Review Summary: Welcome To Swamp Metal.
Somewhere deep in the swamp-ridden land known only as Finland, we have perhaps one of the most underrated acts in the Melodic Death Metal scene today. No, it's not Insomnium, no it is not Children Of Bodom, it is the keyboard- driven riff machine that is known as Kalmah. Indeed, this band flew under the radar in my eyes for quite some time. I think I had been into Melodic Death for about 2 or 3 years before I even heard of Kalmah, let alone knew how much I would enjoy their music 6 months later. Ok, so Kalmah isn't the only band from Finland who excels at the whole wintery-sounding Melodic Death. Their fellow Finnish brethren Insomnium wrote some of the finest Melodic Death Metal I've ever heard, but what Kalmah did was not only write excellent guitar-driven songs, they threw in a very competitive keyboardist to sometimes weave some fantastic melodies which the guitars aren't capable of making. It is this coupling of guitars and keyboards which make the atmosphere and overall feeling of the album so different from Insomnium. Here we are though, with Kalmah's third full length album Swampsong
, which is in my eyes their crowning achievement, containing many of the songs which will define this bands entire career. From the absolutely stunning opener "Heroes To Us" to the captivating final ballad "Moon Of My Nights", Kalmah write some tracks which simply go untouched in terms of musical and songwriting genius, even against other more prominent Melodic Death acts. Everything from the intriguing lyrical themes to the mind-blowing guitar riffs to the unique screaming vocals to the epic choruses, this
is the album you want spinning in your CD player during these cold fall nights.
I simply can't go any further without discussing how amazing the guitars are on this album. You can't even go two seconds into this album without literally having the breath ripped from your lungs. Case in point, one of my favorite songs of all time, containing my favorite riff of all time, the shredding opening track "Heroes To Us". That's not where the guitars end either, each and every song contains a unique and extremely melodic riff which will make this seem like one of the few albums where there is almost constantly a new riff or a twist on the original riff. This is without even mentioning the solos. The majority of the songs on Swampsong
contain a blistering solo, such as the one featured on the interesting second track "Burbot's Revenge", which literally tells a story of an ice fisherman and a creature known as a Burbot, some really interesting stuff to read while listening to the song. It's also very common for the keyboards and the guitars to overlap each other, creating some really intricate harmonies and even dueling in many of the guitar solos. While of the subject of the keyboards, they are very often front and center in each song, not hidden in the background to simply add some effects here and there. No, Kalmah use their keyboards as a real instrument, playing and using it with as high regard as the guitar. The riffs are often centered around the keyboards and may even make up a majority of the riffing by itself, utilizing some really creative lines such as in the epic "The Third, The Magical", where they back the vocals with absolute perfection. The bass guitar plays it's role pretty much perfectly, taking those low notes which the electric guitar cannot achieve, giving the heavier undertone to the tracks. Hell, there is even a sweet bass-only passage in "Cloned Insanity", which is put in at the perfect time and sounds amazing. As for the drums, I simply cannot give enough compliments here. The drumming is literally perfect, probably the best drumming I've ever heard in Melodic Death Metal, with some amazingly intricate and pounding fills, excellent use of double bass and cymbals. The production give the drums that perfect thundering effect, which makes the music seem much, much heavier. Simply flawless drumming.
Oh man, the vocals. Oh man. I like it when bands cross genre lines, and if I could pick one part of Kalmah's sound which breaks genre lines it would be those fantastic vocals.They are extremely unique to the Melodic Death Metal scene, being really high pitched, they are more closely related to Black Metal vocals than traditional Death Metal vocals. They add that harshness to the music which goes so well with the keyboard melodies and the thundering drums. This isn't to say there isn't vocal variance though, since Kalmah certainly included that.The epic clean vocals in the chorus to "The Third, The Magical" or the spoken word or whispered passages in "Moon Of My Nights", I can't give enough compliments to the vocals. "Moon Of My Nights" is especially strong vocally speaking because of the sheer emotion and effort put forth in this track. The amazingly powerful screeches during the first verse or the Death Metal growls during the chorus, that song is a very powerful experience.
I'll admit that the album isn't perfect though, 2 or 3 songs during the second half of the album get a bit boring to listen to, but the first half of the album and the final track more than make up for that. Everything in Kalmah's arsenal is used here, and Swampsong
is really the band's crowning achievement containing some of the genre's best songs to date. While Kalmah has recently gotten rid of those amazing vocals in favor of a more traditional Death Metal growl, I hold hopes that in the future Kalmah will revert back to what they are good at, and forget that fact that everyone bashes them for allegedly being "clones" of a certain other Finnish band... I won't go there though, since Kalmah really does deserve all the praise in the world for this album, and for what they have done for the Melodic Death Metal scene as they continue to this day to pinpoint their identity among the other bands out there.