Kuusumu by KuolemanlaaksoRelease date: March 4, 2022
Label: Svart Records
History is a rich source of inspiration for metal bands. From world wars and recent conflicts to plagues, famines and natural disasters throughout the annals of time, there are few tragedies that haven’t been strip-mined for a good riff and a brutal album cover. Finland’s gothic death-doom stalwarts Kuolemanlaakso have decided to look back a bit further for their first album in eight years, way back to the winter of 535. You know, the volcanic one that blocked out the sun for a year and a half, leading to a decade-long winter and famine that was capped by the bubonic plague? Well, if that’s not heavy, then what is?
With Kuusumu, the band already had an uphill struggle on their hands. 2012’s Uljas Uusi Maailma was a stunning debut, eclectic and packed with so many arresting hooks that still stand up today, while its follow-up Tulijoutsen doubled down with tighter musicianship and more focused structuring. It’s not entirely surprising that their third record sits somewhere in between the two, offering up a rich variety of tones, tempos and moods while never abandoning the importance of a crushing riff or hummable melody.
Much of the reason for the success this time round comes directly down to Mikko Kotamäki’s chameleonic vocals. He has both the sharper, blackened screech and the lower, guttural growls of doom and death locked down and he utilises these theatrically, subtly altering the tone and groove as well as any rhythm section. It’s especially effective on more symphonic compositions like ‘Tulessakävelijä’, barking and howling with each turbulent musical shift, and when paired with a contrasting voice. The rich, melodic timbre of Markus Laakso provides a fitting foil but it’s the inclusion of Luna Kills’ Lotta Ruutiainen that makes for the record’s strongest moments, her ghostly presence on ‘Katkeruuden Malja’ giving it an old-world elegance and air of high drama.
Kotamäki isn’t the only shapeshifter at work here. Guitarists Laakso and Kouta are a masterful team, be it on the galloping and (relatively) brisk ‘Kuohuista Tulisten Koskien’, a jagged stop-start riff forming the backbone of one of the band’s most groove-heavy cuts to date, or on the sprawling ‘Surun Sinfonia’, its soft intro a restrained and heart-string-tugging gothic elegy and its chorus so immediately infectious that you’ll be singing it for days. Their range is a massive part of why Kuolemanlaakso have always worked so well at straddling genres and aided by crystal-clear production and gorgeous keyboard flourishes courtesy of Swallow The Sun’s Aleksi Munter, they are given a chance to truly shine here.
In the hands of anyone else, these songs would never have worked but Kuolemanlaakso have continued to show that they are a band who are firmly in control of their sound, a swirling maelstrom of hair-swinging riffage, morose despair and general Finnishness. They have a quality that puts them up their with the greats, with the likes of Amorphis, Reverend Bizarre and, naturally, Swallow The Sun, and even if the world is left to wait another decade for their next offering, we’re already guaranteed that it’ll be worth the wait.