Monday, September 10, 2012

Valonkantajat - Tuomittu Elämään (2012)

When Finnish modern metallers Valonkantajat wrote their latest opus, they chose to keep the lyrics in the native Finnish language. They felt that no other language could capture the every day hardships of living in the north. With so much thought and care put into the words, they hope to bring light to the dark, and tell stories from the native land. But on "Tuomittu Elämään," their debut full length, they make the choice to combine thought out lyrics with cop out instrumentals, leaving their message lost at sea. With or without your Rosetta Stone, there isn't much to celebrate here.

Barking dogs open "Tuomittu elämään," followed immediately by a dense chugging guitar and our first glimpse of the melodic Finnish vocals. Even without being to understand a word, there is something that pulls you in. Musically, there isn't a whole lot of lateral movement from standard metal riffs at this stage, focusing more on the lyrics themselves. There are signs of life to be had, with some fairly intricate guitar work occupying the lead section. A few background screams accent the vocal line, and give a little added depth to the track. Double kicks emerge in the early stages of "Surunmurtama," giving you the extra punch you may have been craving. But what follows is bordering on power metal structure, with a range of tones layered together. There is a unique ethnic nature to the vocals, obviously; one that keeps you following the various ups and down of the delivery style. The guitar work gets far more detailed here, showing off the versatility available. That is even more clear on "Rakkaasi kadotat," a song that gives you your third style in as many tracks. A more straight forward rock track, it may leave you wanting something more than you get. What echoes throughout the track is the simplistic, yet expertly delivered, bass line. Buried late in the track is a solo that breaks you from the haze you may fall into. Brisk, smooth, and passionate, this is some of the best fret work on the album.

Without deviating much from the formula, "Raskas päivä päättyy" does pack a wallop. With both guitars crushing down together in unity with an array of drums, you finally get a true density in the chorus section. However, the stripped down verse, dominated by a bass line and vocals, drains some of the all important momentum. A solo saves the day again, continuing to give you the desire to keep listening. But as you delve into "Ihmisen laulu," you are subjected to a track that is more modern American punk than anything else. The unique qualities that set this band apart from others are lost here, in a generic turn for the worse. In hopes to regain your attention, "Paha ei saa palkkaansa" employs some of the more dynamic instrumentals on the album. Machine gun guitars lock in step with pulsing drums to form a wall of distorted glory. The tempo has increased, thanks largely to the more raucous percussion at play.

But despite that one off display, things once again go stale on "Tavoitinko taivaan." There is nothing inherently wrong with the track on the whole, but there is nothing to elicit repeated listens. By now, the vocals are no longer a selling point, as you wait for something else to emerge as a strength. And without any real variation to the guitar work, you are left with standard radio fare. And while credit must be given for frontman Jaake Nikkilä's attempt to resurrect "Käädyt," the damage is already done. His occasional screams are little more than a pop, drown out by cookie cutter riffs and a lack of true emotional investment in the instrumental. And as the track wears on, every second seems to last longer, leaving you stuck in a purgatory of recycled ideas. And when "Lupaus" takes control of you, you can be sure the end is coming close. The song plays out like a ballad, but in a good way. There is a breath of fresh in, in the form of some acoustic guitar work, that gives the track new life. An extended solo section is the last real wave of metal influence to be had. The closing track, "Hiljainen mies," clocks in at what amounts to six excruciating minutes of modern radio rock, followed by a successful closing minute. The intensity on display in the last sixty seconds could be a positive, as a sign of hope for the next offering, or a negative that it took so long to release that.

Music is the universal language. You don't need to understand the lyrics of a song to get the true emotion behind it, or even to appreciate the way it is all delivered. But for Valonkantajat, there is something lost in the translation. Perhaps the Finnish lyrics are hiding something far deeper than what you can hear from track to track. But with a bevy of basic guitar structures, on again off again drum patterns, and tracks that all hover around five minutes each, there has to be something more to it, doesn't there? Of course you have victories here and there, mainly in the rare lead parts, but not enough to turn this 50 minute offering into a mind altering event. And with each listen "Tuomittu Elämään" is less of an event.


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