Saturday, October 19, 2013

Artist of the Day: Kalmah

Key Release:
They Will Return (2002)
Few bands have exemplified the maxim “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” better than Kalmah. Since 1998, Finland’s answer to In Flames and At the Gates has been machining high-octane death metal with commendable consistency, with a slight turn towards thrash in the middle of its discography. Now on its seventh album in fourteen years, Kalmah seems to have flown under the radar somewhat compared to contemporaries such as Dark Tranquility and Children of Bodom. Perhaps it’s because Kalmah arrived on the scene a few years late, or because they’re from Oulu instead of Gothenberg, but this oversight certainly isn’t due to a lack of quality material. It wouldn’t be hard to make a case for Kalmah’s second album They Will Return being a genre classic, and five of its six full-length efforts are generally held in high regard (with 2008’s For the Revolution perhaps falling short of the rest). Kalmah’s core lineup of brothers Pekka and Antti Kokko, bassist Timo Lehtinen and über-drummer Janne Kusmin have been together since 2002’s and that quartet is still keeping the band going strong.

Never a band to take itself overly seriously, Kalmah lives and dies by its reverence of Finland’s primordial wetlands. While its swamp-this, swamp-that M.O. may confuse some new listeners, it’s at least nice to see someone writing about something they’re passionate about. In the end, it’s Kalmah’s relentless melodic attack that justifies its thematic shenanigans. The band’s latest album Seventh Swamphony features machine-gun drumming and dazzling twin guitar lines, as lead guitarist Antti Kokko sounds hell-bent on proving he still has the warp speed chops he showed on the band’s classic early cuts “Hades” and “Principle Hero.” As the band shifted towards a Thrash-metal approach, both guitarists aimed for a more aggressive sound, learning to play with 45-degree angle downstrokes (jynkhä in the band’s native tongue) for maximum punch. The result has been a string of beefier and thrashier albums, but on Swamphony they seem to have returned to their previous techniques for crafting swift, intertwined tremolo riffs, while pushing for even more intensity and speed without sacrificing dexterity.

Pekka Kokko’s vocals, while guttural like most death metal, are often rather articulate for the genre. His choruses benefit greatly from the intelligibility of his rasp, as he delivers some tremendous lines on songs like the new seven-minute epic “Hollo.” A favorite topic of Kalmah’s is writing odes to the band’s pastimes of hunting and fishing (“Black Marten’s Trace,” “The Trapper,” “Pikemaster”), tying the band’s newest album to its predecessors which featured songs such as “Hook the Monster” and “Burbot’s Revenge.” Kalmah
 means “to the grave,” and the band lives up to its moniker by holding nothing back. Kalmah may never be accused of being the most visionary metal act, but the band deserves credit for their approach to a genre largely content to recycle itself. Kalmah’s steady core lineup seems to have found an ideal mix of brutality and adrenaline, but continues to separate itself from contemporaries such as Arch Enemy and The Haunted by never being content with that balance.

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