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Song debut: Kuolemanlaakso – “Verihaaksi”

Harsh vocals are a double-edged sword, tactically speaking. On one hand, it’s much harder to ruin a song with lame growls than it is with inept clean singing — witness the many death metal fans who can tolerate endless personality-free grunting as long as the riffs rule. On the other, it’s more difficult to meaningfully elevate music with a growl or scream than it is with proper singing. Only vocalists with real gifts can carry music with yelling alone.

Mikko Kotamäki of Finland possesses that gift. Best known for his work with the prolific death/doom act Swallow the Sun, he is one of the most underrated harsh vocalists in the world. Kotamäki is a highly adept clean singer as well, but he’s at his best when he’s deploying his monstrous, bellowy growl, which is so forceful that it can change a song’s momentum instantly. The closest analogs I can think of for his skill set are Dan Swanö and Mikael Åkerfeldt — fellow Scandinavians. Is it something in the water?

Kuolemanlaakso, Kotamäki’s newest project, is off to a fast start — they released their first album in 2012 and a follow-up EP, Musta aurinko nousee, in 2013. Tulijoutsen, their upcoming sophomore LP, is dropping just three months after Musta aurinko nousee. Like Swallow the Sun, Kuolemanlaakso practice big-production Finnish death/doom with hints of English gloom. Kuolemanlaakso dial back both the death metal and the doom, though, opting instead for loads of mid-paced grooves that remind me of early Katatonia. This approach serves the band well because it creates more room for Kotamäki to make use of his impressive pipes. Listen to him digging into “Verihaaksi” — he warms up with a phlegmy rasp before blowing the song open with those huge gutturals just shy of the 5-minute mark.

Tulijoutsen comes out on February 28 via Svart Records.

— Doug Moore

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