Russian folk metal act Kalevala’s 2008 debut Kudel' Belosnezhnogo L'na resonated with me so much that I ranked it fourth on my 2008 Top 10. Through their deft ability to craft dynamic and very addictive heavy metal anthems and the sheer authenticity of their songwriting philosophy, Kalevala immediately distinguished themselves from their peers in the folk metal genre, the most consistently overrated collective of bands in metal today.
The sad truth is that contemporary folk metal is largely a joke, a toothless trend classlessly aping genre godfathers Skyclad and later torchbearers Finntroll. Ninety percent of folk metal is fourth-rate black or melodic death metal played by musicians whose greatest insight is that it “sounds cool” to juxtapose metal with tuneless flute playing. Nine percent understand that traditional instruments are integral, and not an afterthought, to the composition but don’t fully deliver in the songwriting department. Kalevala are among the one percent really worth listening to, the few who grasp both the technique and the songwriting and for whom folk and metal aren’t disparate elements begging for fusion but, rather, facets of an irreducibly complex and holistic compositional vision. And while Kukushkini Deti (The Cuckoo’s Children) isn’t as strong as it’s predecessor (which one couldn’t realistically expect), it firmly establishes Kalevala as the genre’s standard bearer.
Kalevala’s approach is the same this time out: recasting 1970s hard rock, NWOBHM, and early American thrash in the melodies and instrumentation of Russian folk music. The guitar and the accordion are equally prominent, fluidly transitioning among the roles traditionally occupied by a lead and rhythm guitarist: soloing, carrying the melody, providing melodic counterpoint to the vocals, and providing a rhythmic framework in the form of riffs. There’s no external ideology dictating the roles, only the internal logic of the composition. Never does the listener say “that’s an accordion playing humpaa over a thrash riff” because Kalevala draw no line between “folk” and “metal”.
The band performs at peak ability, from advanced accordion playing, technical yet soulful guitar leads, and a beautiful and flawless vocal performance. If any flaw can be found with Kukushkini Detiit is in the ill-advised track ordering which frontloads the high speed tracks, the energy peaking at only track three with the spectacular “Gorsti Talovo Snega” (“Handfuls of Thawed Snow”) and rarely moving faster than a brisk walk in the remaining seven. The result is an album that on first listen lacks the immediacy of its predecessor, but a listener who dedicates ample time and appropriate attention to Kukushkini Deti will find his/her efforts handsomely rewarded.
In my final judgment, Kalevala, a band criminally unknown to much of the metal world and lacking the distribution necessary to reach their potential audience, have delivered one of the finest folk metal albums of the decade. Highly recommended.