Monday, December 3, 2012

Kuolemanlaakso - Uljas uusi maailma (2012)

No place in the world brings about more imagery than Death Valley. Named for one of the hottest places on Earth, Finnish five piece Kuolemanlaakso embody so many of the traits that make their namesake so intimidating. With a sound that was derived from the classic Triptykon album "Eparistera Daimones," guitarist Laakso recruited bandmates that were not only high on talent, but like minded when it comes to creating metal from the darker side of the spectrum. With lyrics done completely in Finnish, who better to occupy the microphone than Swallow The Sun mainman Kotamäki? Borrowing themes from Eino Leino's poetry collection, "Helkavirsiä," the album exudes darkness and crushing sadness.

If the few moments that open "Minä Elän" aren't enough to bring a chill to your spine, you may be invincible. From softer, haunting tones to more abusive screeching guitars, the track takes a left turn as sharp as you could imagine. Kotamäki is in his element here, screaming ahead over a bevy of distorted guitars. His voice takes on the deeper growls, but focuses mainly on harsh blackened styles. But unlike his other projects, his is more of a supporting role here, taking a back seat to an instrumental that is as deep as it is heavy. The constant presence of double kicks and thunderous fills only elevates the mix to legendary status. The band brings the doom on "Kuun Lapset," at times bringing to mind the more modern work of My Dying Bride, but with a much heavier edge. Bringing together slow paced instrumentals with a background chant isn't an easy task to accomplish, but the glue that binds the two together is the main vocal line. It is in this devastating set of screeches and screams that the track finds a true star, making every chord and bass note seem all the more powerful. Even the interludes and tempo changes that come later are welcomed and well executed. The genius is in the refusal to give up momentum, with every new movement adding to the overall arc of the track itself.

To think the album couldn't get anymore eclectic would be a mistake, as the ethnically infused "Nostos & Algos" takes things into a new realm. A pounding at the hands of drummer Tiera leads the charge, flanked on either side by a grinding guitar riff that is both punishing and rewarding. With an added dose of effects tacked on to the vocals, each syllable is accented by an otherworldly sound. The final two minutes of the track create such an immense soundscape, that it becomes hard to pigeonhole the performance into one genre or style. They have fused so many elements of death and doom, but injected a healthy dose of catchy riffs. The short interlude, titled "Roihusydän" is the height of bizarre, featuring a combination of Finnish chanting and a set of drums that could be only identified as Native American. By the time the blackened scream cuts through it all, you find yourself preparing for anything. And pure evil is what follows. Howling guitars take over "Etsin," joined by the haunting sound of keyboards in a marriage of sonic ghosts that would make Satan himself smile. With the pacing coming down to a crawl, it allows every solitary note to ring for seconds after being plucked, driving your head downward with each blasting kick. An attempt at clean vocals is well received, adding a new dimension to an astonishing balanced mix. Hell is unreleased in the latter half, with crunching guitars coating the entire mix with a healthy dose of distortion.

There is no subtlety to be had in the brutal beginning to "Ikiuni," where the band trades in their slow, methodical attack for a more pummeling one. This is the unleashing of the beast, with high speed guitar riffs sitting atop a wall of massive percussion. All the while, Kotamäki rattles your ear canals with a variety of delivery styles, from blood curdling screams to guttural growls. But even more importantly, the use of sparing keyboard notes heightens the sound to new levels of contrast. Perhaps the scariest piece of work on the album, "Uljas Uusi Maailma" sees the band exercising some fairly interesting techniques and tones. The space age keys that fade in and out are a nice touch, especially when used to introduced some unearthly death metal screams. The combination of bending guitars strings and rhythmic chugging is incredible, and forms the perfect base for a titanic lead. Beginning with a far more down tempo, doom atmosphere, "Aurinko" could easily be inserted into any horror film and succeed in making you squirm in your dark living room. Even the quiet spoken word segments do so much to set the mood. But this isn't all about ambiance, as those same eerie tones give way some far more sinister. As the vocal track delves into the devilish, the melody provided by the guitars forms a beautiful contrast. Floating towards the end, there is an isolated piece of bass, keys and drums that may elicit a head nod or twelve, laying down an almost jazz like groove as the track fades.

What does it really mean to be "heavy"? It isn't all about how loud you can play, how low you can tune, or how hard you can scream. Sometimes being heavy is more of a combination of style and substance, something Kuolemanlaakso has in spades. There are times where the sheer weight of the instrumental is sure to elicit a positive response from the listener. But more importantly, there is a focus on creativity and originality that exceeds even the members other projects. And it is in this balance of elements that "Uljas uusi maailma" will find its target audience. This may not be the best doom album, or death album, or black album this year - there are far more straightforward ones - but it may be the best hybrid album you will find in this, or any other, calendar year.


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