Ever since their debut, 2000’s “Swamplord,” Finland’s KALMAH has been trying to get out of the shadow of CHILDREN OF BODOM. There have been people on both sides of the debate, some claiming that they were a flagrant rip-off, others saying they were simply playing the same style. With each subsequent release, they’ve distanced themselves from the comparison, in general getting heavier, exploring the (melodic) Death aspect of the sound. Following the pattern, they get a bit less Power Metal on each album. Does it work?
Meh. Really, my initial reaction was underwhelming indifference to the album. KALMAH’s big problem always has been that their albums are always less than the sum of their parts. Pick an isolated song and they kick ass. Play a whole album and that kick-ass song sinks into an indeterminate mass of songs that sound too alike to differentiate. Check out the openings to “Defeat” (no keyboards), “The Black Waltz” (keyboards and histrionics), “Groan Of The Wind” (slow) and “With Terminal Intensity” (keyboards and guitar, no histrionics); I can’t shake that they sound so similar with different embellishments. And that repetitiveness is the big problem with “The Black Waltz,” compounded by the shift in style.
Both Antti Kokko’s guitar and new keyboardist Marco Sneck’s ivories seem much more subdued on this record. They’re not gone and they’re still at the fore, but they simply aren’t as agile or adventurous as on previous albums. Every now and then Sneck hints at a neo-classical run COB popularized, but such appearances seem limited to segues rather than actual solos where he might have a chance to shine. Pekka Kokko’s vocals are also changed, moving down the register from his higher-pitched snarl to lower, monotonous growl—not necessarily a good change. Really I thought KALMAH had a new singer until I checked the liner notes.
In trying to find their own identity KALMAH has released a disappointing album that never really seems to convince itself that it’s doing the right things. It’s by no means a bad album; maybe it would have scored better if I didn’t know that KALMAH was capable of more that this. Maybe I wouldn’t have seen the awkwardness if I didn’t know what they sounded like before. Some people will probably like the move to a heavier, grittier sound, but it really comes up short, as no song differentiates itself from the others and the entirety sounds forced. It sounds like the band has pushed themselves somewhere they don’t want to go in their search for individuality. (Online July 13, 2006)