Album Review: Finntroll - "Blodsvept"

My wife is a very patient woman, who only takes a less-than-casual interest in heavy metal because it makes it easier for us to spend time together. The following conversation happened in our living room:

Me: “I’m not quite sure what to make of this album.”
Her: “Who is it?”
Me: “Finntroll. It’s their new record, it’s all over the place.”
Her: “Well, I don’t hate it. It sounds kind of fun.”

It took me a minute to wrap my brain around the dynamic impossibility of it all. Suddenly and without warning, “Blodsvept” took on a whole new life. The album represents perhaps the least likely of possibilities, an underground, foreign language folk metal album that through some untold sorcery appeals to a wider audience. Think about that last sentence for a minute. It seems even harder to believe after greater contemplation, but “Blodsvept” is so unpredictable and so variable that it lives up to that billing.

While we’re on the subject, let’s knock out the elephant in the room. It’s hardly a secret that a healthy percentage of Finntroll’s songs lyrically attack organized religion, social attitudes and many other sensitive institutions. So it seems, on face, that it would impossible (there’s that word again,) to refer to “Blodsvept” as “fun.” But, since the entire album is in Swedish, I have nothing to go on except the part I can understand, which is the music. So this chronicle concerns only that. As a corollary, it doesn’t really matter that the lyrics are all delivered harshly, since I would not be able to decipher their message anyway. Besides, the Dead Kennedys were also “fun” on “Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables,” so this isn’t a complete anomaly, just a very surprising one.

Finntroll would tell just about anyone who will listen that they’ve intentionally retreated for this new record, consciously regressed to a sound they feel is more genuine and pure, and they’re telling the truth. The band has concentrated on the ;folk’ element of ‘folk metal,’ which lends “Blodsvept” the freedom to went their way through any number of applicable paradigms. As a result, the album bounces from style to style, ranging from folk power metal all the way to a combination that I can only describe as folk metal ska. Let’s walk sequentially through a few illustrative examples:

The album begins with the stomping charge and throaty bellow of what can only be imagined to be fearsome, salivating beast. Why? Why not? It works as set piece for the curiously familiar rock and roll pacing of the title track. One of Finntroll’s best musical decision on this record is clearly evidence in the first minutes of the song – amidst all the percussion, almost all but the snare are suppressed in the mix. The resultant snapping sound lends the record a beat, not a blur, a pop, not panoply.

Even as the record rolls into the more conventional “Ett Folk Förbannat,” there is a well executed march there, giving the impression that Finntroll’s sense of the theatric, even if unintentional, is effective. Then things get crazy.

Two songs later for “Mordminnen,” all of a sudden there’s instrumentation gone wild, rearranged with guitar and keyboard or accordion or violin or kazoo or some damn thing. Maybe a combination of all of them. It’s expansive but simple with a borderline swing riff and it feels like a chorus line of rough and tumble but affable pirates should be dancing through my living room (much to my wife’s chagrin, most likely.) As we discussed, it’s nearly ska in presentation, accent and pacing.

I could on and on with examples of “Blodsvept’s” masterful oddity, but you get the idea. “Blodsvept” is probably about carnage and the stench on the battlefield and drinking until you go blind, but it’s all wrapped up in this weirdly poppy, sit-com theme, death metal blanket. The whole record is like an unimaginable combination of Blackguard, The Voodoo Glow Skulls’ “Symbolic” and Gene Rayburn. Does that make sense? Of course not. But it’s glorious for what it is, even if Finntroll’s new release has an unfathomable broad-based appeal. As we careen headlong through 2013, I get the strong feeling that “Blodsvept” will end up in my top ten for the year in December. Just don’t ask me to explain it.

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