The most obvious thing about Kuolemanlaakso’s Tulijoutsen is that it’s another collection of doomy, slow-moving metal from Finland, one that will certainly reinforce the stereotype that gloom is something that Finnish musicians do very well. This is not the first release from Kuolemanlaakso. Their first album, 2012’s Uljas Uusi Maailma, went completely under my radar. This time, however, the colourful cover art immediately caught my attention. The depiction of a fiery swan against a dark environment immediately sets the tone for the music on the album – epic with a wide-range to offer, gloomy but not miserable.
Mikko Kotamäki performs vocals for Kuolemanlaakso, and his singing, growls, and shrieks are so familiar to me that I cannot help but think that the band sounds like a slightly (slightly!) less melodic Swallow The Sun. It’s not just a matter of the fact that both bands share a singer. The pacing of songs, the emphatic way in which the keyboards are used to layer riffs, even the ways in which guitars so often hum and wail in the background – all these elements remind me of Kotamäki’s other band.
One drawback of Kuolemanlaakso reminding me of Swallow The Sun is that as a result I have trouble seeing their work as anything highly original or new. While I love parts of Tulijoutsen, a lot of it doesn’t stand out to me. This doesn’t mean there aren’t highlights. The opening track “Aarnivalkea” is a song that has a bridge featuring blissful power chords and Kotamäki barking at his best. “Me vaellamme yössä” is by far the album’s strongest piece; the song’s final minute of layered masculine and feminine vocal tracks and prominently muted notes comes off as supremely heavy. I’m always a little disappointed when the track ends and the band moves on to less engaging territory. As a song it’s a prime example of why I often like this style of melodic, atmospheric doom metal.
I cannot say the same for most of the album. “Arpeni” has some overtly gothic flourishes that add variety but also change the feel of the album, ruining the vibe that up until that point had been established. “Glastonburyn lehto” is a very different kind of song, one that shows that Kuolemanlaakso may see their project as a chance to try a variety of sounds. The album’s last few songs harken back to the style that is very similar to how it began.
While Tulijoutsen is more or less enjoyable to have on in the background, I never feel compelled by it. I never find myself patient enough to pay attention to the album as a whole. Thus, my primary sense of Kuolemanlaakso remains that they are kind of like Swallow The Sun, but as of yet the former has not completely differentiated themselves from the latter in any meaningful way.
That striking artwork is definitely candy for vinyl collectors, however. I didn’t even love the album, and yet I long to see that cover in full 12” cover glory.