Kalmah
Kalmah

As human beings, there’s a certain amount of structure we all crave in our lives. Perhaps some more than others, sure, but even the most ardent agents of chaos amongst us still rely on the wick of that stick of dynamite lighting and leading to detonation. I can’t imagine The Joker would find it so funny if the bomb he planted in the middle of Gotham detonated and released a bunch of puppies instead of exploding and taking out city hall. You may thrive on being an instigator, or maybe you’re one of those self-absorbed, Elon Musk-worshipping dorks who call themselves an “agitator” or “change facilitator” (gross), but at the end of the day, you rely on that reaction to your behavior. There is comfort and necessity to consistency, no matter how you frame it.

When it comes to musical artists however – consistency is often considered a byword for “boring.” Of course, everything is a double-edged sword for musicians; release too many albums that sound similar, and you’re brandished as “unimaginative,” but stray too far from the sound that won over your fan base? Suddenly you’re a “sell out” or, at the very least, you’re trapped in an endless purgatory of “MEHHHHH WHEN ARE THEY GONNA GO BACK TO HOW THEY USED TO SOUND????” which is a place I wish on no one.

If ever there was a word to describe Finland’s Kalmah, it would – without question – be “consistent.” Whether you want to categorize that a good or bad thing, depends entirely on the listener, but what cannot be denied regardless of how you feel on that subject is Kalmah’s dedication to their distinct sound, and the quality of their output – which has always been excellent. Maybe it comes down to the country’s stereotypically straightforward, no-bullshit sense of character, but this does seems to be a particularly Finnish trait, especially when it comes to their melodeath: Amorphis, Mors Principium Est, Insomnium, Omnium Gatherum, Norther, any one of Tuomas Saukkonen 37 active projects – these are all shining beacons of stability, focus and reliability in the world of metal, and every single one of them have been accused by some of going back to the well a few too many times. But to others, like myself? This is a murderers row of the finest examples you will find in the genre.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “this sure seems like a long build up to say Kalmah sounds a lot like Kalmah,” well… you’re right. Kalmah sounds like a Kalmah record. And it fuckin’ rules.

But you knew that, right? What else did you expect from a band finally putting out a self-titled release after 25 years in the business? That’s not exactly the time for a re-brand. No, Finland’s kings of the swamp are delivering the same high-intensity, full-throttle product they’ve always been known for, generally opting to keep the accelerator pedal floored for maximum attack (save for the occasional gloomier samplings on “No Words Sad Enough” and the more solemn, but no less majestic album closer, “Drifting in a Dream”). Soon as the light turns green on “Haunted by Guilt,” you’re strapped in for the ride, my friends – first with as thrashy a riff as you’ve ever heard from this lot, and then kicked into gear with incredibly catchy, intricate leads both from guitarist Antti Kokko and keyboardist Veli-Matti Kanenen. Of course, it’s those leads that give Kalmah is signature uplifting, almost joyous sound that instantly makes you want to bang your head and grin ear-to-ear like an unbridled lunatic. Even as you’re trying to catch your breath after the first onslaught, “Veil of Sin” kicks in with another barn-burner from Antti who, even this long into the game, is still crafting as impressive a collection of guitar leads as you’ll find anywhere. But a great lead is only as good as the riffs backing them, and the ones thrown down on the track are superb, deftly mixing the speed you expect with the heft you want at will.

And of course, that’s just the start of blitzkrieg wizardry on display. “Scarred by Sadness” again sounds much more triumphant than the title might suggest, and boasts the back-and-forth guitar and keyboard interplay that made Children of Bodom such an enthralling listening experience, and marked with the sort of guitar mastery that made people so at-awe with Wintersun. Then there’s the amazingly-titled “Tons of Chaos” which I assume will be adopted as the theme song for the next 70000 Tons of Metal cruise, and rightfully so. The heft of the main riff combined with another simple, but highly effective lead, makes for an absolute earworm, not to mention the gang-vocal refrain of “TONS OF CHAOS,” which, yes, of course I want to shout along with, as should you. It’s brilliant and dumb in equal measure, which just makes it even more brilliant in my book.

Truly, what makes the Kalmah formula work (and objectively that’s what it is – a formula) is the connection shared by the Kokko brothers on guitar. The way the two of them work is practically symbiotic – perfect riffs matched with perfect melodies and leads that every good song into a great one. You don’t need to re-write the book on yourself when you’re operating on this level. The entire middle section of “Serve the Untrue,” from its huge chorus, to it’s war-drum-pounding bridge, to its outrageous solo, is basically a Melodic Death Metal cheat code. I do not care that it all seems vaguely familiar – it’s too good to give me any concern. And lets face it, when you’re a quarter-century into your career and still able to whip out bangers like “Home Sweet Hell” and “… Red and Black,” why the hell would you bother changing the script? It’d be like a football team going into halftime up 40 points, and completely changing the game plan. Just keep doing what works! Touchdowns are exciting whether it puts you up by 3 points, or 73 points. Kalmah is still exciting because they’re still really fucking good at what they do.

I know I’ve already gone on a lot longer than is actually necessary, so I’ll leave you with what my original review was going to be before the boss gave me a dope slap and sent me back to the drawing board;

Is this a new Kalmah record? Yes.

Does it kinda sound a little like other Kalmah records? Yep.

Is that a bad thing? You already know that it is not.

See? Easy peasy.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
June 5th, 2023

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