The cold hand of an unnamed volcanic deity, having swept the Earth free of hangers-on, left we suffocated then iced over survivors to thaw in piles of festering rot as new wars and fresh blight served their own second, third waves to wipe away the collective grime of humanity. Aggrandized poetic explorations of natural disasters present death on a completely massive scale in signal of the inevitable return of Finnish death/doom metal modernists Kuolemanlaakso. The short of it being that ‘Kuusumu‘ lands heavier, is catchier and acts as a most sonorous third full-length from the Helsinki/Kuipo-based quintet, emphasizing their death metal influenced rhythms and gothic/dark metal adjacent melodic undertones in presentation of their brand of diversified yet accessibly presented melodic doomed-death.
Kuolemanlaakso formed back in 2010 between members of Chaosweaver, Cult of Endtime, Elenium, and Swallow the Sun. Perhaps due to their vocalist’s main band hitting a new peak in popularity at the time folks took a closer ear to these fellowes work and they’d quickly become known for a modern, somewhat dark/gothic influenced style of what I’d call hi-fi death/doom metal. This approach was decidedly open-minded and accessible thanks to a sound heavily influenced by the first Triptykon record; They’d even go as far as that band’s guitarist/engineer V. Santura to overlook all three of their full-lengths thus far. The kaleidoscopic cover art for their albums (by Maahy Abdul Muhsin) caught my eye long before I’d check out their debut ‘Uljas uusi maailma‘ (2012) and I’d not been a fan until they’d developed their sound to a finer degree on the follow up ‘Tulijoutsen‘ (2014), introducing a slightly more experimental and I’d say even more Finnish affect to their sound. Eight years beyond that last album, if we don’t count the non-canonical gothic metal release (‘The Gothic Tapes Vol. I‘, 2016) from guitarist/songwriter and author Markus Laakso, the project is revived with appropriately modern updates and a matured sound which cuts back at some of the abrasive, loud-edged assault of past releases.
A great cold distance separates old from new here yet there is a sense that Kuolemanlaakso‘s major thought process in piecing together ‘Kuusumu‘ connects present day unending decimation with precedence of past cyclical churning, presenting lyrics which are inspired by past plagues and follies of mankind during times that’d surely looked and felt apocalyptic. Of course this translates quite well in granting theme to a boosted, highly dramatic extreme doom metal album which you’ll surely feel like you’re in for as opener “Pimeys laski” fills their sky-high cathedral of sound with keyboards and chorales as it soldiers on, a grand entrance that punches away at the double-bass drumming in a satisfying way. The magick available within this record doesn’t dwell in iteration nor does the band sustain one sound or feeling ad infinitum as they jump right into the radio-ready late 90’s gothic metal piano hook and exotic melodicism of “Katkeruuden malja” an infectious bit too satisfying to not repeat quite a few times throughout the five minute piece. This isn’t the weirdest bit of pop-metal genius Laakso (along with keyboard co-arranger Aleksi Munter of Swallow the Sun and Insomnium) has penned, see: “Glastonburyn lehto“, and it fits quite well within the mood of the album while still featuring as a point of estrangement. The rest of the listen might suffer if you can’t get over the lucidity of that piece and I didn’t enjoy the placement of “Surusta meri suolainen” as the follow-up, despite it being a key song for the album in terms of its lyrical themes.
A good mix of melodic metal and death/doom follows in suit with my personal favorite pieces coming as Side A gives way to Side B. Although there is precedence for the type of melody used on “Kuohuista tulisten koskien” with “Me vaellamme yössä” on ‘Tulijoutsen‘, the song immediately transports me to the mid-90’s where this was essentially Amorphis‘ own signature sort of melody. Of course that ‘Elegy‘ and ‘Black Winter Day‘-esque feeling might not be so singularly associated if you’re in tune with a lot of Finnish metal beyond, but for me this was a strong nostalgic moment to start, at least before I’d began to hear the song for what it is, a simple melodic death/doom metal piece with a lingering melody. Simple as the appeal is, it was a highlight each time I’d return to the full listen. Deeper into the second half of the album “Surun Sinfonia” stands out by way of a huge doom metal riff with an unwavering lead guitar thread obviously giving a bit of earlier Swallow the Sun-esque movement, offering a classic sort of Peaceville three gloom between spoken word verses and the range of expression typical of Kotamäki on this album, splitting each phrase or stanza into different vocal modulations. They’ve still got a bit more up their sleeve, though, as a folkish “Kalevala metal” melody in the last third of the song wakes things up in an interesting way. It might seem like just another dreary, melodic death/doom metal piece to start but for my own taste it is the sort of standout example of Kuolemanlaakso having meditated on the next step for years and finding bigger version of themselves upon return.
‘Kuusumu‘ is an album of ideas clinging together for their tastefully selected catharses, less a ‘variation on a theme’-locked set of songs and more a moody clump of mournful distress. The closing moments of the album continue to introduce singular ideas which fit the mood of the run though the pairing of the buzzing black metal groove of “Pedon vaisto” and the pensive synth/keyboard-juiced bombast of closer “Tulessakävelijä” don’t necessarily tell a story, they are just well placed. I’d found myself leaning towards the middle action of the album with some infrequent skips back to “Kuohuista tulisten koskien” for the hook to start before finding the patience for the full uninterrupted listen. What is traded between cohesion of the tracklist and sonic/performative diversification is entirely warranted and gives us a stronger, gloomier Kuolemanlaakso and I’d been surprised how often it called for another listen. A moderately high recommendation.
|RELEASE DATE:||March 4th, 2022|
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