Modeling their sound, look and lyrical themes on Finnish lore and legend, this Helsinki-based metal crew has been stomping across the musical landscape for over a dozen years, holding true to their signature brand of dark fantasy metal (primarily with Swedish lyrics), but often making dramatic changes to their presentation with each new album and tour. With the arrival of their sixth studio album Blodsvept (“Shrouded in Blood”), the band has added a touch of horror-infused steampunk to their imagery and costuming – this look extends to the album art, as well as a detailed series of paintings created by Finntroll guitarist Samuli Ponsimaa (aka “Skrymer”) to accompany each of the album's eleven songs.
Despite the retro-futuristic fantasy setting, the musical content of Blodsvept represents Finntroll at their earthiest and most organic, with a broad assortment of traditional instruments blended with modern metal conventions, and the same sense of wild, devil-may-care adventure that made them one of the most revered names in Scandinavian music. While many folk-metal bands use traditional elements for color and texture in an otherwise metal foundation, Finntroll are experts in fusing equal parts of both genres, while tossing in a few other styles for good measure. Their previous album Nivelfind took them in some unusual but cool new directions, but with Blodsvept the band has mainly returned to their roots, digging deeper into that folksy tradition. But while the core of the Finntroll sound owes more to ancient dancing than double-kick blastbeats, rest assured this band can still bring full-on blackened metal when it's required.
That title track, with its demon roars and gritty guitar riffs, is case in point – and along with the symphonic closing cut "Midvinterdraken" (“The Midwinter Dragon”) and the lightning-paced "Fanskapsfylld" (“Filled With Devilry”) proves how devilish the band can be when provoked. But more often the trolls are just busting into mad polka-style dance numbers – called “Humppa” in Finland – the most fun being "Ett Folk Förbannat" (“A Cursed People”), "Skogsdotter" (“Daughter of the Forest”) and "Mordminnen" (“Memories of Murder”). The wide spectrum of musical talent onboard – there were up to eight musicians involved on this album – ranges from light wind instruments such as flutes and pipes to big, bombastic, almost jazzy brass; the latter really gets to shine in the song "Häxbrygd" (“Witch's Brew”). Those elements, along with symphonic keyboards and a variety of traditional and modern percussion, are given added weight by the beefiness of the guitars and bass, which totally bring the thunder when called upon.
Although all the lyrics are in Swedish, I seldom looked to translations for help, as I found myself carried along in the spirit of the music – although the subject matter makes for pretty awesome reading by itself, as it's packed with tales of rampaging monsters, witches, demons and assorted mayhem. The grandness of their storytelling comes through best in "När Jättar Marschera" (“When Giants March”), which for my money is the album's most memorable track, and even the playful formula has a dark side, as evidenced in the ominous undercurrents of "Skövlarens Död" (“Death of the Waster”).
The bouncy, high-spirited antics of Finntroll are highly infectious, and the band wisely focuses on that sense of fun and adventure for Blodsvept. If you like your metal stern and serious, this is probably not the record for you, even though their sound is still undeniably heavy at heart. If you already have a taste for dark fantasy metal, this one may have you dancing on the table, maybe even clutching that replica battle-axe you bought at Comic-Con last year. Just be careful where you swing that thing... and check out this video for "Häxbrygd."