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Too personal for comfort - 83%

Napero, April 30th, 2006

Mokoma is an interesting band from many aspects. They started out as an indie rock band, and turned to probably the best contemporary finnish thrash band on their now-legendary Kurimus album; Kurimus was very good, old-schoolish thrash, with a fun attitude. The follow-up, Tämän Maailman Ruhtinaan Hovi, was already a bit more complex album, and took a while to open up. Kuoleman Laulukunnaat takes a further step into still darker grounds, aptly described by its title, which roughly means "Death's Singing Grounds" in English. But the darkness is of a highly personal kind, and makes me uneasy.

Musically the band has moved to faster, harder and a bit more technical style. The songs are far more complex than those magnificient sing-along hits on Kurimus, and their style has moved from the easy-going old Exodus-Anthrax-Slayer mixture to somewhat more european or german aggression with traces of modern US thrash and a bit of something else. Angrier, darker, and definitely much more difficult to listen.

Marko Annala, the band's mastermind, uses less of his clean vocals than before, and his excellent angry screaming and shouting adds a further layer of gloom on the already dark ground laid by the band. On the surface the lyrics seem like a continuation of the TMRH thematics. There are deeper undercurrents, however. In some interviews at the time of the album's release, Annala confessed that he had had severe problems in a personal relationship when he wrote to album's lyrics, which has been widely interpreted as a divorce. He commented that sometimes, seeing the lyrics he had written on the previous day, he'd seen a darkness and wondered if it had really come from his own inside.

From the very first spin on the day the album was released until just a few days ago, I felt a strange uneasiness whenever the album was in the player. It's good, technically near perfect, and there are a few very catchy songs among the darker, more demanding majority. It took two live gigs, incidentally the first and the last ones of the album tour, to realize what the source of the uncomfortable feeling is.

In the end, the problem and the value of the album is in the darkness. Now, usually in metal, darkness, death, decay and related subjects can be considered defaults, and unless the lyrical ambition of the writer dictates otherwise, they can always be relied upon to fill the album booklet's pages. Not so here. No, Annala pours out a sorrowful darkness that doesn't stem from demons, serial killers or war and destruction. He has really squeezed out a new, bitter kind of darkness, of an angry an personal kind, and the gloom has spread it's tentacles to the instrumental parts of the album. This stuff, while innocently Kurimus-like on the surface, is a poetic outburst of personal sadness, frustration, bitterness and anger. I cannot quite put my finger on any specific point or verse, but it is there, underneath the surface.

There's loss, bleak hope, sorrow and desperation, written by a grown man in turmoil, and the unveiled soul is visible to anyone who wishes to take a look. So very personal, so honest. It makes me uneasy, and it should do so to anyone who can understand the lyrics and listen to the music with his brain and mind, not only the ears.

Is it good? Yes. Maybe, in ten years from now, Laulukunnaat will be remembered as the angry therapy album. Now, too soon after its release, it is just a technically brilliant album, and poetry works wonders in conjuring a dark grey leaden feeling. It is not a friendly beer-and-moshing thrash piece, but a serious work, and unless you're a completely insensitive and uncaring person, it's simply too personal for comfort.