elements. NIFELVIND is an atypical case because it sometimes separates the core elements of Finntroll’s classic sound into distinct, non-interacting parts. For example, opener “Solsagen” centers around a very traditionalist black metal riff with an underpinning blastbeat, with the expected trollish chants and beats being delegated into the chorus. But the next song “Den Frusna Munnen” is far more eclectic, featuring a Turok-esque South American tribal intro before launching into a poppier variant on the standard Finntroll dirge; the outro throws us another curveball in the form of a gorgeous keyboard progression that sounds almost “happy” for a band of miscreant, Christian-eating trolls. The disconnect between these two songs is representative of how several cuts on NIFELVIND seem to have little to do with each other musically, even with some basic trollish elements still held in common.
Here’s where things get a little weird; listening to each song in succession is almost like getting a concentrated taste of whatever the band was listening to at the moment. “Ett Norrskensdåd” opens up like an Irish reel dance, and follows variations on the opening fiddle & flute melody. Immediately afterwards on “I Trädens Sång,” we return to the brutal black metal stylings of “Solsagen,” but with the prominent return of the trademark humppa accordion backbeat. “Galgasång” is a throwback to Finntroll’s marvelous all-acoustic folk album VISOR OM SLUTET, featuring the campfire side of Vreth’s vocals. Followup “Mot Skuggornas Värld” sounds like it was composed while the band was listening to Nightwish’s “Dark Passion Play”; huge choral chants and bombastic orchestras fly around in the mix atop a chuggingly trollish guitar riff.
“Under Bergets Rot” is the most bizarre, contagious track of the lot, combining space-age instrumentation with a gallingly bouncy, danceable series of banjo-led riffs that really shows off Fintroll’s experimental side. “Fornfamnad” marks Finntroll’s first real dabbling in symphonic black metal, featuring voracious blastbeats and manic tremolo riffing fueled by an overpowering orchestral horn section à la Dimmu Borgir; since I greatly dislike that particular band, I’m surprised by how much I enjoy this particular song. Vreth’s vocals really shine here, and I suspect he attempted to alter his voice to suit the more “necro” feel of the track. The longer outro “Dråp” is perhaps the most traditional Finntroll song to be found yet, with plenty of trollish riffing, swampy keyboards, and extensive acoustic twanging.
My only real gripe with NIFELVIND is the addition of a sampled orchestra. It’s not that it sounds bad or fake; at first, I assumed the boys had hustled up a real live orchestra for the album. But this being their first experiment with this kind of sound, the orchestral parts seem just a little out of place at times. I imagine that time and experience will temper this new weapon appropriately, but in the interim it doesn’t quite meld with the naturalistic, folkish sonic approach so masterfully taken on most of this album.
Overall, this may be Finntroll’s best record yet. The band has expanded far beyond the limits of their past works, incorporating a vast array of sonic intrigue into their already-lush soundscape. Therein perhaps lies NIFELVIND’S greatest strength; each listening reveals layer after layer of intriguing detail that keeps things fresh. A basic guitar riff may have beneath it a tuba, marimbas, banjo, theremin, upright bass, crumhorn, and a staggering number of miscellaneous percussion rattling along underneath. Finntroll have become the unquestioned masters of acoustic orchestration, and I sincerely hope they keep pursuing this level of sonic creativity in future albums; it adds a vitally tribal, shamanistic vibe that is central to the band’s theme and shtick. If you’re new to Finntroll, then NIFELVIND is an amazing place to start.