While other folk metal bands began with metal before adding folk music, Korpiklaani started with folk music before turning metal. The roots of Korpiklaani can be traced back to a Sami folk music group under the name of "Shamaani Duo", an "in house restaurant band" created by Jonne Järvelä in 1993. An album of folk music (Hunka Lunka) was released under this name before Järvelä relocated and "Shamaani Duo" morphed into "Shaman"
Shaman was the second incarnation of Korpiklaani, formed in 1996 which is notable for the heavy use of original native Sámic music elements and lyrics in Sámi. The band's music was based on the folk music of Shamaani Duo. The most widely used elements are the shamanic drum, yoik and humppa. Besides yoik, the vocals vary from clean to rather aggressive growling.
The musical style of Shaman is quite distinctive, especially in the slow songs, due to its entrancing atmosphere created by the monophonic, "narrow" synth sound making the deep contrast to the spacious sound of the acoustic guitar, the shamanic drum and yoik singing.
The first recording released under the name of Shaman was the demo single Ođđa máilbmi (New World in Sámi). The video clip shot for the song featured a wolf breaking free from its cage and running into the forest. Besides the single CD the song was included on the band's first full-length album Idja (Night in Sámi, 1999) as well.
The band released another album, Shamániac, in 2002.
The band underwent another evolution in 2003, and "Shaman" became "Korpiklaani" (with only Järvelä and drummer Samu Ruotsalainen remaining from the last "Shaman" lineup), with the music style to a more conventional folk metal with folk/thrash vocals instead of yoiking. Shamániac had already featured a strong resemblance to the future Korpiklaani style. In fact, the song, "Vuola lávlla", has the same music as the Korpiklaani song, "Beer Beer".
The change in name was accompanied by a change in the music. The traditional yoik vocals and the use of the Sámi language were dropped while the synthesizer was replaced with real folk instruments. Jonne Järvelä credits his work with Finntroll as the catalyst for the shift in emphasis from folk to metal. Their song lyrics are often related to alcohol and partying.
According to Jonne Järvelä, Korpiklaani's music would be seen as "old people's music with heavy metal guitars" in Finland.
There has been some collaboration between Korpiklaani and Finntroll, as Samu Ruotsalainen of Finntroll provided session drums for their debut album Spirit of the Forest and Järvelä provided the yoiking for the title track of Finntroll's album Jaktens Tid.
Juha Jyrkäs has written the Finnish lyrics to Korpiklaani. Jyrkäs has also played some kantele in two Korpiklaani songs, Kädet siipinä and Tuli kokko, under the pseudonym "Virva Holtiton". New Manala-album a large part of the lyrics wrote the poetTuomas Keskimäki and he uses lyrics from the Kalevala-metre.
Korpiklaani released a sixth studio album in the summer of 2009, titled Karkelo ("Party" in English).
They released their new album Ukon Wacka in early February 2011.
The name Korpiklaani means "Forest Clan" in the Finnish language. In spoken language "korpi" means dark old forest. In biology it refers to boreal forest appearing on moist moraine soils, characterized by dense growth of spruce and a deep layer of moss as undergrowth.
In September 2011 Korpiklaani announced that Jaakko "Hittavainen" Lemmetty would be leaving the band due to personal health issues which made the constant touring and recording impossible. His replacement was violist Teemu Eerola. Korpiklaani's first concert with this new line-up since 2005 was on Baroeg Open Air 2011 in Rotterdam(NL). On 7 December 2011, Korpiklaani announced that Teemu would not be on the rest of the tour. His last show on the tour was in Vancouver.