METSATÖLL - Be Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolves

May 29, 2014, 3 years ago

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By Carl Begai

Every so often an album comes along that forces you to give your head a shake and re-evaluate your opinions. Folk metal bands in 2014 are a dime a dozen; some are good, some not so much, and very little new ground has been broken since Moonsorrow kicked things off way back and Finntroll, Ensiferum and Korpiklaani clawed their respective ways to join them at the top of the heap. Long-time Estonian headcrushers Metsatöll - an ancient Estonian euphemism for "wolf" - have been plying their trade since 1999 and remained under the radar for most of the journey to all but the diehard folk metal fans. Their new outing Karjajuht is bound to change that if and when it reaches the ears of the right people; basically, anyone that gets off on crushing tribal-assault violence in their music.

It's been a long trip getting to where they are now, but the Metsatöll quartet are anything but frustrated at not having become a bigger deal sooner.

"Everything happened naturally for us, almost by itself," says Lauri "Varulven" Õunapuu, sporting what can only be classified as a booming Viking-esque voice. "And I can't say that it is only because we worked hard. Sometimes it was because somebody said to somebody 'I know a band that uses Estonian bagpipes...' and that would get us the attention. People had never heard of such a thing and wanted to hear and see it for themselves. The music that we're making, when we use traditional Estonian instruments and making metal music, it's interesting almost by itself even for the innocent bystander (laughs)."

Interesting isn't the half of it. When the band pull out all the stops on Karjajuht it's an ominous display of power. If anything, the folk metal label Metsatöll has been stamped with offers up a false sense of security, suggesting a certain elvish elegance that only exists in (very short) fits and bursts on the new record. Nope, Karjajuht is more like the soundtrack to a high-spirited barroom brawl started by Amon Amarth.

"It doesn't matter to me what people call our music. We're four guys making music and we love doing it, so if people call us folk metal or thrash metal or heavy metal, that's fine. Whatever you say our music is, no problem, you're right (laughs). Fine by us."

Metsatöll's sound has quite naturally evolved since their 1999 debut, as has the creative process behind the music. Karjajuht is the result of a complete band effort.

"We record albums for ourselves," Lauri states bluntly, "but we're always watching to see which songs we do are the ones that people like, the ones that make the fans go crazy. This album, we decided 'Why not do one for our fans?' Karjajuht was done by the four of us together. We would just jam and everybody would have ideas; melodies, guitar parts, the drummer had ideas for certain drum breaks, and we were able to put those ideas together so they matched up really well with each other. It's better than me coming up with song ideas and then having to explain how to play the parts and why I want them that way. It's just like the drummer comes up with his own parts because I can't play drums very well and he knows what works and what doesn't. That's why if someone presents a complete song in this band, once we all start working on it, it's going to change."

Particularly when Lauri seems to play every instrument ever invented in and around Estonia since the beginning of time.

"That's not true (laughs)."

We'll beg to differ seeing as he's credited with playing torupill, flutes, kannel, ängipill (the so-called "instrument of angst"), mouth harp, goat horn and acoustic guitar on top of his regular guitarist duties. As folk-oriented and inspired as he is, however, Lauri reveals he isn't a fan of inserting traditional Estonia folk music passages into Metsatöll's music.

"Actually, no, I don't do that. You could say I'm a hobby folklorist, and I really love old Estonian songs. I also teach Estonian folk history, customs, traditions and music. I've also made a book of old Estonian folk songs. I've been researching all of this stuff for a very long time. The thing that I don't love is rearranged folk songs in this sort of new wave of folk music, or whatever you want to call it. There are artists that do it well and I have nothing against them - I love it when musicians are really good players and composers and at arranging music - but it's not something that I'm interested in doing. It's a bit of a conflict for me."
"I live in the countryside - it's where I grew up - and I think everything is connected. This whole folk music thing is what I am, so everything I do is somehow connected to the folk traditions that I love. I don't really need to put the traditional Estonian music in my metal (laughs)."

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