Kalmah – Kalmah (Ranka Kustannus)Wednesday, 7th June 2023
For long time melodic death metal aficionados, the name Kalmah emits many fond memories. Being important to the wave of keyboard-heavy bands of which the famed Children of Bodom spearheaded (RIP Alexi), the swamplords of Oulu, Finland were integral to the proliferation of that groundbreaking sound. Sadly, some compatriots like Norther didn’t maintain staying power, and while others simply grew listless as the years went by, Kalmah never wavered; sticking to a particular niche that they carved out for themselves. One of yours truly’s fondest live show memories was catching their Canadian tour in Toronto in 2011, while also getting to see Woods of Ypres for a final time (RIP David Gold – an unfortunate theme of artists taken too soon) is a memory that will never be forgotten.
It’s true that Kalmah hasn’t been releasing new albums at the same clip that they did in their early years, but unlike many contemporaries, they haven’t dropped a true dud yet. Some may argue that 2018’s Palo wasn’t quite as good as past glories, and though true that it didn’t match all-timers such as Swamplord, They Will Return, or The Black Waltz, we maintain that it simply was Kalmah not deviating from the tried and true. What the Finns have provided five years and a pandemic later is largely what’s expected, but not without elements of differentiation.
The band stated that they were going for a more raw, old school type of recording/production approach, and they certainly weren’t lying. The self-titled ninth record is stripped down and intentionally grainy to a degree, to which we can envision griping by purists who prefer a cleaner soundscape. What this has done is emphasize the crunchy twin guitar assault of the brothers Kokko and add a level of grit that provides a level of soiled over personality. These dudes are from the slimy swamp, after all, and while they’ll likely never be a beacon for sludge metal, the effort to harken to a snarly yesteryear is appreciated. Thrashy guitars dominate opener “Haunted by Guilt” and “Taken Before Given” – the latter being a song the band wote way back in 1991, presumably during their days as the decidedly more less melodic death and more 80s thrash inspired Ancestor. Don’t fret, as the soaring harmonies and atmospheric keyboards that are so integral don’t lose prominence and slot in fittingly throughout.
Entries like “Veil of Sin” could seamlessly fit within personal favorite 12 Gauge, driven by infectious leads that recklessly melt faces, while “Scarred by Sadness” shreds at breakneck speed and ferocity. Melancholic violins, acoustic passages, and a mix of clean/harsh vocal deliveries slow proceedings via the reflective “No Words Sad Enough,” exemplifying a welcome somber dimension. Melancholic melodies dominate the Insomnium-ish “Red and Black,” mixed well with Kalmah’s trademark six stringed crunch. Bombastic melodies and lightspeed riffage reign on “Serve the Untrue” and “Tons of Chaos,” whereas album closer “Drifting in a Dream” offers a combination of symphonic, downtrodden melodies at a measured clip to sign off.
If any of Kalmah’s storied discography appeals, then there absolutely will be plenty to sink the old teeth into here. The lords of the swamp continue to produce what they have been for quite some time – grandiose, well-executed guitar centric melodic death metal with huge hooks and memorable keyboards. The number of melancholic twists present work well in offering a varied enough flavor as to not get repetitive, though this is a pure Kalmah record that maintains what the band has been composing for over 2 decades. As previously mentioned, the more “live” lo-fi production values may perturb some, but don’t detract from the mostly top quality experience given. Kalmah doesn’t seem to desire stopping, to the delight of melodic death lovers worldwide. We have but one request – play a show in Florida, which is a literal swamp, so it’ll feel like home kind of. We’ll be waiting.