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Under the Radar - 90%

FullMetalAttorney, September 17th, 2013

So, apparently “New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal” (NWOFHM) is a thing, at least according to about a half-dozen Finnish bands. I’m not so sure that’s enough to qualify as a “wave” at all. Whether there’s anything to it, I don’t know, but if Arkhamin Kirjasto is any indication, a better term for what’s going on might be “Children of Children of Bodom” (COCOB).

Don’t for one second take that to mean they’re ripping off COB, because they’re not. Like the much more famous band, they take an extreme metal sensibility to an ordinarily much more melodic and accessible style of music. Where COB does a kind of death-meets-power-metal thing, AK is taking death to classic heavy metal. And it is so very, very good.

Most of their songs are basically gruff vocals over NWOBHM songs. That could come off as a poor substitute for having a real singer if the music wasn’t so awesome. The riffs are catchy, and the vocal hooks beg you to sing (growl) along. The solos are great examples of writing with just the right amount of flash so it adds to the music instead of sounding like wankery. They play with high energy, too. In a word, it’s infectious.

But that’s not all they do. They veer somewhat into Swe-death on “Knights of Torment,” or take Swe-death and avant-garde black metal (of all things) on “Thousand Snakes.” “Speed, Yog Sogoth” is just strange, and “When the Light Is Dead and Gone” has Randy Rhoads written all over it.

Torches Ablaze is a fantastic album. It’s catchy, it’s rooted in metal tradition, and yet it’s also somewhat experimental. It’s only too bad that, being relative unknowns on a tiny label (Ektro Records), it will fly under the radar. My prediction: This will be the most criminally forgotten record of 2012.

originally written for

NWOFHM # 3 : Show me the way to R'lyeh - 90%

Metantoine, September 8th, 2012

"Venom on acid, bad trippin' in space and killing witches." - This would be the poster if this album was a B- movie.

This is the third part of my New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal special, in reality a genre led by Jussi Lehtisalo, a very charismatic musician usually wearing spandex and spikes on stage and it's damn impressing. Torches Ablaze is the latest album of his prolific label, Ektro Records and shows no musical compromises. For this project, Jussi is teaming up with Samae Koskinen, a live member of Xysma and a well known musician of the scene. Compared to Krypt Axeripper or any of the numerous and all excellent projects of Lehtisalo, Arkhamin Kirjasto is really winning the crown if we're searching for his weirdest stuff. It's basically a mix of harsh vocals reminding me of the Old School death metal scene like Autopsy or even some Asphyx mixed with a traditonal metal approach à la Judas Priest. All this without forgetting the huge dose of experimental influences.

Koskinen's voice is really cool and the sound of it mixed with the very diverse music is very unorthodox. It's almost surreal and out of this world. He's also playing the drums and he's sharing the bass and guitar duties with Lehtisalo. Will I can appreciate their sound, his vocals aren't especially great, they're quite on the lower register of harsh vocals and wouldn't really compete with someone like van Drunen. But for what they are and for the music, they fit very fucking well. We also have some spacey vocals like in "Sea of Madness", there's even some Manilla Road similarities, from their more psychedelic stuff obviously. There's not a lot of variation or very particularly memorable vocal lines on Torches Ablaze, I like the catchy chorus of Bitch from Hell though, a cool brainless and fun song, but the force of Arkhamin Kirjasto is their absolutely stellar songwriting, like all of Lehtisalo's projects apparently. Hey, I'm a fanboy and I'm proud of it! It really sounds like Venom and Priest reading Lovecraft and smoking opium and that's very fucking cool.

You can feel the mix of influences in their music and even though I was expecting something like this based on their first self titled release, I wasn't disappointed. It's very organic and despite the rather strange mix of genres, everything has a clear direction and it's coherent. As an introduction to the album we have "The Cult of No Return', there's some kind of keys or organs in the beginning, you're perhaps awaiting some kind of post metal à la Isis but instead there's a riff stolen from Downing and Tipton's secret vault of awesome riffs mixed with a Reifert influenced vocal approach. It's cavernous and mysterious, you can clearly see the shades of Cthulhu dancing on the walls, awaiting the opportunity to devour your soul. It's weirder than Atheist without even trying to be. It feels a natural blend of genres, not a forced one, it's not "hey let's put some jazz interludes just because we can" metal, it's all in the feelings, all in the emotions and at the end, it's truly rewarding. The production compared to their self titled release (completely in Finnish compared to this English release) is really good, it's not perfectly clean but less raw than their previous EP. The guitars are quite fuzzy, they have a lot of reverb and this very cool old school feel. There's some cool leads reminding me of Krypt Axeripper (my first review of this NWOFHM special). The basslines are tasty and it's present enough to make us forget that it's a duo, they remind me of the more punkish side of metal, even hardcore at times. check out the song Speed, Yog Sogoth, heavy bassline right there! Sometimes the traditional metal influence is clearer, sometimes it sounds more like Autopsy trying its hand at glam metal. Anyway, we have a good variety of tempos and atmospheres, but it remains quite fast paced and it's very groovy. From Angel Witch to Venom, the influence of NWOBHM is unambiguous and much appreciated.

If you're a fan of traditional heavy metal but you feel a bit bored by the lack of experimentation of this realm, check out Arkhamin Kirjasto's new album, it's great stuff. Mindblowing and strange riffs mixed with sepulchral vocals creating a weird lovecraftian mass, but you absolutely want to be there. (by the way, yes, there's booze)

Metantoine's Magickal Realm

Ablaze in atypical firelight - 75%

autothrall, September 5th, 2012

The combination of traditional heavy metal riffing and its moderate levels of aggression with the advent of extreme metal vocals is hardly a novelty by this point. Entire sub-genres have blossomed to fuse the two, ever since Scandinavian cults like Morningstar first risked the hybrid, and thus we've seen a lot of black/heavy or black/thrash metal over the past 10-15 years. That said, Arkhamin Kirjasto, a Finnish duo of multi- instrumentalists featuring the prolific Jussi Lehtisalo (from Pharaoh Overlord, Krypt Axeripper and others), tackle this approach vector with an immense level of atmosphere and variation that devours the listener into this universe of alternate nostalgia where pure metal riffing straight out the 80s is dowsed in guttural manliness.

Samae Koskinen's vocals remind me of Taneli Jarva (The Black League, ex-Sentenced), with that broad, charismatic edge that sacrifices a bit of growling incoherence for robust fulfillment, and even though the meter of the lyrics is not always that inspired interesting over the riff patterns, it still adheres to the lighter and brighter substance of the guitars, and the other atmospheric tweaks through the record. For instance, in the opener "The Cult of No Return", you've got guitars used as a scintillating, ambient intro. Cleaner patterns erupt through the song alongside the meatier rhythm guitar and the wailing dual melodies deeper in, while there's a lot of airy reverb to the vocals. The composition is pretty pure, driving heavy metal you would recognize from bands like Maiden, Judas Priest, Thor, and Manowar in their prime, not so intricate or well-structured as Sentenced's Amok (another album which attempted something similar in the 90s), but still pretty fun despite the level of familiarity a listener is likely to experience with the note progressions.

However, affixed to the raw, distorted bass-lines and the more punkish, grisly force meted out in tracks like "Thousand Snakes" or the near-Nihilist crunch of "Golem Made of Flesh", you've got a collection of quite disparate elements that work remarkably well in context. Beyond this, Torches Ablaze keeps the content even more varied, with moodier, atmospheric tracks like "Sea of Madness" which feature whispered, cleaner vocals and tremolo melodies; or the closer "When the Light is Dead and Gone", which is absolutely fucking magnificent with its soaring, multi-tiered harmonies, spacy intersections and thundering rock beats. The Finns are not simply satisfied with lifting and paraphrasing patterns of classic records and then snarling over them (something many, many trending bands today are guilty of); instead, they add and amplify the nostalgia through layers of drama and texture that end up sounding quite original. Torches Ablaze isn't a perfect album, and not all the tracks are equally catchy or interesting, but I'd recommend it to anyone who wanted melodic death metal with a difference, or projects like Norway's I who possess a comparable, resonant and epic nature.