Talking through the wonders of 'Jylhä' with the renowned folk metal frontman.
For as wicked and gloomy as metal is often characterized to be, there always lies a lighter side, one comprised of an electrifying musical jubilance. Among those who walk the path of said jubilance is Finland's renowned folk metal unit, KORPIKLAANI. Fronted by Jonne Järvelä, these talented trailblazers seamlessly bridge majestic storytelling and instrumentation with a diverse approach to metal, making for an enthralling listen.
Since their full-length debut in 2003, KORPIKLAANI have never struck to one tried and true formula, evolving as they went and reaching prominence in this realm of metal as a result. On February 5th, KORPIKLAANI usher in their next chapter with their multilayered new outing, Jylhä. Arriving via Nuclear Blast Records, Järvelä and co. propel themselves forward and venture into a darker subject matter, one that is at times complemented by melancholic tones and at times contrasted by an uplifting maelstrom of accordion and violin melodies. From reggae to punk rock touches, Jylhä simply bursts at the seams with creativity and offers something for all to enjoy.
To go a bit deeper into the world of Jylhä, we touch base with the mighty Jonne Järvelä:
'Jylhä' is fast approaching and marks another step forward for Korpiklaani’s acclaimed discography. Seeing as this is your most compositionally diverse record yet, what did you set to achieve following the atmospheric journey that was 2018’s 'Kulkija'?
Järvelä: Kulkija was quite the calmer album and that’s what it should be. There were a lot of important key songs if I think about my career as a songwriter. But this time, I wanted the album to be faster and harder. It is easy when we have a line-up that can play whatever I want to write.
Aside from the initial name changes, Korpiklaani has been at it for well over two decades, constantly growing and adding new elements to a folk formula that you refuse to stick with, and rightfully so. As you come into this 11th full-length record, where are you all as a band, personally and of course musically?
Järvelä: We are at our top so far but our whole career has been on a slow rise, so this won’t be the top of this band. You know, I’m not as talented to where my top talents were when I was 25 years old like many talented bands who did their best albums in the beginning of their career and after that felt like they needed to try to do...something. Like Guns ’n Roses. They are very talented, but it is also a curse because then you can’t musically learn and rise slowly through your whole life and make better albums, album after album. I’m still learning and on my own top after all of our albums, so far eleven times. Being talentless guarantees a long career!
I wouldn't say you're talentless, but you've definitely grown since 'Spirit of the Forest' (2003)! Finland has such a revered history when it comes to metal with so many great bands leaving their mark on the genre. This is especially the case with folk metal, seeing as yourselves, Finntroll, Ensiferum, Turisas, and more have further cemented the country’s place in metal’s expansive legacy. Is there a sense of camaraderie between you all that pushes you towards experimenting and taking it to the next level?
Järvelä: Yes, we all have a deep camaraderie and we are doing this more or less together. Maybe that’s why so many of the bands you mentioned are successful? It is easier to take this to the next level if you have friends helping and giving a little push to it. Perhaps we're all friends and know each other because Finland is such a tiny country. The population is only 5 million people here.
Whatever the case, it's great to see the mutual growth between you all. As mentioned prior, 'Jylhä' is richly layered and organic, which speaks to the meticulous attention to the songcraft that you’ve all taken coming into this release. From the up-beat opener 'Verikoira' to the melancholic yet joyous 'Juuret', there’s something for all to enjoy. Would you say that the goal is to stray from your conventional constructs of the genre?
Järvelä: I never give a shit about genre limits. I want to make good music. I don’t even think about fans or other people when I write music. It must be somehow good for me. At first, my songs can be whatever from pop to reggae or deepest metal but then when we play it with the guys and these instruments, it sounds like Korpiklaani. If I don’t like the songs to be heard by the guys or these instruments, I have a solo project called Jonne. On that project, there aren't any other limits but it is not a metal band. It can be heavy but not metal.
Like Jonne's 'Kallohonka' (2017), 'Jylhä' of course comes complemented by the art of Jan “Örkki” Yrlund, who brings the band’s storytelling capabilities to life. Seeing as Yrlund has taken on visual duties for a large part of your records, what can you comment about the partnership the band has built with him as an artist?
Järvelä: It is so easy to work with him because he has done all the artwork for our albums since 2005. He knows what fits the band. He has also worked with for example Manowar and Testament. Korpiklaani and Manowar album covers are of course not similar in any way, which is of course because of the fact that he has an eye of for the current work and its needs. We are working on something together almost weekly all the time. He is also a photographer.
You've definitely built that mutual trust over the years. Visually, what were you looking for when approaching Yrlund for 'Jylhä'?
Järvelä: Something a little more dark, like the music is too on this album. There are many true unsolved murder stories on the album, so I wanted also that atmosphere on the cover.
Is Yrlund allowed creative expression with respect to the album’s themes or is there a clear direction that you all look for when approaching the cover artwork?
Järvelä: I have always the base idea. After that, we start to play tennis with details.
Both the cover illustration and your music videos harness from the atmosphere of the narrative. How much significance do you place on setting, especially since these beautiful landscapes presented on your covers often share mysterious histories?
Järvelä: It is very important. I want that cover to reflect the musical content.
Aside from the musical acclaim you’ve all built over the years, one could say your visual identity has also come a long way. From the video production to the live stage presence and overall layout for the physical packages of the record, Korpiklaani excels at delivering a complete audiovisual experience. Do you feel this particular aspect of the band is as important as the musical?
Järvelä: You are right. Folk metal music gives a perfect chance to do many different things in visuals. I like to play with that chance. As you can see from the newest videos, 'Tuuleton', 'Leväluhta', 'Mylly', and 'Sanaton maa', my outfit is totally different on every music video and that changes me as a character also. I like to throw myself in and let a role lead. I would like to bring that a bit more to the live stage too.
Mandatory question for us here at Heaviest of Art. Do you recall a time when an album cover struck you from the beginning and made you pick up a record prior to even listening to it? If this hasn’t happened, perhaps your favorite album cover(s) of all time?
Järvelä: In the early 80’s, I saw the Iron Maiden 'Killers' (1981) album cover in the library and I kept that vinyl in my hands and looked at it for a long time. I needed to listen to it there but the old library lady said I was too young to listen to that. I had to ask the older guys to pick it up for me. During that time, my own expectations about the album grew so much that I was very disappointed when I finally got to listen to it. Then two years later when Dickinson came to the band, I started to really like Iron Maiden. I still think that 'Killers' cover is the most good looking album cover ever.
A legendary choice my friend. I'm sure many had a similar experience! For those eager awaiting the return of live shows, how do you look to translate Jylhä to the live setting?
Järvelä: We have a home studio and rehearsal room here at my house's basement and we’ve been playing it through some of the time. We've been speaking about the possibility of playing it live all the way through, but then again, maybe people would also like to hear those older songs, so we will see. We'll at least play half of it and change the new songs on the set from show to show.
Looking forward to that. It’s a great time for folk metal with 'Jylhä' standing as an example of how strong the contemporary state of the genre is, due in part to the musical evolution you’ve all been able to achieve. Congratulations on a fantastic record!
Järvelä: Thank you so much! We are also very proud of it. Peace, Love Folk and Metal! I hope to see all you readers on the gigs soon!!!
Jylhä arrives on February 5th via Nuclear Blast Records. Order your copy HERE.