As with any metal scene, there are the big names and then there are the underdogs. When it comes to SUOTANA, this Finnish melodic black/death metal band is a hidden gem of the scene. If this album hadn’t made its way to my inbox, I would still be blissfully unaware of them, especially since black metal is not really my jam. “Ounas I” was released on March 17th, 2023, via Reaper Entertainment and it is… not exactly what I expected. Let me explain.
The thing that struck me the most is how melodic and atmospheric this album really is, which is mainly because of Tommi Neitola’s twinkling keys. This, in turn, makes “Ounas I” feel sonically rich, textured, and nuanced – attributes I never associated with black metal but rather with symphonic metal, melodic death metal, and maybe even Gothic metal. So, imagine my pleasant surprise when, instead of a wall of guitars, blast beats, and gutturals, I get to listen to melodic guitars, beautiful keys, tasty drums, lush passages, and even some choirs. But then again, that is melodic black metal for you.
The epic journey that is “Ounas I” starts with “Lake Ounas (The Beginning),” a short yet bombastic piece of music that could easily find its way into their setlist as intro music because it boasts that same fist-pumping and adrenaline-rushing energy that you get right before a band comes on stage. Maybe that is exactly what KALMAH keyboard player Veli-Matti Kananen had in mind when working on this track. Regardless, it is among the most memorable intro pieces I have listened to. This epic feeling and surge of energy are carried into the next track, “Through the Mammoth Valley,” with the pounding drums and sparkling keys working in tandem to create a beautiful ambiance before the galloping guitar riffs and wicked vocals take over. The interplay between these two musical pairs (drums and keys on the one hand and guitars and vocals on the other) makes for a nice flow to the music, balancing the more aggressive moments with some mellow sections, making the track feel heavy yet bright. This formula is applied with great success throughout the album, though is more evident in this shorter song.
Cinematic keys open “The Ancient,” a massive track that perfectly combines the heaviness and bleakness of black metal with a chugging guitar melody that moves the song along through different musical landscapes that are neatly emphasized by the different vocal styles employed by Tuomo Marttinen. Again, the keys add a layer of harmony to the fold, elevating the atmosphere and creating a light ambiance that contrasts with the harshness of the vocal delivery. Up next, thrashy and adventurous “Legacy” ramps up the aggressiveness factor by putting more emphasis on blast-beats, fast-paced and distorted guitars from Ville Rautio and Pasi Portaankorva, as well as a trade-off of deep growls and harsh vocals, while the keys are relegated to the backseat for the most part. A wild guitar and keys solo section adds the necessary oomph to cap off this intense and dense track.
The centerpiece of this album is the 13-minute-long “River Ounas,” which combines all the previous elements into one epic and cohesive unit. This is a beast of a track where backing choirs and spacy synths give off a haunting quality, while Rauli Juopperi’s vigorous drums and Tuomo Marttinen‘s fierce vocals add to the heaviness factor, thus creating an ebb-and-flow that moves the song forward at a brisk pace. The album wraps up with a cover of SUMMONING’s “Land of the Dead,” where a headbanging rhythm intersects with some more sparkling keys and haunting choirs that make way for Mora, who delivers a moment of respite before the cycle repeats, but this time with an overlapping of female cleans and male growls for a fuller sound.
In conclusion, “Ounas I” is a deceptively heavy album, it is just that this heaviness is overshadowed by the light and bright feel of the keys. I know I keep coming back to this instrument, but the way in which the keyboard comes across here, and the ambiance that it creates, is the key to SUOTANA’s rich sound. The excellent songwriting is also a big part of this album’s appeal and smooth flow, while the clean production allows for every instrument and arrangement to stand out both on its own, as well as part of more complex passages. A strong addition to the meloblack/melodeath catalog, “Ounas I” is easily recommended to fans of the genre.
Written by Andrea Crow
- Lake Ounas (The Beginning)
- Through the Mammoth Valley
- The Ancient
- River Ounas
- Land of the Dead (Summoning cover)
Tuomo Marttinen – Vocals
Ville Rautio – Guitars
Pasi Portaankorva – Guitars
Tommi Neitola – Keyboards
Rauli Alaruikka – Bass
Rauli Juopperi – Drums