Album Title: Kuusumu
Label: Svart Records
Date of Release: 4 March 2022
You’d be forgiven for assuming that Kuolemanlaakso might have bitten the dust, because in anyone’s language, eight years is a hefty length of time without releasing new material. But no, the Finns are alive and well, and finally bring us their third release, ‘Kuusumu’. And if you weren’t already familiar with the band, you might also be forgiven for thinking that Kuolemanlaakso are just another doom metal outfit. After all, their ranks do include the Swallow The Sun vocalist Mikko Kotamäki. However, if you’ve heard either of the Finnish band’s previous two records, you’ll know that things are not that simple.
On their own website, Kuolemanlaakso refer to themselves as ‘poetic death doom melancholy’, but even that only tells a small portion of the story. In the last eight years, the quintet seems to have thought ‘let’s push our boundaries just a little further’, because ‘Kuusumu’ is easily the most varied and different of their career. Fear not long-term fans, because I’m not referencing wholesale changes; there’s no pop, or R&B to be heard here. But the various styles feel a little more pronounced this time around.
It makes my life as a reviewer all the more difficult, but as a listener only, ‘Kuusumu’ is a fascinating album that offers much within its sonic palette. Doom metal still plays an important part and, if I was to stick my neck out, I’d say that it remains the key ingredient at the heart of the music. But death metal features, as does a touch or more of prog. Then there are the overt Middle Eastern flavours that call to mind the likes of Subterranean Masquerade or Orphaned Land at their heaviest. Admittedly, it wasn’t love at first listen, but slowly, the charms of this record began to seep through and eventually, they helped change my mind.
The intro to ‘Pimeys Laski’ is an immediate curveball as it happens because the tinkling keys atop the sounds of pouring rain and thunder provide a surprising Gothic sheen to the opening minute or so. The orchestration gathers in intensity until it’s blown away by a huge, lumbering riff from guitarists Laakso and Kouta, backed up by a stalwart rhythm section of drummer Tiera and bassist Usva. The doom metal influences loom large, drawing immediate My Dying Bride comparisons, with Kotamäki channelling his inner Stainthorpe in the process. The lead guitars cut a forlorn figure as they weave their way in and out of the song, before the pace picks up and the death metal trappings come more to the fore. Kotamäki barks with real venom as the song comes to a powerful conclusion.
‘Katkeruuden Malja’ is an altogether different beast, full of groove and bite from the outset. Female vocals from Lotta Ruutiainen duet with Kotamäki whilst the riffs get lodged in my brain, and the aforementioned Middle Eastern accents work their magic to great effect. The sheer variety in terms of the vocals is impressive too, with everything from caustic rasps to ethereal melody featuring to add further intrigue to what’s an undeniably catchy track.
We’re plunged back into doom metal melancholy as ‘Surusta Meri Suolainen’ begins, a mixture of minimalist misery and crushingly muscular riffs assaulting the senses from all sides. However, there’s a catchiness to it as it develops, led by clean, almost spoken vocals, while at the same time, the riffs try to bludgeon us with sheer heaviness. Towards the end, the pace increases dramatically, creating a sense of urgency, underpinned by gang vocals for good measure.
The doom influences return front and centre with the arrival of ‘Kuohuista Tulisten Koskien’ but the death metal elements are very much present and correct, blending with demonstrable Middle Eastern melodies and vocals to great effect. There’s even room for a classic extreme metal lead guitar solo that’s tortured and wailing rather than melodic and poignant. And just to further underline the variety that Kuolemanlaakso bring to the table here, ‘Pedon Vaisto’ unleashes a touch of black metal to do battle against a driving opening riff that’s about as groovy as the band have ever sounded.
Easily my favourite track on the album arrives in the form of ‘Surun Sinfonia’, a beautiful track that benefits from the most overt of melodies across the entire album. Those My Dying Bride references loom large once again thanks to a deliberately slow pace and spoken-word vocals, but eventually they give way to a gorgeous melody that is reprised sparingly throughout, but which is threatened on many occasions to build the tension nicely. As the name suggests, this is a symphony of sorts, a composition that is built around the most immediate and captivating melody to be heard anywhere on this album. There’s even a keyboard solo to add another slightly unexpected element to complete the best nine minutes on ‘Kuusumu’ as far as I’m concerned.
That said, it’s pushed close by the closing track, ‘Tulessakävelijä’ which kicks off at a mid-tempo stomp, integrating more Middle Eastern sounds into the composition, creating a real richness of sound in the process that can be heard if you stop nodding your head for a second and listen – not that this is easy. The track also benefits from one of the most insidious melodies on ‘Kuusumu’, a chorus of sorts that’s hypnotic, driven forth by powerful and fast drumming over which Kotamäki barks and unleashes a delicate clean delivery.
The more I listen to ‘Kuusumu’, the more I like it. It has a real charm about it that is hard to shake once it hits you. The variety on offer could have been a real mistake, causing the album to lack cohesion, and the band to lack a true identity. However, such is the quality here that neither occur; instead, Kuolemanlaakso have created something that feels ‘right’. More than that, I’d venture to suggest that there’s no one else out there that sounds quite like Kuolemanlaakso right now. Therefore I suggest that you get your ears around ‘Kuusumu’ as soon as it is released and delve into their dark but grandiose and entertaining musical world.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
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