Review Summary: A fine return to form
Kalmah’s brand of melodic death metal has, generally speaking, remained the same since 2006’s The Black Waltz
, when the band shifted from the high-pitched vocals and keyboards of their self-branded “Swamp Metal” of their earlier albums on to a more straight-forward growled approach which showed hints of thrash metal, but carried an overall slower pace. While on 2010’s 12 Gauge
, the band keeps the new, lower-pitched vocal arrangements and less reliance on keyboards, the frantic pacing of their older albums Swamplord
and They Will Return
are back in fine form, creating an uplifting atmosphere which will undoubtedly have you kicking in tables and smashing walls. It is a comfortable middle-ground in which fans of both their older and newer style can find something to keep them entertained, and marks a final honing-in on the sound the band was striving for when they first changed their style.
The riffs fly around 12 Gauge
like, well, bullets. Indeed, the guitar work of Pekka and Antti Kokko is at its absolute best, and not since the absolutely astounding solos of the title-track “They Will Return” have Kalmah’s guitars been this awesome and this effective at securing an atmosphere and demanding your attention. The solos are blistering (see “Bullets Are Blind” and lightning-fast solo in “Swampwar”), and the melodic riffing is both creative and god-damn catchy. Taking a backseat (but not hiding in the shadows) are the keyboards of Marco Sneck, providing a firm base on which the atmosphere just builds as the guitars weave their way in and out of heavy chords and frantic soloing as the album progresses. Couple that with the solid vocals, which remain in the vein of For The Revolution
and The Black Waltz
, and you have a level of quality which brings to mind the band's earlier albums. This isn’t to say, however, that the high-pitched black metal-influenced voice of the past is completely thrown out, because often enough they work their way into the background as layering fodder, a nice touch which shows the bridging between old and new.
Even touches such as the wonderful and tasteful acoustic guitar pieces add another dimension to the music which is totally unexpected. The choruses are often backed by chanting, a technique which is really engaging to the listener and helps give the songs a sense of personality, something which is abundant and absolutely thrives throughout the running time of 12 Guage
, whether it be the aforementioned chants or the dual-harmonized lead to “Better Not To Tell” and the melodies of “One Of Fail”. The drumming is also noteworthy, delivering fills which definitely don’t go unnoticed and kicking some impressive double bass. The only place in which the album may fall slightly short is the fact that it remains very comfortable, despite its draws from past material which the band has long since left behind. The vocals, the guitars, the atmosphere; it all brings to mind Kalmah, there is nothing which makes me think the band really went out of their way to do anything brand new.
This is easily cast aside, though, because Kalmah have far and away surpassed my expectations. The music within the generically-titled 12 Gauge
is completely the opposite: it is immensely enjoyable, has a huge replay value, and gets Kalmah right back on track. After the slightly above-average For The Revolution
, Kalmah really pulled out all the stops and delivered a bombshell of an album, one which is most definitely one of the best of their career, and a perfect point from which to move onward. Melodic death metal isn’t completely hopeless, because Kalmah are keeping the genre moving along with a no-bull*** album that simply delivers in every single aspect.