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damnation's calling - 95%

Gigi Priestfist, June 10th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2016, Cassette, Rush of Power Records (Limited edition)

The Finnish scene gets pretty artsy and weird, to the point where even a straightforward, ultra-competent riff-fest like Musta Kasi seems to bend the light around it, staying just out of reach of normalcy. Without going too far outside the metal norm, the frankly brilliant production of this album seems to describe a windswept, nocturnal world of droning speed; it's driving music even when you're sitting home. There are tons of clever sound effects buried in the exceptionally deep mix, and even the layering of guitars seems influenced by a musique concrete sensibility.

We're ultimately here for those guitars, though, and they're fucking amazing. It's one long outburst of brilliant early European speed metal, like the ultimate marriage of Overdrive and Running Wild, covered in classic rock guitar solos emotive enough to make you cry. Ville Valavuo also played in the Motorhead-ish Speedtrap, and the Hellacopters-esque Hard Action. Those bands were good, but there's something about Rotor, a certain amount of individualism, restraint, and melancholy, that makes his playing burn like cold blue flame. In a world without Motorhead, Sabbath, and AC/DC, Ville seems to be the rightful heir to every rock'n'roll guitar lick that ever made you feel immortal. Listening to him is like receiving transmissions from a world where the solo in "Freebird" never actually ended (it just turned into speed metal) and I highly recommend it.

Musta Kasi seems to be a concept album telling a story of black magic and damnation. The lyrics are in Finnish, but the production is such that you can still kind of tell what's going on, which leads us back to the weirdness at the heart of Rotor. There are a ton of carefully tailored sounds in this album's mix, and the use of EQ to place them within that sonic virtual space is very sophisticated and imaginative. Even when blazing, perfectionist metal is taking center stage, the dark environment of Musta Kasi envelopes you. Low voices mutter subliminally, as if heard through windshield glass. The roaring in the distance could be flames, wind, a cheering crowd. With carefully sculpted tones and varied amounts of reverb, some of the guitars seem to be miles away, and others right in your face, while even more seem to arc overhead in a kind of middle-ground.

Your constant companion through this morphic landscape is a punky vocalist who sounds like he might have accidentally wandered onto the wrong album. His voice is clear and unpretentious, with just a hint of snarl. The understated delivery makes it all the more refreshing when you realize that the guy's pretty fucking good. His melodies are memorable and his more emotive moments take you by surprise, without ever crowding the music, as a more traditional metal vocalist might.

Ultimately, this is a great trad/speed metal album taken to a higher artistic level, through a combination of unusually "visual" production techniques and divinely inspired rock'n'roll guitar playing. You can definitely enjoy it as a straightforward metal album. But if like me, you have Chuck Berry, Fleetwood Mac, and Psychic TV rubbing shoulders with Onslaught and Mystifier in your old tape pile, Musta Kasi could change your story.