In the case of Finnish five-piece Vuolla, nomen really est omen. Their name, which translates as “carve” or “whittle,” is an apt symbol of the group’s reductive and appropriating approach. As they chisel away at a body of work developed from various genres, from post-rock to death metal, it’s difficult to ignore that the essence of their sound is still based in a rehashed version of melancholic doom metal. At least that’s what they present on their full-length début Blood. Stone. Sun. Down. that sees light of day after seven tumultuous, uncertain years and a radical lineup change. Allegedly consolidated and reinvigorated, do Vuolla manage to rid themselves of the dusty, nostalgia-filled bouquets of the genre?
Unfortunately, the answer is a simple “no.” Blood. Stone. Sun. Down. is a competently executed, yet completely unremarkable work that doesn’t manage to distance itself from years upon years and hundreds upon hundreds of comparable works. Over the 66 minutes of the release, the music follows formulaic, very steady and predictable patterns, foregoing any progressions or intricate structures. Instead, it favours anticipated heavy-mellow-heavy alternations accompanied by similarly expected variations of vocal styles, guitar tunings, and keyboard effects. Of course, the same could be said of many great records and bands in the genre—besides, comfort in familiarity is not to be dismissed lightly—but in the case of Vuolla this easily perceivable lack of imagination is also evident in the songwriting, with all the tunes sounding similar to each other and based on an unexciting, unmemorable template. To listen to Blood. Stone. Sun. Down. is to wallow in tepidness, with the pleasant feelings of conventional forms and several welcome, satisfying passages making way for a tediousness that sets in quite early. Even when the musicians manage to strike a nice balance of riffs, synths, and interesting vocal lines, they disappointingly dissolve these sections by dragging them on for too long.
The band’s shortcomings are evident right from the opening “Death Incredible,” that features an abrupt segue from the soft and acoustic into rockish moods. The song relies on a simple rhythm, simple riffing, and synths cheesy to the point of annoyance. Following the lowest point of the material in form of the bland post-rock hymn “Rain Garden,” the overtly long record enters its final third. The keyboards change from symphonic to rough Hammond organ mimicries and Vuolla produce their three standout tracks: “Rivers in Me,” “Film,” and “Quiet Cold.” While not really exceptional songs, some occasionally cool riffing and harmonies raise them above the mediocrity of the other material. These cuts tread a line that encompasses many genres, but the borrowed elements are used verbatim, mashed and glued together as if by a child trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Aside from post-rockish meditations, the most obvious of influences, which they don’t shy from mentioning in their promo blurb, stem from their fellow citizens Swallow the Sun. This connection is made especially conspicuous during the aggressive “Emperor,” whilst the album’s general atmosphere draws mostly from early era Anathema, with more than a few nods towards their alt. rock tendencies as well.
Regarding the album’s execution [Which you’re obviously in favor of. – Steel Druhm], my biggest gripe is with the vocal performance. While the growled sections are solid, things are made worse by the clean vocals, courtesy of keyboardist Kati Kallinen. Even if possessing a certain agreeably sensitive and fragile quality, they are thin and strained, without proper extension and devoid of any sort of interesting coloration. Kallinen thus renders her phrases flat and without nuance, sounding dangerously close to being off-key at times, and evoking mainstream acts such as Evanescence in her delivery. Whether this could have been remedied by overlapping Kalle Korhonen’s death metal rasps with Kallinen’s angelic delivery, we’ll never know, as each of the vocalists is neatly compartmentalized within their own segments.
While the likes of Katatonia and Anathema felt the need to constantly reinvent themselves and progress their sound, here we have an outfit that dives straight into the styles and movements those bands were trying to leave behind. A record that, although inoffensive, is that much harder to recommend.