KALMAH stand firmly apart from the herd of Finnish melodic Death Metal bands and their Gothenburg influences. Everything about KALMAH is very heavy fucking Metal. Instead of segueing limply from one recycled riff to the next keyboard drowned chorus, they rampage forward with the fury of the “Painkiller” that JUDAS PRIEST wrote their famous song about. I immediately hated the idea of a KALMAH album called “12 Gauge”, mind you, fearing it might herald some sort of moronic faux-tough attempt at overt brutality and tedious breakdowns.
Never fear my son, KALMAH are simply building on the howling, growling thrust of “The Black Waltz” and the melodic, epic sound of ““For The Revolution”” for a vitalized album that swaggers forth with gunslinging braggadocio and pounds at your skull with the feral, wild nature of the “Swamplord”.
The heart of KALMAH still beats with stomping Thrashy guitar riffs, furious blast-driven swampy wildness, passionate and intricate leads and solos that sound like Kai Hansen covering Slayer. Antti Kokko would make a terrific guitarist in a Power Metal band or a thrash band, and even amongst his talented band mates he consistently steals the show. Brother Pekka's vocals are now perfect. Having toyed with a return to his Black Metal rasps of early days on “For The Revolution”, here Pekka unleashes the huge growls he employed for “The Black Waltz”, with occasional use of rasps to flesh out the sound.
The keyboards of Marco Sneck dominate infrequently, never allowed to mute the aggression of the rest of the band and thereby avoiding a common melodic death mistake. In the latter parts of songs where Sneck breaks out of the guitar and drums carnage with a rapid, whining, keyboard-scaling solo it works brilliantly. The whole band is completely on point - KALMAH never sound lazy, they never ever let up for even a single second. The songs are written to be relentlessly attention grabbing.
“12 Gauge” takes the slightly more layered melodies and guitars of “For The Revolution” and channels them over the rhythmic, pulsing beats of “The Black Waltz” with an added burst of aggression and speed. The dark and mystical feel gives the album some of the same arcane atmosphere as “Swamplord”, while in places the hooky leads recall old classics from “They Will Return” even better than the previous album, so often considered their career-spanning album.
On the whole the album can get fairly technical, with the solos more challenging and the riffs, while not particularly sophisticated, flowing forth with admirable precision and rapidity. “12 Gauge” meshes bold, almost grooved-up Thrash riffs with a galloping Power Metal lead. As always, choruses are something of a strong suit, whether the raging anthemic gang-shouts of “Hook The Monster” and “One Of Fail” or the grim, booming growls on “Godeye.” There is a good deal of symphonic stuff going on, albeit on a very subtle level. A number of tracks use a minimal trumpet presence to subtly accentuate the grandiose war-march KALMAH have toyed with before.
Arising wetly from the smog-layered swamp of their socio-political oddballing, KALMAH unleash a gleaming array of weaponry that draws on their back catalogue as well as playing with new elements that keep things interesting. “Rust Never Sleeps” begins with a mournful, twanging acoustic guitar and the sad wail of trumpets in chorus. “Better Not To Tell” has an almost positive feel to its chirpy guitar loops and confidently marching chorus with more awesome trumpets. This last is an odd one when you first hear it, but a few listens later and I totally get it, a really nice, pumping mid-paced number that stands out amongst KALMAH's most furiously fast album to date. “Godeye” combines tense, slapping melodic Power chords with some of the most blackened KALMAH sections to date, dense, charging blasts of drums and menacing tremolo picked riffing.
Throughout are well-implemented suggestions of melancholy and sadness that manifest as bleak and nihilist soul-consuming sorrow in the form of a huge trudging pilgrimage like “Sacramentum.” This song makes you want to stand roaring at the darkening clouded skies while crying tears of blood, a bone-chilling closing epic that marries frantically paced verse riffs and mouth-tearing growled vocals with a triumphant, tragic wall of leads. Massive throaty guitar chugs are overlaid by sorrowful keyboard melody and move into a beautiful acoustic guitar solo and finally a pummelling climax - undoubtedly one of KALMAH's finest compositions, edging out “My Nation”, “Moon Of My Nights” and “Ready For Salvation” for their best thoughtful piece.
It starts to seem that it almost doesn't matter what KALMAH are doing, everything they play and all the myriad influences they derive from different genres are so intelligently and confidently crammed together that the resulting jigsaw of melodic and brutal Metallicity is unfailingly impressive. Overall this kicks the ass of “For The Revolution” (which I loved) forward through its pelvis and onto the floor, and although it cowers slightly in the face of “The Black Waltz”'s austere visage, I recommend it very fucking highly, good sirs.
(Online January 15, 2012)