Kuolemanlaakso – Tulijoutsen Review

Kuolemanlaakso_TulijoutsenThe majesty and grandeur of the Finnish wilderness has been source material for a veritable fuckload of metal bands over the years, with Amorphis and Korpiklaani being the better known examples. Those untamed forests and pristine lakes apparently beckoned to the folks in Kuolemanlaakso as well, since their sophomore album  is a loose conceptual piece focused on the Finnish countryside and the national folklore that featured it so prominently. In order to commune with their magical wood muse, the band sequestered themselves in a remote cabin deep in the woods for the writing and recording of Tulijoutsen, and while I can’t opine on whether the Olden Tree Gods blessed the process, I can say this is a very good and also very odd slab of doom/death loaded with Celtic Frost and Triptykon worship. It’s heavy enough to crush bricks and skulls, but also experimental and offbeat enough to keep the listener off balance and guessing. In a way, it’s like a doom/death version of Agalloch‘s The Mantle, and much like that classic platter, it’s an aural experience that requires complete immersion and rumination in order to fully appreciate the band’s vision. If you have ADHD, stop reading now (if you haven’t already).

The first thing that becomes clear is how much of the Triptykon/Celtic Frost sound Kuolemanlaakso borrowed. That huge, oppressive guitar tone leaps right out at the listener and cracks you in the gob. The fact the production was handled by V. Santura of Triptykon surely played a role, and they’re better off for it, as the influence adds an insane amount of heft to the material. Opener “Aarnivalkea” is awash with ginormously crushing riffs and the versatile vocals of Mikko Kotamaki (Swallow the Sun, ex-Barren Earth). As the riffs pulverize the listener’s skeletal system, he effortlessly jumps between huge death roars, blackened rasps and clean singing, thereby keeping things interesting.

KUOLEMANLAAKSO_2014The larger-than-Jesus riffs that begin “Verhaaksi” remind me of the oppressive tones Saint Vitus had on Die Healing, and they churn things up nicely before easing into Agalloch-like trills and drones. Manic-depressive screams and uber low death roars are interwoven throughout the song to jar and shock, and the dichotomy between hypnotic and brutal is impressive. The excellent “Me Vaellamme Yossa” is carried over from last year’s Musta Aurinko Nousee EP and it’s still a world beating doom death ditty with real accessibility and winningly morose riffs. “Arpeni” is the most similar to Triptykon/Frost and the riffs pummel with that same “Procreation of the Wicked” power that made Morbid Tales such a landmark album.

Thing get strange on “Glastonburyn Lehto,” which sounds like Moonspell doing a hipster, beatnik cabaret act with acoustic strumming, heavily accented clean singing and a super-trippy, funky vibe. It’s not bad at all, but it’s such a departure from the heavy material that it’s a bit disorienting. Elsewhere, “Tuonen Tahtivyo” sounds like a way creepier Rammstein before lurching into black metal structures with choirs, evil cackling and oddly uplifting riffing and synths.

This is an album meant to be experienced as a whole and with the exception of “Me Vaellamme Yossa,” the individual songs don’t have much of a standalone identity. They do all maintain a consistent appeal though, with only “Musta” falling short of its peers in terms of staying power. The bigger problem for Tulijoutsen is the length of some of the songs and the album itself. At almost 60 minutes of mega-heavy doom/death, it will be a struggle for many to listen to it as a whole. It also suffers from some drag on the back end, with the best material jammed upfront.

Mikko_KotamakiIf ever there was a riff-centric platter, this is it. Guitarists Kouta and Laakso (both of Chaosweaver) certainly had their Celtic Frost-ed Flakes each morning during their cabin retreat, and many of their liquefyingly heavy riffs carry the earmarks of those beloved Swiss slayers. To keep things interesting, they mix in sedate, sleepy segments, blackened thrash and melancholy trilling and some songs feel like a jigsaw puzzle of genres, but all are seamlessly melded into their doom/death template. The band’s secret weapon though, is Kotamaki. His wide ranging, style-jumping vocals help keep the music lively even when the riffs go into drone mode. The man is a master of styles and I think he’s doing his best work here.

Tulijoutsen is a fascinating album loaded with big riffs, nasty vocals and nicely diverse writing. It could have been trimmed and shortened a bit, but it has a weird charm that grows with each listen. If you want a mood piece album to lose yourself in, this is your baby daddy. Put the headphones on, turn off the lights and let Kuolemanlaakso take you to the dark woods.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
Label: Svart Records
Websites: facebook.com/kuolemanlaakso
Release Dates: Out Worldwide on 02.28.2014

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