The Finnish masters of "swamp metal" continue to impress on their sixth album. Surpassing all of their contemporaries in their stylistic consistency, Kalmah still stand out from the crowd of mediocrity in their genre.
Kalmah have been the most consistent of the Finnish death metal bands in terms of musical output. Unlike their more famous contemporaries Children of Bodom and Norther, Kalmah have not fallen prey to the tendency of introducing American metal elements or becoming more mainstream with their sound. Their music now is as unique as it was in their early years, if not more so with their growth and progression over time. 2008's For the Revolution was the best album of Kalmah's career, bringing together the stylistic elements of the band's early albums and the progressive parts of their later work. 12 Gauge steps away from that atmosphere in most respects, but this is still an excellent album from a highly underrated band.
The thing that immediately sets 12 Gauge apart from For the Revolution is the speed. 12 Gauge is the fastest album Kalmah have ever written, maintaining a consistent, driving pace from start to finish. The only track that moves slowly is "Better Not to Tell", and even this song pushes forward with a strong pace. Writing fast songs is something that Kalmah do very well, and 12 Gauge is the best full-album example of this in their career. This album also displays a great deal of technical prowess from lead guitarist Antti Kokko and keyboardist Marco Sneck. Their solos are faster, longer, and more intricate than ever before. They also trade off from one to the other more often than on previous albums. The rapid pace of the switches makes the solos even more interesting for listeners, as the alternating instrument patterns help each song to sound unique.
There are some areas where the band backpedal in their sound, though, reverting to patterns used on their earlier albums. While these changes aren't weaknesses, they do prevent 12 Gauge from having the all-encompassing sound that For the Revolution achieved. The most noticeable aspect is Pekka Kokko's vocal style on this album. At the beginning of Kalmah's career, he used a high-pitched rasping scream for his vocals, but on 2006's The Black Waltz, he switched to an extremely low growl for the entire album. On For the Revolution, he used both styles equally, but on 12 Gauge, he reverts back to using mostly the low growl, with the high scream only showing up on a few songs. The vocal diversity on For the Revolution is part of what made it feel like an album that fully encapsulated the band's career up to that point. 12 Gauge does not achieve that atmosphere because of the lack of division in Kokko's vocal style. Again, though, this isn't a bad thing, since Kokko is a strong, powerful vocalist no matter what style he uses.
12 Gauge is a different style of album than For the Revolution in many aspects, but both albums show that Kalmah are at a high point in their career. Their music is strong, unique, and stylistically consistent from one album to the next. The minor changes within their sound only show the wide-ranging skills that they have within the melodic/symphonic death metal genre. This is a band that never fails to impress, and barring a major change in their sound, Kalmah will continue to surpass their peers musically for a long time to come.