6/16/2009 - Review by: Etiam
Company: Woodcut Records
A checklist in 90s death metal fundamentals
For years Finland's metal scene has labored in the shadow of its larger cousins, Sweden and Norway. Though undoubtedly more renowned than perpetual underdog Denmark and not without its unique charms, Finland simply hasn't seemed well-rounded enough to compete for the all-around Scandinavian crown. While its speed/thrash, black metal, and power metal scenes are all well developed, the average metal fan would likely have trouble naming more than a few Finnish death metal bands, for instance.
Next time the question arises, one name to remember is Sotajumala. Formed in 1998, the quintet has recently begun to establish an international reputation, and even though they alone can't change the world's perception of Finnish death metal, they've got enough gumption to try. 'Teloitus', the band's second LP, boasts the tagline 'Prepare yourself for execution', and its cover features a man's red silhouette poised to receive a bullet in his brain. The title, unsurprisingly, translates to 'execution', and is an appropriate moniker for this 38-minute blast of brutality, which will appeal to fans of Polish battery (Lost Soul, especially) and the New York discipline (see: Suffocation). Another more local point of reference for their style would be their Woodcut labelmates Atakhama.
Well-produced and just the right length for this style, 'Teloitus' is a checklist in 90s death metal fundamentals: walking eighth-note riffs, palm-muted chugs, frantic and occasionally atonal soloing in the upper register, plenty of tremolo action (of both they whammy bar and riffing variety), metronomic blastbeat drums, and guttural, spitting vocals. Sotajumala are well-versed indeed in all of these fields, and their songwriting is taut enough to support the album's two lengthy tracks--a nearly six-minute opener and nearly eight-minute closer--without becoming too strained. The vocals, potent if unexceptional, are more notable for being sung entirely in Finnish by Mynni Luukkainen, the band's frontman and tattoo tapestry. Sotajumala also frequently use overdubs redolent of Ajattara to accentuate Mynni's rapid delivery, thankfully not adhering to any predictable verse/chorus format. Every song but one features a conspicuous lead section--a fairly basic root riff overlaid with outrageous guitar acrobatics--while the tempos range from hectic blasting to pleasantly crunchy moderatos (the title track especially). Though both guitarists demonstrate serious chops, the drumming of Timo Häkkinen also manages to make a statement. Beyond the straight blasts he generally employs, he'll integrate enough syncopated hi-hat, ride patterns, or snare-punctuated off beats to keep the listener forcefully engaged.
All that said, when compared to the band's prior works, it's clear that musical progression wasn't a top priority on 'Teloitus'; the gist of cuts from 'Death Metal Finland' (2004) or even their debut demo (2003) would fit in fairly easily here. However, the band has taken significant strides in a couple areas: beefing up the production and, coincidentally, in their execution. Each song on 'Teloitus' is delivered with the same deliberate, bludgeoning force that inspired the genre's creation decades ago, absent of all the slick modern grooves and sexy keyboards that infiltrate death metal today. Not that these are necessarily bad things--it's simply that Sotajumala would rather beat us senseless than seduce us, and once in a while, that's just what one needs.
Trouble is, the world already has two overflowing fistfuls of bands in this vein, and even if Sotajumala are better than at least one of those handfuls, the other has little room left for imitators. However admirably they sustain a high level of intensity, its riffing is infrequently memorable and the solos tend to follow the same patterns (haphazard and high-flying though they are). Sotajumala are making progress towards the superhuman technical precision and subtle songwriting strength of their forefathers, but still haven't made the transition from moderately- to impressively-good.