Kval – Laho (2019) REVIEW

The bitter bolete rise in the span of days from the dirt of her undercarriage just a few inches towards the rain. Intrepid moss finally creeps its first foot from down a nearby stone to bring moisture and warming cloak to her frigid, naked rest. Hewn and cast down with sawed limbs as a dead-eyed mess soon to fill with bugs and all sorts of wriggling creatures, the corpse soon returns as nourishment for the dirt she’d risen from decades ago. Hollowed by vermin and crumpling due to the emptiness beneath her skin a network of shelter and food for the carrion-eaters thrives and swarms in geologic time as the moss’ blanket contains the swollen corpse and melts all wound beneath the great mounded carpet of the woods. No bones or flesh remain though life’d sprout from her scattered entrails and flayed skin long before it could be identified. The scattered leaves cannot hide the resultant mound, though, and a reminder of this death would persist for a seeming eternity before it’d be disturbed or baked over with cataclysm. From this busied work of decomposition within nature springs inspiration for southern Finnish atmospheric black metal artist Kval, who’d see every body fall around him and dissolve ungraciously in a time of great resignation and rot (‘Laho‘) today.

Musician Miro Lamo would form Khaossos as an seventeen year old kid in Uusimaa, Finland around 2012. Of course he’d not start out playing the graceful, naturalistic form of atmospheric black metal that Kval (his ‘stage’ name) produces today and in fact it was supremely hateful thrashing black metal noise he’d create. The peak of that stupidity would come with his split tape with NSBM project 1389, contributing a (frankly retarded) song titled “Goat Rape Metal”. Months later and still in his eighteenth year Lamo would drastically change the focus of this project and begin to compose music with instrumental/recording help from Wntrbrnr (Auriel) in an atmospheric post-black metal style. It turns out he had a much better ear for the nuances of textural rhythm guitar playing than his work thrashing about like a fool. This’d provide the slightly fumbling ‘Eksistentialismi’ (2014) EP that same year and Khaossos‘ debut full-length ‘Kuolonkuu’ in mid 2015. To continue with music and maintain a serious, meaningful tone Lamo would shed the Khaossos name and change it to Kval before re-recording and polishing up ‘Kuolonkuu’ and shopping it to Hypnotic Dirge Records who then released that final product as Kval‘s self-titled debut in 2017. ‘Kval’ was easily one of my favorite atmospheric black metal records of 2017 with its buzzing mid-90’s Burzum-esque guitar tone and Drudkh worthy melodic nuance. In moving on from a piece he’d focused upon so intently for over two years towards new music Kval gives the impression of a project that is learning quickly, growing immensely, and yet moving at a considered pace as a perfectionist in some respects and a naive youth in others.

Though ‘Laho’ is said to have been written and finished in a matter of months it feels like such a huge leap beyond where Kval was four years ago when ‘Kuolonkuu’/’Kval’ was written. The shoe-gazing bends and springing bass lines of “Valosula” offer an immediate developmental leap above the graveled guitar tone and lumbering pace of ‘Kval’ though the spirit of the music is recognizable thanks to equally clever melodic development. Piano runs and inspirational black metal guitar scrapes give home to the dark menace of black metal instrumentation but warm it by the fire and cloak it in furs and wreathes of pine. They sell a dark world of thawing rot and collapsing forests within prose that has a more hopeful point of view; One that would point to the lazing minds of the cynical population of Earth as we lay in restful defeated poses, in acceptance of a dead world. The spirit they’ve infused into ‘Laho’ as a work is not melancholia but rather a forced examination of the self questioning why such powerful beings would wallow in difficulty rather than adapt and master it. There is no cheesy motivational urging you to break through the corrosion that life dismantles you with but, the conclusions within are yours to discover and interpret.

Am I pushing some buzzy, poorly mixed bedroom atmo-black nightmare upon you? No, in fact the polish applied to ‘Laho’ is stunningly bright. An earthen post-rock guitar tone sockets itself in between nigh baroque gusts of piano and kantele that often alternate or harmonize with gentler cosmic synth. Though the increasing ambition of Kval‘s instrumentation is energizing the mood of the piece resolves as meditative. The post-music hints are light, nothing as severe as Cepheide yet nothing as harshly cold-blackened as Cantique Lépreux. If there was a close enough comparison it might be Grift (Sweden) with a hint of early Skogen in terms of the rhythm guitar work but neither comes as more than a vague approximation. What Kval have developed on ‘Laho’ is exceptional even in the richly populated world of lush, folkish, atmospheric black metal experiences and speaks for itself with some immediacy despite being comprised of four quite long tracks. Though it is a cliche to suggest it nonetheless fits that Kval are the sort of band that can generally make a nine minute song immersive enough a world that it seems half as long in motion.

If there is a more beautiful combination than a kantele accompanied by a piano I’ve not heard it. The title track here begins by introducing a progression that is taken as a point of descent beyond as the drums and electric guitars kick into their sour dejection. Lead guitars raise the head of the beast towards a quietude met with an echoing neofolk moment. Here I’d been projected outside of myself in appreciation of what detail went into this, only the first half of the 10+ minute “Laho”, a major high point for the full listening experience. That song paired with “Valosula” is reason enough to have and to hold this second Kval album. The full listen does hit a small snag with “Pohjanriitti” which starts out very strong but seems to get lost in its own guitar-driven chaos halfway through. It resolves just fine, though I would often find myself in a bit of a mental maze as I’d hit that part of the song during more focused listening. The final track is a vital piece of atmospherics that might’ve been more effective if shuffled to the middle of the album between the bulkier lengths. It isn’t a perfect sophomore record but it is an impressive feat for a project that’d reach its collaborative peak as this recording completed. With Wntrbrnr unable to commit to the project going forward it’ll be interesting to see where Kval‘s sound develops after reaching this high point of maturity.

The gist of the experience and perhaps why it’d be worth listening to is that maturation that’d bring in elements of atmospheric rock and modern black metal without pushing too wildly beyond the realm of naturalist atmospheric black metal. The dramatic value and the thoughtful message of the music fuse with impressive imagery for a ‘full package’ sort of experience, something you’re more likely to covet and delve within rather than flip twice for a spin and stuff onto the shelves. Because I do believe there is a high amount of value and effort put into ‘Laho’ I can happily give it a high recommendation. For preview I’d suggest “Valosula” is immediately infectious but its concert with “Laho” gives reason to spin the album a hundred times.

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Artist Kval
Type Album
Released May 23, 2019
BUY & LISTEN on Hypnotic Dirge Records’ Bandcamp! Follow Kval on Facebook
Genre Atmospheric Black Metal

Niin metsä vastaa. 4.0/5.0

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