‘Kuolemanlaakso’ is Finnish for ‘Death Valley’. That’s pretty metal to start us off. Kuolemanlaakso are also only onto their second record, which is more surprising considering the assuredness with which they ply their craft. ‘Tulijoutsen’, which translates to ‘The Fire Swan’ (check out that beautiful cover art), is a thunderous slab of pure Finnish death/doom in the tradition of Swallow the Sun, with whom they share their vocalist, Mikko Kotamaki.
The trick with death/doom as a genre is to bring together the mournful melodies and crushing heft of doom, with the howl and aggression of death metal. To do all this, while remaining interesting and without falling into monotony, is difficult. Too many death/doom bands forget to add shades to their palette. Take opener ‘Aarnivalkea’ for example. We have the requisite iceberg-sized doom riff, with the growled vocals, but we also have layers of clean and almost mourning vocals. There’s something almost My Dying Bride-esque about it. There is plenty of the death about it too, particularly later in the track, but the pureness of the genre shines through. ‘Verihaaksi’ slows it down even further, with yet another huge riff. It reminds me of Candlemass, in the best possible way. It’s a bit more towards the death metal side, with a more vicious vocal delivery, but all the while tectonic riffs collide in the background. The quieter moments have an almost black metal atmosphere, full of menace.
Their previous album, ‘Uljas Uusi Maailma’ was a good, solid debut, but Kuolemanlaakso have used ‘Tulijoutsen’ to push themselves further. The record oozes power, confidence and most of all maturity. Sometimes bands have too much ambition and not enough raw talent. Not here. ‘Me Vaellamme Yössä’ is another thunderous track, positively rampaging out of the starting blocks in comparison to previous tracks. Mikko Kotamäki shows his vocal range here, from his wind tunnel death growl (reminds me of Mikael Akerfeldt) to his more measured, almost whispered cleaner vocals. Starting ‘Arpeni’ with a titan riff and a tolling bell is possibly too close to parody, but the rest of the song has weight, emotion and some damn great riffs. Again a My Dying Bride influence shows in the conveying of sadness in the spoken sections, and again I cannot stress enough how varying riff patterns help the songs stand out. It continues through the icy majesty of ‘Musta’, through the crushing ‘Tuonen Tähtivyö’ to the monolithic closer ‘Raadot Raunioilla’.
In fact, the only thing that I don’t like about this record is the folky acoustics of ‘Glastonburyn Lehto’, which seems so out of place that I’m wondering if I’ve missed something here. Is it meant as an interlude piece or as something experimental, I don’t know? All I know is it doesn’t feel quite right here.
The production is thick and warm, allowing the true strength of the vocals and guitars to show through, without dampening any of the raw emotion disappear. As I stated before, Kuolemanlaakso keep things varied but not disjointed; the riffs are great, and the SONGS are great. Actually, considered how close it was to cliché, ‘Arpeni’ became my favourite track on a record full of great tracks. I’m definitely going to be looking at this further on through the year as an early contender for my favourite record of 2014.
Scribed by: Sandy Williamson