For those of you who don't know, AJATTARA is a sideproject of AMORPHIS-singer Pasi Koskinen, though he adopts the pseudonym Ruoja here, and with it a completely different personality. Ruoja seems to be Pasi's evil twin churning out blistering, yet melodic Black Metal, whereas Pasi's main band has become more sophisticated with every release. "Kuolema" ("Death", I'll try to translate the Finnish words as best as I can here) is the follow-up to AJATTARA's debut "Itse" ("Self") which caused quite a stir when it was released back in 2001 and which Wes wrote an excellent review for. Once again AJATTARA takes its inspiration from Finnish folklore and sings, or rather chants, in the poetic measure used in Kalevala. And once again the result is unique and unsettling.
The first thing I noticed when playing this was the keyboards. They have a bigger role here than on the debut. Despite that they only rarely jump at your face like on the starter "Antakaa Elää" ("Allow To Live"). Rather, they are used to create an eerie atmosphere than to show Ruoja's skill with them. The songs rely on mid-tempo blasting but are never quite that simple. AJATTARA knows when to slow things down a bit and grind you into dust with pure heaviness, and when to speed it up with thrashing guitars and blastbeats that nail the poor listener to the wall, like the almost groovy "Haureus" ("Fornication") or the thundering "Huoran Alla" ("Under The Harlot").
Then we have a rare treat on "Helvetissä On Syntisen Taivas" ("Sinner's Heaven Is In Hell"), their demo from 1998. Probably remastered, or possibly even completely redone, as the quality is just as good as on the other tracks. This song portrays every aspect that is AJATTARA, from the slow, suffocating heaviness to the blistering chorus and lyrics speaking of blood raining from the sky and a corpse waking from the grave with lungs filled with foul air. The ending track "Rauhassa" ("In Peace") introduces some nice back-up vocals in the chorus-section, which really spices this song up.
The lyrics are worthy of a special note. They are really evil, and I mean evil as in splitting one's head with an axe or severed heads upon seven stakes with a dismembered body lying at their feet. The topic of the lyrics would in lesser hands become something very ridiculous indeed, but the poetic measure and ancient language combined with a chant-like delivery makes you feel just very, very uneasy. Like you are alone in the forest. Miles and miles from civilization. Sensing something sinister is lurking nearby...
However, trying to translate the lyrics is ultimately futile as they lose a huge amount of their effectiveness in any other language.
All in all nearly every track on "Kuolema" has a stomping groove reminiscent of FINNTROLL to them. Still, even though the songs on "Kuolema" are often better than the ones on "Itse" they lack that special primitive atmosphere that made "Itse" such a haunting experience. And besides the small fact that a playing time of only little over 30 minutes isn't nearly enough to fully satisfy me, but then again I can get very picky. Apart from these minor negative points "Kuolema" is still an incredibly strong album and will undoubtedly be one of the strongest Finnish Metal releases of this year. (Online June 9, 2003)