The foggy air hangs around you as you trudge through the murky waters. The dead trees hang above your head, looming over you as if they are going to reach out and grab you. The black sky gives off faint light in the eerie night atmosphere. The stench of rot fills your lungs. You think, what am I doing here?
Then, the album begins.
This is the mental picture running through my head as the opener, "Hollow Heart" begins to flood through my speakers. Kalmah is a band probably few have heard of, but may I say here it is one of the forefathers of melodic death metal. Think Children Of Bodom fused with Naglfar and the result is something like Kalmah. Now, let me say this here before I get a bunch of BS about it later. Kalmah is NOT
a COB clone. They are in fact totally different in my opinion, aside from the fact they both have keyboards and come from the swamps of Finland. Kalmah has a more unrefined sound, more brooding and not quite as... hmmmm how to put this..... ridiculous as COB. I mean c'mon, Children Of Bodom is a bit ridiculous, with their bizzare lyrics and song titles which make little sense at all (such as "Little Bloodred Riding Hood"). Kalmah brings out more of a metal sound here, and with their other 3 albums. I honestly think that Kalmah takes their music more serious (at least from a lyrical standpoint). Kalmah writes music which have intelligent, meaningful lessons (best displayed in songs like the revolution themed "My Nation"). Now don't you COB fans out there go and bite my head off, I'm simply stating this from what I have seen and heard from both bands.
Thats being said, I believe Kalmah is the better band here. Harsher vocals, more melodic, intricate guitar riffs and blazing solos, even the atmosphere around the album screams something along the lines of fast, melodic black metal. Out of all 4 Kalmah albums, of which I all own, I can honestly say the best guitar work is to be found here. Solos on songs like "They Will Return", "Kill The Idealist", and "The Blind Leader" are ones not to be forgotten. Antti and Pekka Kokko deserve kudos for putting this amazing piece of work together without ever turning the intensity knob down. Also the keyboards are very prominent here, serving as large parts in the album, like in the Chorus of "The Blind Leader", and the bridge of "Hollow Heart" and the opening of "Swamphell". It just makes you feel like the keyboards are there for a reason, not just to create some cool noises, but to add depth and variety to the songs. Bass is also very present here, and it even gets a cool little mini-solo on "Swamphell" which I liked a lot, since bass these days is often covered up so much you can rarley hear it. Now, since we have been introduced to the overall feel and setup of the album, let us start spinning the disc.
"Hollow Heart" opens up with a feeling that was described in my opening paragraph, of a man walking through the deep swamps of Finland. After that, hell breaks loose in an absolutely outstanding riff, rivaled only by the epic opening riff of "Heroes to Us" from Kalmah's third CD "Swampsong". After that all the stops are pulled, and it just goes into grinding riffing and heavy vocals which vary in pitch, which I enjoy a lot, since Antti has a wonderful death metal growl, in addition to his overwhelming high pitched black metal screech. At about the 2:30 mark it goes into the albums first solo, with dueling keyboards and guitars, which are so fabled by Kalmah, and virtually unchallenged by any other band out there. The chorus is repeated, and Antti goes out with a final furious screm of "Hollow Heart!" before the great and epic opener fades out.
Ah, but we are not done here, "Swamphell" begins with the great keyboards, which turn into also excellent guitar work. Around the :40 mark the vocals come in, churning out riffs, then the cool little mini bass solo comes in, followed by an insane little guitar solo, and then once again the screech of Antti overtakes the speakers, with a highly melodic riff in the background. Things slow down a bit at the 2:50 mark before giving way to yet another great riff, then followed by the full guitar solo of this song, which is just pure ecstasy.
So far, so furious. "Principle Hero" begins with, surprise, yet another highly melodic, highly cathy, highly great, riff. This song is for sure one of the heavier, in-your-face songs, but it still remains melodic, a trick which Kalmah is constantly pulling off. The lyrics of this one are also very thought provoking, providing a good read. This song has a lot of keyboards in it, which is evident before the jaw-dropping solo which is thrown down here. This song is one of my picks for the best of the CD.
"Human Fates" is next, which still provides a great listen, but I still do not find this one to be one of Kalmah's best, awkward at some points, this song is longer than it should have been.
"They Will Return" gets Kalmah back on track, with perhaps the best guitar performance of the entire album on this track. I thought I was listening to one HUGE guiatar solo, except with lyrics. This song will remain in your head forever. Just pure pleasure to listen to this song, knowing this song isn't even the best Kalmah has to offer, which is just amazing, since most bands can't even dream of pulling off a song like this. Absolutely stunning, a must listen here.
"Kill The Idealist" and "The Blind Leader" are the next two, and are excellent songs, maintaining the unrelenting pace and flawless guitar work which makes Kalmah to be one of the all time best in Melodic Death.
"My Nation" is my pick as the best song on the CD. Even though it may not be the heaviest, or the most intricate, it sure as hell is catchy, melodic, thoughtfelt, mysterious, furious, and emotional all at once. Starting with very ominous whispering, the song suddenly bursts into an unrelenting concrete wall of a chorus, screaming with all its might about revolution, with the great, deep, death metal growl of the backing vocalist, Mikko Talala. The song then bursts into a melodic riffing session before being followed by more versing and another chorus. Then comes the bridge, with a couple of awesome lines being screamed with all their might, before being thrusted into an awesome guitar solo. Then comes back the chorus, as powerful as ever, just making you want to jump out of your seat and just headbang. This song is what represents Kalmah at their peak. Just plain awesome.
Next up, the closer, which is also an odd one to me, the cover of Megadeth's "Skin O' My Teeth". This track I also didnt particularly care for, and would have been more pleased if they left "My Nation" as the albums closer, as I feel it suits the CD more. But some like it, which is fine with me, but to me this track seems to be not up to par with the others.
Well.... how to sum up the expirience I just had..... amazing, melodic, heartfelt, furious, unrelenting, raw, technical, heavy, soothing, meaningful, thrashing, dark... all words to describe this sort of "Heaven On A Disc" as I think of it. Any fan of melodic death, death, black, power, and thrash metal should look at this one. Easily the best Kalmah album released to this date, not to missed by virtually any metal fan. Go buy this. Now.