on 17 June 2013
Consistency is a quality that is often seems to elude even the best of metal bands, who often go though many highs and lows over the times. Hither came Kalmah. Year after year, these swamp-obsessed Finns put out consistently high quality releases of their own branded Swampmetal, and, in the wake of the epic metal colossi that was 2011's 12 Gauge, I approached Seventh Swamphony with both high expectations and a sense of trepidation; could this be the first time Kalmah release anything other then stunning? Well, Pekka and the boys have never let me down before, and it seems they're not about to start any time soon.
For those of you who unfamiliar with the band, Kalmah's swamp metal is basically their own take on Finnish-style melodic death metal with heavy baroque influences and lush keyboards. However, I've always felt Kalmah stand apart from the crowd by being darker, heavier, faster and less chessy, with some early Gothenburg influences and at times folkish/Vikingish leads, and for the last few albums, an 80s Megadeth/Metallica/Sepultura edge too.
Stylistically, the tongue in cheek-titled Seventh Swamphony sits somewhere in between the mighty 12 Gauge, and earlier albums like They Will Return. As always, the bands draws on a lot of variety, from blast beats and furious shredding to grandiose melodies and anthemic riffing, with the terrifying growls of Pekka Kokko anchoring neverything together. While it doesn't have the crushing heaviness of 12 Gauge, it carries on that albums trend of liberal drawings from the well of 80's thrash and classic metal, and while the guitar work is a bit lighter, it's definitely busier and a bit more flashy - not a bad thing in my eyes. Also, Seventh Swamphony has a much more vibrant melodies and key boards reminiscent of earlier material. As such, Kalmah have really covered all their bases, although I would say the album leans even further towards thrash and maybe even NWOBHM while still being grounded in the domain of melodic death. Yes, there are still lavish baroque flourishes and keyboard solo's a plenty, but this Swamphony is dominated by the stellar guitar interplay of the brother's Kokko.
This album is an absolute carnal feast overflowing with breakneck shredding, crunchy riffs, and all manner of squealing guitar histrionics as Pekka and Antii Kokko shred with reckless abandon. Perhaps resulting from some sort of brotherly telepathy, they play with a fluidity and harmonious interplay that rivals the guitar duos of yesteryear such as Tipton and Downing or Murray and Smith. `Windlake Tale' is one of the most vibrant and complex songs the band has ever put forward, while the title track,`Pikemaster' and the absolutly ripping 'Black Materns Trace' blister forth in true Kalmah style with furious drumming and grand melodies. Antii in particular has really come into his own as a lead guitarist, playing almost constant leads or harmonies for the duration of the album, and his solos are both melodic and aggressive. Backed by the thunderous drumming of Janne Kusmin and the tight bass playing of Timo Lehtinen (who really shines on 'Wolves on the Throne') and a strong showing from new keyboard player Veli-Matti Kananen,Kalmah's latest album is a beastly ride through some of the best melodeth you'll hear all year.
Surprisingly, my favourite tacks on the album where the three slower ones. `Hollo' echos 'Ready for Salvation', albeit a much fuller-developed version, with sombre acoustics and a few clean vocals, before breaking into an almost Viking Metal epic-fest. `Wolves on the Throne' is a great mid-paced head-banger, again with a bit of Viking metal in the leads and also a little bit of an Eastern European tint, especially in Timo Lehtinen. However, `The Tapper' steals the show for me with as it captures raw emotion and mournful sorrow like Insomniums early works did.
Despite never matching the popularity of their countrymen Children of Bodom or Norther, if I may be so bold, I'd advocate that Kalmah have established themselves as the premier band in the realms of this melodic death/extreme power, and (with Skyfire seemingly on an unending hiatus) Seventh Swamphony ensures their undisputed reign. While it might fall slightly short of the stunning majesty of 12 Gauge, the Swamphony stands tall as a glorious shred fest of an album and a proud addition to the Kalmah legacy. If you like anything melodeth with keyboads, then it might just be time fo you to visit the swamp.