12.3.2022 Kuolemanlaakso @ Musta Kynnys, Jyväskylä

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Finnish death-doom band KUOLEMANLAAKSO, who recently have published their third album Kuusumu,” came back to the stage after almost 4 years, on March 12, 2022, at Musta Kynnys in Jyväskylä. As a long time supporter of the act, I was really impatient and excited to see them play, and since I really liked the latest album, I was particularly curious about how the new songs would sound at a live show.

The venue was packed with people and I felt like it was going to be special from the very beginning. After a short intro – “Laura Palmer’s Theme” from the Twin Peaks original soundtrack (the band members are notably obsessed with the iconic TV series), which surely added a gloomy feeling to the overall atmosphere – the band started the set with “Me Vaellamme Yössä” from their previous album, “Tulijoutsen.” The song has a fairly epic main riff and a catchy chorus one cannot help singing along to, so the audience reacted accordingly: a warm “welcome back” to the people on stage. Singer Kotamäki took the chance to show off his colorful range of vocal styles: a spoken part here and growls in various pitches were as natural as can be, among others. The second song was a new one – “Kuohuista Tulisten Koskien” had never been played before and we noticed that the musicians were particularly focused on what they were doing: Laakso (guitarist and main composer in the band) did cast a glance at his bandmates at some point, and it totally felt like when a teacher wants to make sure that his pupils are not about to mess things up – fun and relatable at the same time! The following tune was “Aarnivalkea,” from their previous album – a 7½ minute long track, quite complex and challenging to play, especially in a not-so-spacious venue. Drummer Tiera shook the walls and the audience was visibly stunned by the performance.

“Minä Elän,”which happens to be the first track on the first album, “Uljas Uusi Maailma,” was the next one in line. It is likely to be considered as a classic tune at this point and the reaction from the fans was quite consistent. The tight metric in the chorus makes this song one of the most representative tracks when it comes to describing what KUOLEMANLAAKSO is about, and the final part – “sinä kuihdut / minä elän,” translated on the booklet as “you will shrivel / I shall live,” is a full-fledged iconic line that still makes the fans feel at one with the band: surely this specific song does have a special place in many bystanders’ hearts, in several ways, and the backing vocals provided by guitarist Kouta and bassist Usva made the whole thing quite magical.

People off stage went nuts when Kotamäki announced that the upcoming tune in the live set was “Pedon Vaisto.” This was likely due to it being a new song and probably one of the most challenging to play, since it has many changes in rhythm, as well as a rather fast black metal part. Again, the band members were really noticably focused, but they managed to look like they were at ease with it, as professional as ever.

The following tune was “Surusta Meri Suolainen,” the third single taken from “Kuusumu.” Its doomy main riff, along with the low pitched vocals in the beginning, made the overall atmosphere quite solemn, both on and off stage. Many people around me were singing along to, “Mitä meistä jäljelle jää kun kaleerimme seilaa kadotukseen? Millainen jälki taaksemme jää kun siirrymme iäisyyteen kun siirrymme iäisyyteen?,” which can be translated as “what will be left of us when our galley sails to perdition? What kind of legacy do we leave behind when we step into infinity?,” an existential question in which the entirety of humanity is involved. There was a very dramatic and intense vibe in the air, so singer Kotamäki saw fit to take a sip of beer from his can. Well deserved, I’d say.

The audience was still recovering from the solemnity of the previous track when a guy shouted “Ikiuni!,” as some sort of a request: that was casually the following song in the setlist, since Laakso smiled at him and promptly said “okay”; an unplanned and funny moment that we were all lucky to witness. This tune, track number six on the first album, does have an iconic riff and engaging pace, which make it even more epic when performed at a live show. Although being an old song – the first album will turn 10 years old in late November – it felt like the band was playing it with new awareness, without losing its straightforwardness and catchiness. In fact, the band managed to evolve along with their trademark sound, which is a great achievement.

Kotamäki mumbled something about the beer named after the following song, which was “Katkeruuden Malja.” On first hearing the track in early December, I had thought it was good but not as heavy as expected. I was partially wrong, because it turned out being very aggressive in a live setting. The absence of guest vocalist Lotta Ruutiainen was noticeable, but I really appreciated the way the band filled her place: Kouta played the melody with his guitar, which turned out feeling like some sort of a solo. The expressiveness of that man while he plays is really something – easy going and full of attitude at the same time. Each one of them is fairly iconic on stage, frankly: Usva’s dreadlocks look like a whip when he bangs his head while playing and Laakso’s composed posture seems utterly solemn if we take also his hairstyle into consideration – long, straight, archetypical: he looks like some sort of a wise metalhead who’s taking you by the hand, on a journey into his multifaceted world.

The gig was coming to a close when Kotamäki announced “Tulessakävelijä.” It felt like this song was born to be played live, as its chorus is so powerful and its pattern quite perfect to involve the audience in the performance, on a call-and-response moment full of flowing energy. This is exactly what happened: everyone was singing along, raising their fist, and shouting. We obviously were among the most enthusiastic of them!

It has been a while since I had seen such an immersive live gig, and maybe my personal feelings for the band played a role, but this show by KUOLEMANLAAKSO did for sure start a new era for them, as for their old and new supporters, proving that they are pure beasts of the stage, despite their long break from playing live.