As the only blackened thrash band willing to sing about fishing and fish generally, Kalmah always had a special place in my outdoorsy heart. I mean, who else can make simple tales of man vs. fish seem so epic and life threatening? I was impressed by their first four outings (with Swampsong being my favorite), but was let down by their For the Revolution opus, which felt quite tedious. While things kicked back up for the enjoyable 12 Gauge, it still felt like a band entering the “spinning the wheels” period of their career. Thankfully, Seventh Swamphony sees these psychotic fishermen make a triumphant return to the off-the-rails, blackened thrash of old which straddles the line between the melodic tomfoolery of Children of Bodom and more extreme, cvlt black/death acts. With a new keyboardist onboard, they’ve beefed up their place in the sound to give the material a bigger, more epic vibe, while continuing to showcase their penchant for speedy, infectiously melodic riffs and chaotic vocals that swerve from black rasps to death bellows. They also include a strong Korpiklaani-like folk influence at times that adds just enough diversity to break up the shredding. While their style can be exhausting, most of the tunes here are rabble-rousing good times loaded with enough energetic panache to overwhelm the sense of “been there, caught that fish, got the t-shirt” that sets in after seven albums of largely undiluted swamp thrash.
As things erupt from the mire with the raging title track, you can practically feel the moss and brackish water flying around in a thrashy rage. It’s pure, old-timey Kalmah in all their furious glory, but with a much bigger keyboard presence running along with the twin guitar attack. The riffs are kinetic and memorable and Pekka Kokko’s vocals are as insane as even. For good measure they toss in some quiet acoustic refrains in between thrash assaults and the song is a wild roller-coaster of Maiden-esque solos, black thrash riffs and symphonic keyboard noodling. It’s undeniably fun and tasty stuff.
The good times keep rolling with the jaunty speed and gang chorus of “Deadfall” and the folk-infused mayhem of “Pikemaster.” Kalmah borrows a big page from Korpiklaani during the folksy, mid-tempo rumble of “Hollo” and the blend of harsh and clean vocals works rather well. There are a plethora of engaging melodic leads and solos to spice things up and the group chorus reminds me of the singing dwarves from The Hobbit.
The back-half is less addictive, but it holds together and tracks like “Black Marten’s Trace” and “The Trapper” overcome monotony with many fun-filled riffs and sincere enthusiasm. The more doomy, Amorphis/Insomnium-like vibe on the latter is especially pleasant and a nice diversion from the speed pummeling the rest of the album offers. The only track that feels like a misstep is “Wolves in the Throne,” which drags on too long and overstays it’s welcome a bit, though it has it’s share of cool musical moments.
Speaking of overstaying one’s welcome, Kalmah wisely avoids this by limiting Seventh Swamphony to eight songs clocking in at a mere forty-one minutes. With music like this, that’s just about the perfect cut off point and anything extra would have started to feel like too much of a good thing. I wish more bands were able to show such admirable restraint.
As always, Kalmah‘s music is an air-guitar aficionado’s wet dream and every song is crammed full of riffs and solos that would be insanely fun to play on Guitar Hero. Whether they go for full on thrash, traditional metal riffs or anything else, Pekka Kokko and lead guitarist Antti Kokko (some relation) have a knack for crafting memorable and fist-raising music that keeps even slightly weak songs interesting. The melodic flourishes all over the title track are impossible to dislike and tunes like “Windlake Tale” and “Black Marten’s Trace” are so full of interesting dual harmonies, they pass by in the blink of a fish eye. Pekka’s black and death vox are well-executed as always and his ability to bounce between them is to be applauded. I’m not sure if he handles the cleans during “Hollo,” but if so, color me impressed. New keyboard wiz Veli-Matti Kananen (Tacere) brings his A-game and the enlarged presence of the keys works better than one would expect. Sure, it makes them sound more like old Children of Bodom, but I’ve always liked these guys better anyway, so who cares?
While somewhat front-loaded and hardly innovative, Seventh Swamphony reminds me why I enjoyed Kalmah‘s older stuff so much and proves there’s still some fight in this here fish. As one of the only major acts not to shit the bed in 2013, I salute them (compare this to the tire fire that is the new Megadeth, I dare you). I welcome the return of our swamp overlords and so should you. Now, go cast those damn nets!