KUOLEMANLAAKSO, Finnish for “Death Valley,” the driest and hottest spot in North America, is a death doom metal band which was started as a solo project back in 2010 by Markus Laakso, in the role of guitarist, keyboardist, and main songwriter. It eventually developed into a full lineup when Laakso involved Tiera on drums, Kouta on guitar, and Usva on bass, three extremely skilled musicians that have been part of the scene for many years in acts such as CULT OF ENDTIME, VERJNUARMU, and ELENIUM, among the others. The role of vocalist was given to Kotamäki, known to most as the singer of Finnish doom metal masters SWALLOW THE SUN. Laakso and Kouta were both also playing in CHAOSWEAVER, so their chemistry was already a certainty. KUOLEMANLAAKSO’s first full length “Uljas Uusi Maailma,” Finnish for “brave new world,” produced by V. Santura (guitarist in TRIPTYKON and DARK FORTRESS), was released on November 23rd, 2012, via Svart Records.
As stated by Laakso himself, the band would not exist without TRIPTYKON’s debut album “Eparistera Daimones”: its death-doom features, along with an undeniable heaviness and an explicit dark vibe, had a huge impact on him as a composer, and these features are easily detectable on “Uljas Uusi Maailma” as well, without any effort. However, it is far from being a mere homage to TRIPTYKON’s album, as its identity is deeply rooted in Finnish mythology and culture, and it does have a personality of its own. It is worth mentioning that the lyrics are written in Finnish poetic script and there is some reference to Finnish poet and writer Eino Leino, and an accurate translation to English of all of the lyrics is available in the album’s booklet.
The eight songs are fairly heavy, groovy, and melancholic, according to a death-doom aesthetic, so to speak; the opening song, “Minä Elän” [I live] shows an eerie intro where Kotamäki’s spoken-word part literally welcomes the listeners to the death valley… so the journey begins. A thick main riff takes over, along with a roar. Everything sounds fairly aggressive and multilayered without losing the train of thought, the huge variety of different vocal styles detectable in this single tune is impressive (there is also a rap-like chorus), and the overall feeling matches perfectly with the lyrics; as a result, the amount of elegance that shines through is quite unique.
Slower drum-pace and more doom-oriented vibes are present on “Kuun Lapset” – the alternating growled and screamed vocals, as much as a low-pitched spoken part, and a short spine-chilling interlude where Laakso’s kid’s voice is detectable, make this tune quite weird on first listening, in a good way. A powerful and merciless bass sound provided by Usva adds a lot of flavor to that ends up being very enjoyable, after least after the initial shock. It kind of reflects KUOLEMANLAAKSO’s absence of boundaries, as an unquestionable advantage, in terms of giving unusual shapes to their musical creatures. A piano outro works as the icing on the cake. Speaking of – there are some piano parts here and there, as well as some acoustic parts, that give the whole thing somewhat of a soundtrack-like vibe.
The shortest song on the album is “Roihusydän,” which highlights the shamanistic side of Finnish folklore: a witch drum is the main instrument used on it and a chant provided by Laakso, eventually joined by Kotamäki’s screams, make this tune one-of-a-kind.
Nothing is left to chance: even a somewhat more conventional tune such as “Ikiuni,” which has an incredibly well-written main riff, shows a huge amount of detail that makes the song not conventional or “basic” at all. Kotamäki’s high-pitched screams, along with horror-like keyboards, straightforward yet classy guitar-work provided by Laakso and Kouta, and skillful drumming performed by Tiera, do make “Ikiuni” a catchy yet aggressive tune that does not go unnoticed. Moreover, the way Laakso plays with words in this song’s lyrics is absolutely brilliant.
Usva’s bass has a big role in the title track’s intro, which sounds equally mellow and disturbing; Kotamäki’s acidic scream takes over quite unexpectedly and the mood changes completely. An excellent rhythm section, along with guitars, and a male choir that involved a bunch of well-known singers from the local scene such as Ville Sorvali [MOONSORROW] and Jules Näveri [ex-PROFANE OMEN, SPIRITRAISER], make this tune one of the many highlights on the album. I feel like I should also mention the 18-second-long scream delivered by Kotamäki on this very same tune and, to be completely honest, his vocal performance on the album is, in my opinion, the best in his long and successful career, even 10 years after its release.
The closing tune is “Aurinko” [sun], whose heavy and melancholic vibe comes mainly from a creative use of bass, almost a percussion instrument in this context. It has a Gothic-doom kind of an aftertaste and an overall apocalyptic feeling also concerning its lyrics.
All-in-all, “Uljas Uusi Maailma” is an album one never gets tired of. It fully reflects the band members’ complex identities, but at the same time it sounds catchy and fresh and, even though it has been written and composed by Laakso only, every musician gave an irreplaceable contribution, resulting in a stunning first opus.
Written by Licia Mapelli
- Minä Elän
- Kuun Lapset
- Nostos & Algos
- Uljas Uusi Maailma
Laakso – guitars, keyboards
Kotamäki – vocals
Kouta – guitars
Usva – bass
Tiera – drums