Svart Records, 28 February 2014
Finland’s Kuolemanlaakso are one of the most exciting bands around – not just in doom metal, but in any genre. ‘Tulijoutsen’ (‘The Fire Swan’) is a masterpiece of original, avant garde death-doom, delivering eight sublime tracks that explode into your brain like black bullets.
Channeling elements of the mighty Triptykon, Amorphis, My Dying Bride, Candlemass, Celtic Frost and of course Swallow The Sun (naturally, as the two bands share the same singer in Mikko Kotamaki), Kuolemanlaakso’s second album perfectly balances misery and melody.
Inspired by the work of poet Aarni Kouta, the Finnish-language lyrics incorporate the opposing elements of fire and water (hence the album’s title and artwork). Musically, too, there is constant tussle between ferocity and melancholy, and the band harness both of these divergent forces masterfully. The crushing guitars are sick and twisted, unleashing enough power to melt bone… and yet beauty shines through, particularly during the clean vocal sections.
The band started out in 2010 as a solo project of guitarist and keyboard player Laakso, and its name can be translated to mean ‘Death Valley’, in homage to a visit he made there during his time living in America. Whereas Kuolemanlaakso’s first album, ‘Uljas Uusi Maailma’ (2012), was written entirely by him, this time around the entire band has been able to contribute. The collaborative approach has resulted in a diverse and rich sound, and is perhaps one of the reasons why there is more than a trace of Amorphis’s classic ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ – which bass player Usva describes as the reason he originally wanted to make music.
Featuring glorious production by Triptykon’s V. Santura, the album was recorded in a wooden cabin in the Finnish forest and, unlike when recording their debut, the band had sufficient studio time to relax, work off each other, and explore new ground. The fruits of that labour are clear: take the opening, horrifyingly heavy moments of ‘Verihaaski’ where they have created perhaps the ultimate doom metal riff. Or the second half of the song ‘Arpeni’ which showcases varying vocal styles. Or the beautifully understated introduction of female vocals later in the album.
Hopefully, Kuolemanlaakso will focus more on their doomier, melodic side on future recordings, as this is the strongest aspect of their personality. However, this is a band that could turn its mind to practically anything, as the brilliantly baffling folksy track ‘Glastonburyn Lehto’ shows. As founding member Laakso says: “Our journey has just begun. Expect the unexpected.”