Kalmah - _12 Gauge_
(Spinefarm Records, 2010)
by: Mark Dolson (10 out of 10)
Yet again, Kalmah deliver the goods with their follow-up to 2008's _For the Revolution_. As soon as I hit play on my car's CD player, I knew _12 Gauge_ was going to be a great record -- and I wasn't wrong. To me, Kalmah really started to pick up steam and forge their own identity with 2006's _The Black Waltz_. On the aforesaid release, the band drifted away from the Children of Bodom-styled moorings which held them fast to their first three releases, _Swamplord_ (2000), _They Will Return_ (2002), and _Swampsongs_ (2003). As such, the band exhibited a rather new approach, showcasing a new-found ability to weave absolute thrashy heaviness (doubtless leaning back on the roots of Kalmah's former incarnation, Ancestor), and highly intricate and memorable melodies.

This heaviness was not only evidenced in the guitar tone and its expression through amazing riffs, the flawless drum-sound, but also in frontman Pekka Kokko's vocals: which went from a higher-register -- and dare I say sort of hackneyed -- rasp, to a really low death metal growl. In 2008, the band strangely moved away from their newly laid heavy foundations, and built an interesting, albeit symphonically intricate and less heavy structure called _For the Revolution_. Here, the band seemed to move into more symphonic and bombastic territory, sacrificing heaviness for complexity (a bit of a regression). As well, Kokko changed the vocal approach again, and interspersed his low death metal growls with higher-pitched rasps. As a result of some of these changes, I was left with a sense of wanting more.

Now, on to the formidable _12 Gauge_. I am most pleased to say that this album should really have been the follow up to _The Black Waltz_. The similarities are that it's really heavy, a little less symphonic and bombastic, and Kokko decided to bring back the growls, only briefly punctuating them with moments of high-pitched raspiness. The best part -- to me, anyways -- is Kalmah's singular ability to easily thread the weft of their down-tuned sensibility with the warp of melodic intricacy. So, then, what do we get exactly with _12 Gauge_ other than an odd title? Well, since I have limited space here, I deal with some highlights. The first track, "Rust Never Sleeps", starts out with an amazing acoustic guitar-cum-trumpet crescendo (reminding me of something from the first Ulver, save for the trumpet), which then haemorrhages abruptly with a series heavy and melodic riffs, fast double-bass drumming, and... there you have it... those infectious Kalmah melodies subtended by Marco Sneck's adept synth manipulations (check out his solo at the 3:09 mark -- it's great).

"Swampwar" features a different kind of melody -- quite different from what we're used to hearing from Kalmah -- which for some odd reason reminds me of the In Flames song "Suburban Me". "Better Not to Tell", a slower-paced affair, has a very dark and melancholic feel to it -- similar to the way "Ready for Salvation" did on _For the Revolution_. The very brief synth appearance on this song reminds me of something right from a Moonsorrow album (check out the 2:22 mark to see what I mean). What I find interesting about these last two songs is that the synths really take on a lesser role in contrast to typical Kalmah songs. Perhaps this is an adumbration for a new direction?

In line with the old adage, "save the best for last", Kalmah have slotted the mighty and depressively emotive "Sacramentum" as the final song on _12 Guage_. From start to finish, this six and a half minute song is simply awesome. With its sombre melody, the song paints a bleak picture of someone who has lost everything he (or she) believes in, and is on the verge of existential collapse. The best part of the song, though, is at the 3:48 minute mark, where things slow down and Anti Kokko's acoustic guitars dance about languidly before Sneck's best synth performance yet makes its appearance --- wow, what a goosebump-inducing solo.

Well, without gushing too much, I definitely feel that this is the best Kalmah record to date. While I liked _For the Revolution_, I still feel that it pales in comparison to _The Black Waltz_. And for those who agree with me, maybe you'll see why I feel that _12 Gauge_ picks up where _The Black Waltz_ left off. For those who haven't yet seen it, make sure to check out the official video for the song "12 Gauge". While I thought it was a joke at first, subsequent viewings made me realise that the video excellent insofar as it's creative and pretty unconventional to say the least (read: it's humourous). Part of the reason why I like it so much is that the Finnish landscape around the Pudasjärvi region (Kalmah's home town in the north of Finland) reminds me quite a lot of the countryside in my home province of southwestern Ontario.

Contact: http://www.myspace.com/kalmahofficial

(article published 29/5/2010)

7/3/2002 A Bromley Kalmah: They'Re Back
3/13/2001 A Bromley Kalmah: Warriors on the Metal Path
12/5/2003 Q Kalis 8 Kalmah - Swampsong
1/10/2001 A Bromley 8 Kalmah - Swamplord
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