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Review: Kalmah’s Seventh Swamphony Isn’t Bogged Down In the Slightest

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At MetalSucks, we tend to harp on about progress, innovation, adaptation, and I’m one of the worst offenders. But some bands do manage to sound both consistent and compelling album after album, and incorporate unique elements without trying to force their music into becoming something it’s not. Many of these artists reside in the realm of melodic death metal, a genre that’s no longer my immediate favorite but which produces more dependably great artists than I smoke bowls. Kalmah’s 2013 offering Seventh Swamphony is, obviously, the band’s seventh full-length, and it’s a skillfully crafted continuation of their previous efforts even if the band aren’t attempting to forge a groundbreaking new identity for their genre.

Kalmah pick up where they left off with 2010’s 12 Gauge. The band are still decidedly guitar-oriented: brothers & guitarists Antti and Pekka Kokko continue to intensify their technicality, and Seventh Swamphony slams riff after riff in true Kalmah fashion, pairing exuberant melodies with an abrasive whiff of black metal and a raucous hint of groove. Piercing guitar beams fill perfect niches in tracks like “Black Marten’s Trace,” while Dissection-inspired passages streak by like wind. Ponderous cymbal abuse aids drummer Janne Kusmin in crafting some of the most listenable percussive patterns in the genre. Many melodeath artists scrape the luster off their albums by including excessive numbers of tracks, but Kalmah keep their album to just eight, allowing Seventh Swamphony to develop a tight arc that begins and ends with an organic burst of adrenaline.

This stylistic consistency doesn’t mean that Kalmah are afraid to venture into uncharted swampland. At seven and a half minutes, “Hollo” is the band’s most expansive song yet written, and it’s the first to include glacial, depressive clean vocals, which trace a treacly current of Woods of Ypres-shaped melancholy through the track. And though fans were initially skeptical of the band’s new keyboardist Veli-Matti Kananen, the LED-streaked solos and the rippling wash of tracks like “Deadfall” demonstrate that his appearance doesn’t reflect his musical ability. Accents are slotted into their perfect vocations, and the guitar/keyboard finger fireworks will be enough to make Dream Theater fans cream multiple pairs of pants, although the keyboard tone occasionally is bagged down with an overly saccharine, cotton-candy saw sound.

The points that make Seventh Swamphony strong also are the album’s weaknesses. The music isn’t a deviation from Kalmah’s sound, for better and for worse – some critics will likely dismiss the album as samey. Diehard fans will appreciate it, but without some kind of widespread touring cycle, the album isn’t going to catapult Kalmah to unprecedented stardom. I can nitpick at the production as well: the kick drum doesn’t race with the same enthusiasm it did on the last two Kalmah records, and treble overwhelms the compositions in especially busy sections. Pekka’s vocals get buried under the instrumentation, and his vocalizations are powerful but all too often unremarkable in terms of tone.

Still, Seventh Swamphony is fun, and nearly every song is rewarding. I initially deemed “Windlake Tale” one of the weakest tracks on the album, but multiple listens have allowed me to appreciate the vigor of Antti’s thrashing, the mid-song leads that swim subversively under a furious crush of keys, and the nostalgia of the warily-baroque shred that closes out the track. Poor titles aside, Seventh Swamphony is proof that bands like Kalmah can continue to kick ass without needing any sort of a revolution to stay afloat.

Seventh Swamphony comes out on Spinefarm Records on June 14 in Europe  and June 17 in North America. Preorder packages are available here.

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