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"Swampsong" is Kalmah's third album and the first change in their style. While "Swamplord" offered a few memorable moments, but songs that failed to live up to these expectations, "They Will Return" has some of my very favorites by the band. The first was written by the Kokko brothers alone, when the second was more of a band effort. These two albums are highly similar. Both of them are practically melodic death metal, with occasional elements of black metal and power metal. The latter especially on "They Will Return", as the prominence of keyboards grew and they sound akin to Stratovarius or some other band of the kind. Even though "Swampsong" isn't an escape to another style, it's still different enough to keep things interesting. Even though I cannot claim I would have welcomed the changes right away, years have proven it to be insurmountable.
"Heroes To Us" showcases a somewhat new kind of a melody to Kalmah, yet doesn't deliver anything new to the melodic death metal scene of Finland. The power/black approach of the two first album seems to be mostly discarded, the songs remain fast and the melodies are as infectious as they are variable. You get what you were expecting if you had heard the previous efforts but won't get bored cause it really isn't third in a row of similar albums. Kokko still offers his better, more varied and haunting vocal delivery, which he unfortunately abandoned on the later albums in favor of a more monotonous growl.
The changes include a change in the guitars. While the preceding albums had a thin sound, that complimented on the power metal side of the band, "Swampsong" adds a healthy dose of distortion and roots themselves stronger in death. Also the keyboards have abandoned that irritating sound they had before. On this album they are more varied as well. At best very ethereal and flowing through songs like never before.
The band isn't afraid to show their skills, but luckily the technicality never goes to excessive amounts. Kalmah has been accused of sounding seriously like some other bands (COB), but they found their sound on the first album already and have been developing it ever since. They have their place on the Finnish death metal map and no one seems to be taking it away any-day soon. This album makes certain of that. On the downside, I have to say that I can't help but feel, that they are still too strongly rooted on the material of their first album and it seems as if they are still trying to force it to a new mold. For the third time.
Apart from the aforementioned "Heroes To Us" the album highlights stand as "The Third, The Magical" and the "Moon of My Nights", both showcasing why Pasi Hiltula should have stayed with the band. Especially the latter, which in all of it's solemn serenity is by far one of the best songs by the band.
Kalmah amped up the production overall and distortion on the guitars. They’re crunchier, with a weighty bite compared to any of their other albums. Swampsong’s polished appeal paired with this harsher, more ruthless edge gives it a very lethal finish. It’s the band still applying their crafty melodic death formula of elegant leads and punishing riffs. The catch this time is now that formula has a crispier, crushing luster to it. While that may be the largest change to create such a distinctive album among Kalmah’s discography, it’s the push into an even darker direction that puts this on equal footing with the first two albums.
Right from the start is one of the band’s most outstanding, anthemic songs, “Heroes To Us”. Not counting that grinding noise for the outro on some versions, it sums up this album perfectly: vicious, emotional, unwavering, and full of leads and riffs. It’s a powerful song with Pekka’s nasty screams and resonant growls to command some meaty riffs, thick bass, and assaulting drums; same aggression, new textures. It goes on for the rest of the album, which doesn’t hold back whatsoever. Everything’s rich, fulfilling, energetic, and focused like always.
The band’s ability to keep songs catchy, interesting, and cohesive with each other is useful in maintaining a full package. That’s the case here, with the proper blend of black, heavy, power, and thrash into a melodic death core. To put it to the test are the most melodic songs on the album, “The Third, The Magical” and “Moon Of My Nights” (the bonus song “Suodeth” also fits and is an awesome addition). Both of these slower, more atmospheric songs have one thing that makes them some of my favorite Kalmah songs – Pasi Hiltula’s astounding keyboard melodies. Now the Kokko brothers are perfect in providing fitting leads and riffs, but it’s Pasi’s enthralling keys in these two songs that make them haunting. The latter, “Moon Of My Nights,” has one of my favorite keyboard melodies ever. Its poignancy is expressed so resolutely in what amounts to be the band’s most solemn song. Here Pekka’s vocals become more comprehensible and measured at times, which may put off some, but it’s more suitable than disrupting.
This album completes the trilogy showcasing the band’s remarkable beginnings. To me, Kalmah got less brilliant after this, but they were no less impressive in maintaining a standard to which most others in melodic death would never attain. Their best work would always be on these first three, which I remember stunning me when I first heard them as I was breaking into metal years ago. Hopefully it does the same to others, as it is no less important once introduced.
Kalmah to me is one of these rare bands that manage to transcend genres. When it comes to melodic death metal it's even more impressive to be able to stand out so much. See, as I went through my high school years, I have discovered various bands. Kalmah was one of my first loves when it comes to metal music. I've grown from a melodeath kid to what I am now. Nowadays I love black, folk, death, progressive, sludge, drone, doom, etc. But back then, melodic death metal was the shit. Only problem is... melodic death metal isn't a genre that offers space for infinite possibilities. For some reason, many bands of the genre are perfect copies of others. And this is what makes Kalmah so fantastic. These guys have their very own personality. If their last three albums do not stand out as very unique, their first three full-length releases were absolutely outstanding. I had and hard time picking the album I wanted to review the most out of these three. But I finally ended up picking Swampsong. It's my favorite Kalmah album for sure, and definitely my all time favorite when it comes to melodic death metal.
Comparison to other melodic death metal bands is quite futile. I've heard people comparing them to Children Of Bodom and I can definitely say that if you can't hear the difference between these two bands, you are way off track and may have difficulties telling a dog and a cow apart.
About the music now. To fully understand this, we need to start with the guitars, for they are central in making Kalmah one of the most amazing and unique bands in metal. Antti Kokko and Pekka Kokko are the two guitarists of Kalmah. Brothers in life; they seem to be also bonded when it comes. If individually they aren't my favorite guitarists, they are definitely my favorite rhythm and lead duo in metal music. The way the guitars are played makes Kalmah unique and absolutely unlike any other melodic death metal. They follow each other a lot. The rhythm guitar at the strongest moments will follow up a few notes and then hit a hard chord while the lead guitar manages to throw in fast notes, then on the way down, the rhythm catches up with the lead. Strong rhythms are definitely what make the guitars on this album so remarkable. A strong lead is nothing without the riffs to support it. And this is why Swampsong is a perfect example of a melodic death metal masterpiece. There seems to be a perfect symbiosis between the two guitars.
When it comes to guitar solos and leads. Pekka Kokko is creative and impressive. He shines both with the technicality and quality of his leads.
Keyboardist Pasi Hiltula plays a strong role on Swampsong. He may not shine as much as on They Will Return, but his job is still fantastic. Not only does he perform well, but his rhythm and lead work is quite remarkable in the song-writing department. He manages to take a support role just as well as he can take the front of the scene with beautiful keyboard solos.
Timo Lehtinen on bass plays a relatively discreet role. Doubling the rhythm guitar most of the time, he doesn't get a lot of chances to shine. Which is ok for his role within the band Kalmah. With a keyboard and guitarist assuming the lead parts, what the band needs from him his the powerful sound of the bass we know to death metal. It helps a lot in building the dark atmosphere that is so important to Kalmah's music.
Janne Kusmin does a fairly great job on the drums. Performing blastbeats when needed and coming up with strong supportive role at key moments. I especially love the cymbal hit when everything is silent in the middle of Heroes To Us. Punching right at the perfect time, Kusmin manages to reinforce every hook, every lead, and every feel of the album.
The music as a whole is what makes Swampsong a masterpiece in the melodic death metal scene. The cohesive feel of Kalmah, especially on Swampsong is remarkable and I must say that I love every single track on this record. Kalmah doesn't know the word filler. Every track is filled with fantastic riffs, great energy, powerful screams and growls. Giving just enough agressivity and just enough melodic work to make it a perfect balance between melodic and death metal. The production of the first three Kalmah albums Swampsong, Swamplord and They Will Return is also far superior, in my opinion, to the production and sound quality they have on their three latest albums. Yes the sound is cleaner, thicker and heavier on the latest records. But this is not what made Kalmah awesome. There was just something... something like a dirty black metal-ish melodeath feel mixed with a Finnish melodic death metal sound and an organic heaviness to Swamplord, They Will Return and Swampsong that made it so unique. The gloomy atmosphere created by the keys, the signature distortioned guitar sound of Pekka Kokko's lead, Antti Kokko's crazy rasped vocals were all elements that made this album outstanding.
The lyrics are very nice as well. I especially like Moon of My Nights when it comes to the lyrics. The track that concludes the album is also the longest. It's a very beautiful and emotional track. Moving back and forth between smoother (guitar-less) sections and more aggressive sections, it manages to make the listener feel the emotions communicated through the vocals. Kalmah manages to close the album with one of the rare truly beautiful and atmospheric love songs I've heard in metal.
I hope Kalmah will one day gain more recognition from the metal community. This album, especially by the outstanding guitar work, manages to transcend melodic death metal. Swampsong is truly a masterpiece.
This is an underrated album, and it has been since the day it was released. I'd say that there's two reasons why Kalmah's Swampsong is subject to so much hate by Kalmah fans.
The main reason being that Kalmah "pulled a Slayer" in a way. Much like Slayer's South of Heaven album, Swampsong goes in a completely different direction than Kalmah had progressed with in They Will Return and Swamplord. They went for a grittier, slower, more cheaply produced, heavier sound, instead of a ridiculously melodic plethora of solos like the previous two albums had been. Much like South of Heaven, this album shocked the fans of the band, who nearly immediately dismissed it as crap, but some fans came back for another listen after slowing down thinking of it as a different band. Those who came back discovered that this was not such a bad album after all.
The second reason being that this was the first time that Kalmah used the amazingly stellar tactic of "filler songs." Yep, this album, much like tons of other "famous" melodeath bands picked up on the wondrous idea of shoving an album full of crap to surround the good songs and lessen their quality in the process. This shocked fans because Kalmah had never used filler before this album, and for fans who more recently discovered Kalmah's work, there's no filler in the later albums either, so both young and old fans alike are somewhat disappointed by the sub-par riffs of the filler songs. However, there's only about three filler songs on this album, and even though they are undeniably filler, there's always some redeeming quality about them that keeps them from utterly failing. Burbot's Revenge has an awesome chorus, and Doubtful About It All likewise has a great chorus and great lyrics, and finally Tordah throws around some Exodus-style thrash riffs that add some energy to the album.
Now that I've gone off about the quote-on-quote "bad" parts of the album, I'll devote the rest of the review to what is actually good about it. The songs Heroes to Us, Cloned Insanity, The Third, the Magical, Bird of Ill Omen, Man with Mystery, and Moon of My Nights are not filler in the slightest. These songs are pure quality from start to finish, not ever taking a break from the relentless beating they give to the listener. The riffs are excellently executed and heavy, whereas the leads leave the common melodic metal formula, having somewhat of a heavy sound themselves, while still remaining beautiful and brilliantly composed. The drums are great and the vocals sound well practiced and have a lot of power behind them, which was uncommon in a lot of melodeath around this time (and still is today, to an extent).
If anything, Swampsong is an album to have in your collection, and it definitely doesn't get the recognition it deserves. The filler songs may be a little boring to listen to all the way through, but the diversity of the real stuff makes up for those songs. It's a nice piece of metal that was an excellent foresight of the great albums that Kalmah was soon to release in the following years.
Around late 2004/early 2005 I was looking for good metal bands that I have not check out yet. One of those bands I found out about was Kalmah, i was lucky there first three albums were release in the states, I was able to pick up my first album from them which was "Swampsong" at a local record store.
When I first pop it in my cd player and first track "Heroes to Us" started to play I had a feeling that this cd was something special. I was right, it was just good straight forward metal, mixing of blackish style vocals with great Speed/Power Metal is a great combo. A lot of metal fans would say "oh great another Children of Bodom clone" well there wrong, even though they play the same style of music as Bodom Kalmah plays heavier then Bodom has been in last couple of years.
This album I think is one the best albums I own. Pekka does a great job on vocals standing out from other bands that play the same style, keyboardist at the time Pasi is well tune on were he fits the keyboard on tracks like "Burbot's Revenge" and "The Third, the Magical". Kokko brothers work well as guitarists, drumming is well put with double bass during different parts of each song. Bass works well within the tempo of this album. Amazing solos, good lyrics that aren't boring or repetitive.
Overall this album is good, the band works well to make them different from the metal they play. This is a pick up for fans of melodic death Metal or speed/power with harsh vocals. The tracks that I enjoy are "Heroes to us",''Burbot's Revenge", "The Third, the Magical" and "Cloned Insanity". If you're picking up the Japanese version, "Suodeth" is a good bonus track.
Swampsong is probably the most overlooked album of Kalmah's early career (before The Black Waltz). Many fans disregard it, believing that the conversation regarding the band's early material begins and ends with They Will Return. Regardless, this album earns high accolades for rectifying the one major hitch present on the group's first two LPs: the guitar sound. The thin, rangy guitars present on the earliest material have been swapped out for a healthy chunk of distortion that brings out a whole new side of the band, a band that wisely continues to follow the same stylistic decision to this day.
The brothers Kokko really deliver the goods on Swampsong. The supple, Iron Maiden influenced melodies of "Heroes to Us", the bobbing and weaving of the thrash passages during "Tordah", and the Gothenburg worship present on "Bird of Ill Omen" are just three examples of the multitude of styles being pioneered here. Kalmah also earns high accolades for avoiding the all-too-common pitfall of devolving into stock melodic death riffing patterns when the luster of the leads and keys begin to dull. Almost every song here has an identity unique to itself due to novel arrangements. "The Third, the Magical" is brimming with ethereal keyboards and some of the catchier leads. Even the bonus track, which are usually phoned in, is exceptional. Pekka's vocal style still consists primarily of his rough snarl, although the guttural roars he later became fond of are present during strategic points in the procession. The most outstanding vocal moment is the operatic chorus of "The Third, The Magical", giving what is honestly the best song on the album even more appeal.
Hiltula's swansong with Kalmah would cement his status as one of the most unheralded keyboardists in the scene. His off-kilter lead sound lends an emotive twist to the few keyboard solos, meshing well with the elegant atmosphere summoned by his twinkling bells and chest-pounding string sections. The keyboards manage to tread a thin line, adding subdued, epic qualities without becoming trite or cheesy in the process. "Burbot's Revenge", which is an unspectacular song otherwise save for some of the leads, features the best keyboard solo on the album. "The Third, the Magical" covers all of the bases regarding the keyboards, also boasting the most resourceful moments creatively speaking. "Cloned Insanity" can be considered the second-coming of "Swamphell", with Lehtinen's throbbing bass lines counterpointing the melodic leads and thick synth leads masterfully.
Not without it's faults, Swampsong begins to lose steam during the second half of the proceedings. "Man with Mystery" ends up recycling much of "Tordah", with mixed results. The epic, protracted closer "Moon of My Nights" also never sat quite right with me. The emotive intro ends up making false promises, as the rest of the song really drags. Still, this edges out They Will Return due to the crushing production and enterprising songwriting. Modern Kalmah may feature nearly the same lineup, but they play a much more restrained style of swamp metal nowadays. Swampsong remains to this day the best Kalmah album.
Kalmah are always compared to their fellow Finnish peers Children of Bodom. However, although both use a similar type of sound, the bands are just as different as they are the same. Kalmah are much darker than CoB and their newest album "Swampsong" is completely different from anything off of Bodom's newest "Hate Crew Deathroll." Both bands hold ingenious musicians that know how to write magnificent songs with crushing melodies that carry the listener throughout the album. And knowing that Kalmah has relations to the incredible melodic black metal band Catamenia, there is no question that the band is nothing short of brilliant.
Kalmah immediately catch your attention with the first song "Heroes to Us" which perfectly represents their all out catchy, talented, melodic style of metal. The opening melody will stay in your head well after the album is finished. Kalmah show off their flawless guitarwork on every song on the album, playing similar to Bodom yet not like a complete rip off by any means. The band truly have their own style even though they sound like CoB much of the time. Kalmah tend to let the instruments kick in for a good amount of time in between songs, coming up with all sorts of rythyms, solos, and melodies. The vocals are in a black metal vain, very raspy. They fit along with the music perfectly and add to the dark atmosphere created by the music. Also the keyboards are used very nicely within the songs, sometimes creating some great intros, such as on "Burbot's Revenge," and other times adding depth to the songs as shown on "Moon of My Nights." Although every track is amazing, highlights are probably "Heroes to Us," "Bird of Ill Omen," "Tordah," and "Doubtful About it All."
Swampsong's production is flawless. The tone is clear with every instrument having equal importance within the music. If you like the production for bands like Catamenia and Finntroll, you won't be dissappointed with the sound on Swampsong.
Don't buy this expecting to listen to some melodic death metal similar to the likes of old In Flames, At the Gates, or Nightrage because Kalmah play a completely different breed of the style. They are like a cross between Bodom and Catamenia, having a black metalish atmosphere with some Bodom style melodic death. The mood of the music is most clearly represented by the great artwork on the album cover. It'll take you to a dark wet swamp filled with ancient spirits that inspire the band to play the music that they do.
This album is a must buy for those into Finnish melodic death metal, particularly Catamenia and Childten of Bodom. Kalmah have definately proven that they are a force to be reckoned with and despite all the comparisons, they have forged their own style. It is dark, swampy, and expressed by very talented musicianship and songwriting. Those who label Swampsong as "a Bodom rip-off" are just missing out on one of the best melodic death metal acts of today.
I don't know why everyone trashes this album so much. It's hard to be original these days with so many bands, but I can testify that Kalmah is not a Children of Bodom Rip-off as many claim they are. I own COB's entire collection, and it's much different than this. Many may say that COB is "better"... I disagree with this statement. Kalmah is their own band, with their own sound, and their own goals. I can comfortably say that Kalmah's lyrics are much more advanced then Alexi's. They have deep meanings, tell stories, and create excellent visuals, as opposed to Children of Bodom's "time to party and get drunk at lake bodom" lyrics (this of course, is a generalization), which have little or no significant moral or artistic values. I'm sure most people don't give a fuck about lyrics, but I do, and Kalmah has impressed me.
As far as the sound, Kalmah has less of a crazy incredibly complex sound like Children. This isn't a bad thing, because the music sounds damn good! The keys aren't overused, and they add just the right amount of atmosphere. There is lots of good double bass work, and the screeching vocals sound very convincingly tortured. The guitars are thick and heavy.
"Swampsong" is a great Finnish speed/thrash metal band. Their music is dark, the lyrics are powerful, and the members are all great talented musicians. So give them a try if you like this style of metal with meaningful lyrics, and you will be impressed.
Standouts: "Bird of ill Omen", "Heroes to us", and "man with mystery"
Hey look, a Finnish melodeath album. Never seen one of these before! Having a rather obvious Children of Bodom influence coupled with members of a black metal band means that this album is predictable from start to finish... but I'll elaborate anyway.
The vocals are your standard Finnish melorasps, and sound almost exactly like the (thankfully) final Eternal Tears of Sorrow album, if a tad lower. Perhaps I should say that he sounds the same, but sings differently. There are more than occasional moments of those awful gang vocal "chants" that have been permeating the melodeath genre of late as well as a number of slowly snarled vocals that , when combined with the excessively groovy backing riff, come across as very "radio friendly".
The guitar leads seem to alternate between the high end noodling sound of your standard Finnpop act and the generic black metal tremolo picked buzz, with neither being of particularly good quality. Solos sound excessively familiar and not particularly well thought out, rubbing me in much the same manner as Darkane's. The rhythm guitars are way too high in the mix and, at times, seem to drown out the lead guitars and keyboards. The rhythm guitar, on more than one occasion, skirts the mallcore line with a groove that screams "buy me, stupid American consumer!", and at every one of these moments I cringe.
The drums, as with the rhythm guitars, go for that "thrash" sound, normally playing the straightforward rock derived beats of the genre, but occasionally going for an all-out blast. Nothing either impressive or of particular note. The bass, as is standard, mirrors the rhythm guitar and has a fairly decent tone, though it's somewhat hard to hear over the rest of the cacophony.
As with most Finnish bands, I cannot stand the keyboardist. That happy lazor/music box crap has to stop at some point, and the faux jazz solos this guy plays get on my nerves to a far greater degree than Warman and Harkin ever could. Wow! You can run down a scale while the rest of the band plays a thrash riff! I'm impressed! I don't know what it is about his playing, but saying that it "annoys the fuck out of me" isn't saying near enough.
These different elements may look good here on paper, but implementing them together is where this band seems to fall flat on their faces. The band seems to seriously lack cohesion, jumping from idea to idea rather haphazardly, and the whole thing comes across sounding horridly disjointed. It's like they wanted to go for "catchy" but couldn't agree on what the definition of the word was, with the end result sounding very flawed. Perhaps they should've picked a sound and went with it instead of trying to use the sounds of all their heroes simultaneously.
Perhaps it's the incredibly gay synth lines they use, maybe the excessively loud rhythm guitars having far more groove than I'm comfortable with, my distaste for all things thrash influenced, or the way that the album seems to lack both flow and direction, but I dislike this album more than any other melodeath album I've ever had the displeasure of listening to. Hell, melodeath is about being mindlessly catchy and they couldn't even do that right, that says something right there. There is not one song on this album that I enjoy or could recommend to anyone else, with me finding absolutely nothing remotely redeeming about 5/9 tracks, the rest screwed up repeatedly whenever they show potential, and with Moon of My Nights getting the award for "worst song I've had to sit through this week".