on 3 March 2010
I've been following Kalmah for the last few years and was expectantly waiting for 12 Gauge, but I had no idea I was going to be as stunned as I was. The album sees Kalmah really coming into their own with possibly their most their most mature, focused and well written work to date. And even though FTR was a pretty good album, nothing could have prepared me for the no holds barred battering that 12 Gauge had in store.
Overall, the album sees a slight move away from the melodeath and neo-classical/baroque sounds to accommodate a heavier classic/traditional metal and thrash influence. It's quite a subtle change, but an important one, as you can hear the band laying tribute to their 80s idol Metallica, Megadeth and Maiden throughout and also distancing themselves from a sounds which has been plagerized to death. The guitar playing between the brothers Kokko is sublime; their cerebral interplay of riffs, harmonies and solos is out of this world. Its also interesting that they've used acoustic guitars to great effect on 3 or 4 tracks. On the flip side, Marco Sneck's keys are downplayed slightly, giving much more background texture aside from the odd lead riff and key solo. But less is certainly more in this case, as his wonderful keys give the album a very epic, almost cinematic feel which gives plenty of room for the guitars (this is definitely a guitar players album) but keeps the sinister atmosphere perfectly. And, as always, the rhythm section of Timo Lehtinen and Janne Kusmin is tight and thunderous.
The album kicks off like something out of a spaghetti Western with some beautiful classical guitars a wicked trumpet part (yes, a bloody trumpet) and I'm already feeling shades of Metallica and Megadeth as the distortion fades in and BAM! `Rust Never Sleeps' launches into top gear with a powerful blast of focused, brutal and still melodic metal as Pekka Kokko proves yet again that he is one of Finlands most devastating vocalists. This opening bomb flowing easily into `One of Fail', one the albums best tracks. Both are fast, aggressive and technical while seamlessly transitioning from breakneck thrash and chugging riffs to epic metal melodies and very anthemic, sing/growl-along choruses that just make me ape out. The solos are to die for, especially Marcos key solo on `Rust Never Sleeps' and the awesome dual solo on `One of Fail'. Something's telling me I'm in for a really good ride here, and it's not wrong.
Right out of the starting blocks 12 Gauge impressed me a great deal with these two tracks, especially the beast that is'One of Fail'. `Bullets are Blind' follows on brilliantly, with some very sombre melodies and probably the most classic-Kalmah sound of the album. We then have `Swampwar', which takes the pace down a notch and shows much more of a trad metal vibe with some wonderful duelling guitars straight out of 1983, yet still incredibly heavy and with group shouts and again a very anthemic chorus. And it just keeps getting better. `Better not tell' is pretty much the centre piece of the album, which shows just how mature and capable Kalmah have become as songwriters as its mid paced grooves and heartwrenching melodies bring to mind the mighty `Orion' by Metallica, yet somehow they're managing to balance this perfectly with Kalmah's very own brutality. Again, the wonderful interplay of the Kokko brother's masterful axe work with Marco Snecks subtle yet wholly indispensable keys make this song really special and perhaps the albums best. `Hook the Monster' and `Godeye' bring us back to all out war with blast beats and tachincal riffing abound without compromising the albums dark melody or epic, anthemic sound (the choruses are just amazing!) Likewise, the title ttack surves up a rather collosal helping of thrash/melodeth after another beautiful classical guitar intro. Finally `Sacramentum' closes with epic mid-paced metal chops collide with some truly heartrending melodies and operatic atmosphere as the album comes to a dramatic finish.
I was really stunned with Kalmah's new baby. It's astonishing to hear how much they progressed as writers and musicians while never, for one second, abandoning their extreme metal heart and or all out metal onslaught of their previous works. The merging of their melodeth/extreme power metal roots with their heavy metal and thrash influences, as well as the toning down of symphonic elements, works absolute wonders for the band and gives them a fresh new sound. It may not be as technical or as chaotic as the olden days, but its more focused, more precise, more mature, better written and just as fast and aggressive as Kalmah ever where. If you like your metal epic and heavy with solos, shredding and riffs a plenty then 12 Gauge has it all. In my opinion, Kalmah have, with this cd, blown the competition away, even my beloved Skyfire, and ascended the throne of their chosen genre. A real testament to what years of hard work can sound like when it pays off. Even though it's only March, I may have found my album of 2010 already.