KALMAH – 12 Gauge (2010)

“Watered down watered down watered down” – that’s what I kept thinking whilst listening to 12 Gauge, the latest offering from Finnish death metal warriors Kalmah. 12 Gauge has an unusual problem: it does too much right. As a result, we’re left with an album that, while enjoyable, doesn’t leave much in terms of a lasting impression. Kalmah have been broadening their sound for a while now, adding thrash solos, acoustic ruminations and Children of Bodom-esque keyboards atop their sold mixture of dueling guitars and needle-precise drumming. All those elements are on full display on 12 Gauge, and that’s the problem: everything meshes so expertly that you feel more like you’re made keenly aware of the album’s lack of a singular focus within no time. Or, to put it in a slightly more demeaning way: you’re made keenly aware that you’re listening to a more full-blooded Dethklok in no time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Kalmah at least manage to maintain some of their former glory here; they don’t devolve quite as ravenously as Arsis did with their latest album. There are sections of Swampwar and Godeye that are genuinely thrilling in their melodic carnage. But there are also a fair number of songs like Better Not To Tell and One of Fall, songs which proceed as they must and which offer us no surprises and no thrills. And because the scales of 12 Gauge are so heavily weighted in the latter’s favor, that’s ultimately the impression one winds up with of the album as a whole: a roadmap of wrong turns, full of misplaced modernization and homogenization. In the end, that’s what 12 Gauge hangs in my memory as: the sound of a band on autopilot.

It might sound counterintuitive, but metal needs a lot of passion to work well. It’s real easy to shred some guitars into oblivion and hammer out blast beats until your knees give out, but if that ferocity doesn’t stir your soul, it becomes uninteresting really quick. That’s the problem with death metal; if it’s done poorly, you feel like you’re listening to a bunch of marionettes twitching through the motions – but because it’s such an over-the-top style of music, we can see the strings, which lessens the impact even more. Kalmah show us a little too much of their strings on 12 Gauge. Here’s hoping they don’t continue down this path in the future like so many of their metal brethren have.

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