Review Summary: Who knew swamps could be so inviting?
Metal is nothing if not loaded with various flavors. Several subgenres came to be in the 1990's, a time when using words like "melodic death metal" would sound out of place, like an anthropological term. Yet thanks to the likes of Sweden's Dark Tranquillity, In Flames and At the Gates, that exact description (among others) would become commonplace. Simultaneously, another country was preparing its own metallic trio, comprised of Children of Bodom, Norther and Kalmah. Of these Finnish acts, Kalmah (formerly Ancestor) has managed to garner the most respect, primarily thanks to their consistency in style and substance.
Kalmah's first chapter, Swamplord
, introduced listeners to a blend of melodic death metal the band identifies as "swamp metal." The label is certainly peculiar, but as one becomes acclimated to Kalmah's music, it begins to make sense. One of Swamplord
's immediate surprises is how often it will compel you to return. As the debut for a relatively unknown band, rough production values are to be expected. Yet Swamplord
is an album that actually benefits from being a bit of a roughhouse. Kalmah's themes are of a murky nature, which naturally influences the music. The effect is of a trickling nature; the more you listen, the more you'll notice. Some moments do make a more immediate impression than others, however, such as "Hades," arguably the album's most popular track. Showcased in full are the transformative guitar leads, constantly alternating aggressive speed and stirring, melodic licks. Also on display are a combination of harsh vocals from Pekka Kokko. He leans towards high-pitch screams, much like his aforementioned peers, but also occasions in the deeper tones that would better characterize their later efforts.
Adding to Swamplord
's melodic flair is the fairly discrete use of keyboards. These are often used to impart a faint, folk-inspired sound, such as a brief piano-like segment on "Heritance of Berija" and the subsequent opening to "Black Roija." Where a band like Children of Bodom are more inclined to make keyboards join the rest of the band and achieve an all-over-the-place sensation, Kalmah's use imparts a more mature sensation. They aren't concerned with exuberance so much as they are with atmosphere (see "Dance of the Water"), an atmosphere that's both dirty and refreshing. Another reason Kalmah avoid sounding boisterous is because of their adherence to mostly basic song structures. Melodic death metal is a comfortable subgenre because it typically avoids sprawling passages, and Swamplord
keeps this fact in-check. One side effect to this, however, is that barely any of the album's tracks stand out for their entire length, all the more evident due to the album's short length (36 minutes). Even those that do muster a more lasting impression aren't going to ingrain themselves in your mind. You'll enjoy what you hear, be it for the first time or the seventh, you'll just have difficulty remembering the tracks after moving on to something else.
Kalmah's first venture into listener's ears is an enjoyable, occasionally stimulating slice of early melodic death metal. Their self-proclaimed brand of "swamp metal" is relatively fitting, although less discerning listeners won't see the album as anything more than competently made Finnish music. The good news is that this is still a better position than most bands find themselves in after two or three albums, and considering Kalmah's future endeavors, this works all the more to their favor. Swamplord
doesn't do enough to stand out in the grand scheme of things, but it does offer enough to keep you entertained and interested while it lasts.