Achintya Venkatesh reviews the new release from Kalmah titled ‘Seventh Swamphony‘, released via Spinefarm Records.
Cover art was done by the brilliant Juha Vuorma. He’s also done artwork for Autopsy, Edge of Sanity and other bands as well.
‘Wolves on the Throne’
‘Black Marten’s Trace’
Kalmah is one of those bands that I feel haven’t got the their due and deserved attention, even within the realm of melodic death-metal, overshadowed by a range of bands both within their specific sub-genre and furthermore by their world famous fellow ethnic compatriots, Children of Bodom, who in my opinion are even less consistent than the contingent of the second tier melodic death-metal bands from Finland, such as the immensely talented Wintersun (who also combine other eclectic folk/power metal elements in addition to their melodic death-metal style); the now defunct Norther, Swallow the Sun (who also have strong doom/death metal leanings) and Insomnium. Yet this is precisely what I would attribute Kalmah’s strong consistency and stylistic integrity over the years to – their relatively moderate popularity in turn leading to a cult following has only further fuelled the fire in their belly to continue to break boundaries and out do themselves, or at the very least annually churn out some reasonably unique and easily enjoyable tunes. Kalmah’s latest offering, Seventh Swamphony, once again a play on the word symphony in line with their thematic obsession with the environment, particularly revolving around the swamps of Finland, as well as a reference to the fact that the album happens to be their seventh studio album.
The album opener, which is the title track of the album, is a ball-busting start to the record, with blast beats, technical and blistering guitar solos, melodic, sing-along riffs and the right amount of dramatic keyboard work accompanying the riffage. The 2nd track, Deadfall too is in a similar vein. The 3rd track, Pikemaster is one of the standouts of the album and sees Kalmah’s ever so impeccable execution of grandeur in balancing melody and brutality, with a strong leaning to the former, of course. The next track, Hollo, charters into slower-paced territory and is a semi-ballad of sorts with an anthemic edge to it as the track progresses. The track features some emotionally evocative guitar work with harmonies at select and appropriate parts. Pekka Kokko alternates between roared, growled vocals, and subtle but somewhat tenuous clean passages.
The 5th track Windlake Tale exemplifies epic in every sense of the word – blistering leads; hauntingly emotive and dramatic keyboard work and a barrage of roared vocals. The next track, Wolves on the Throne features some excellent fret-work in the form of uniquely sharp, relentless and hard-hitting riffs complimented by the bombardment of controlled blast-beats courtesy of Janne Kusmin. On the other hand, Veli-Matti Kananen seems to know just how to complement and enhance those heavy riffs with breathtakingly electrifying keyboard work. The 7th track, Black Marten’s Race is a fairly conventional, anthemic Scandinavian melo-death song with some interesting keyboard work. The album closer, The Trapper, has a more marching pace relative to the velocity-driven songs on the rest of the album. This actually makes for a perfect album closer, and kudos to Kalmah for placing this appropriately in the track listing. All the elements, be it the vocals or the instrumentation are in an equilibrium of sorts, working together as opposed to trying to outshine the other, and is perhaps the most balanced track of the album. But to some, this closer might seem too slow or even plodding as compared to the other tracks and might not suffice as the theatrical and dynamic album closer that Kalmah intended it to be.
In conclusion, this album is an undoubtedly solid, but not particular groundbreaking release. The Kokko brothers have retained the crispness and sophistication that they derive from classic/power metal which has in turn lead to a unique brand of refined melodic death-metal, which gives a feel-good, invigorating vibe to the end product. Kananen’s keyboard work handles dramatism in a classy manner without descending into incessant melodrama, while Kusmin’s drum work also alternates between relentlessness and calculated restraint. Unfortunately, Timo Lehtinen’s bass is hardly audible in the mix throughout the album, except during a select segment of Wolves on the Throne.
Overall this album seems to only further reinforce the fact that Kalmah is a somewhat underrated yet formidable force in the melodic death-metal world and adds to their solid catalogue. Kalmah are well and back in shape after the sub-par For The Revolution and the return-to-form release 12 Gauge. They have lost that touch of blackened ferocity they once had and instead have replaced that with something vaguely thrashy, making them less unique but very enjoyable nevertheless.