Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu Review

Kuolemanlaakso have been a tricky beast to track over their 10-year existence. Featuring Swallow the Sun’s Mikko Kotamäki on vocals and several members of Chaoweaver, they started out as a straightforward doom-death act. They evolved into something stranger and more expansive by their sophomore opus Tulijoutsen, blending several genres together into an intriguing and unique sound. Two years later they befuddled everyone by releasing M. Laakso – Vol I: The Gothic Tapes, which had nothing to do with their prior sound, replacing it with a rocked-out, cheesy goth metal. It was such a startling departure that I wrote the band off entirely. Five years of silence followed, and now they return with Kuusumu and yet another shift in sound and style. This is much more in line with what they were doing on Tulijoutsen but the goth rock elements are not entirely gone. At times it sounds like the band is stuck between the two stages of their career and unsure where they want to go, and the resulting material is hit or miss. It’s an improvement over the last one to be sure, but that’s a low bar.

Oddball opener “Pimeys laski” delivers weighty doom riffs and forlorn trilling accompanied by Mikko’s trademark sadboi cleans, backed by haunting female choirs. As the song plods forward it falls into a weird but captivating soup of dramatic cleans and blackened rasps that catch and hold the attention. Some abrupt shifts in tempo and mood keep things lively and the strangeness factor works in its favor. Lead single “Katkeruuden malja” refocuses on the goth elements with Lotta Ruutiainen of Luna Kills joining Mikko. It’s a bit all over the map mood-wise and at times the cheese factor makes it sound like a Crematory clone but with most of the cringe-inducing goofiness leached out.

From there, things swing from good to weird to simply less good. Some songs have interesting elements but ultimately fail to leave a lasting impression or draw me back for more (“Surusta meri suolainen” and “Kuohuista tulisten koskien”), and then there’s the ginormous “Surun sinfonia.” This one takes nearly 9 minutes to fully unfold its mammoth girth but you won’t mind much as the band pummels you with 90s Peaceville glory and a chunky doom smoothy made from Moonspell, Insomnium, Amon Amarth and Finntroll. With moods ranging from depressive to melancholic and epic, it’s quite the set-piece and leaves the listener both wanting more and asking why the rest of the album compares so unfavorable to this titan. Unfortunately, this winner is immediately followed by “Pedon vaisto” which tries to marry goth doom with black metal but the whole thing feels stale and unserious. Even the blastbeat segment comes off as empty and uninspired. The production is very clean and open, and I wish the guitars had far more punch and menace. At just under 47 minutes, Kuusumu isn’t an unreasonable length, but bloat is an issue on most tracks. This paired with uneven writing spells trouble easier than anyone can spell that band name.

Mikko Kotamäki is a very talented frontman, delivering emotive cleans, booming death roars and evil blackened rasps. He’s always a boon to the material and elevates that which can be elevated. Savon Surma and Markus Laakso (both formerly of Chaosweaver) provide some interesting doom riffs, weepy harmonies and meandering experimentation. They’re a talented tandem capable of effectively synthesizing numerous genres of metal into their writing. On the flip side, it’s that writing process that ultimately undercuts this endeavor, feeling like a kitchen sink free-for-all at times, with disparate ideas stuck together with duct tape and bubblegum. The transitions are sometimes so awkward they trigger sniggers from the listener, and good moments are often offset by less good ones, making for a challenging experience.

Kuusumu is a weird and ultimately unsatisfying album with scattered moments of greatness. This is frustrating because the band is clearly talented and willing to take risks. Risks don’t always pay off though. Still, I’m glad to see Kuolemanlaakso back and moving away from the goth rock thing, and the talent is so deep that they’re capable of great things when the proper muse hits. Here’s hoping they get hit hard next time.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Svart
Websites: kuolemanlaakso.net | kuolemanlaakso.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/kuolemanlaakso
Releases Worldwide: March 5th, 2022

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