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Review: Kouta – Kaarnaköydet


Review by K

Kouta – Kaarnaköydet

Record Label: Independent

Year: 2023

Rating: 7/10

In today’s saturated scene, it’s difficult to be truly original but according to the blurb accompanying Kouta’s debut full-length release, we are in for something here that “ventures into new territory, incorporating elements of folk” (already ticked, like, a lot) and promises to take us on “a thrilling ride through a sonic landscape like no other.”

Okay. Notwithstanding the rather self-inflating elements in the press notes, from them we can glean that Kouta is a 5 piece from Finland that writes Folky Black Metal, this album has some concepts to absorb and, at least in this case, they have certainly striven to provide us with a seriously thoughtful release.

“Äiti Maan Laulu”  an upward spiral of traditional sounding instrumentation and chanty Viking choirs, the band-aided and abetted by a couple of mates roped in for the session. There’s a wistful, around-the-campfire kind of vibe that would, in normal circumstances, lead to a blisteringly fast opening track that either draws the listener straight in and ensures they’re committed to listening in full, or skip it entirely and and scroll to the next one on YouTube. The downside of tech over good old fashioned cds…

“Turjan Takaa” is a blisteringly fast opening track, at least in the beginning, that does actually raise the eyebrows and turn the head toward the speakers. Very quickly the competently handled blast beats settle into a chugging Judas Preisty Heavy Metal theme that pervades through much of the remainder of the track. A look back at the notes explains that we are supposed to be following a heart-wrenching story concerning two brothers that form the heartbeat of Kaarnaköydet but frankly, unless you’re an aficionado of the Finnish language and deciphering Black Metal vocals, it’s a bit of a lost cause. Here’s hoping the physical release will have some kind of translation. The back end of the track accelerates again, complete with a nicely arranged choral accompaniment. So far so good, so reasonably standard.

Following up, “Häpeä” subdues the speed element and instead revisits the promised Heavy Metal feel. After a cinematic drama-fuelled, if short-opening,  the track settles quite nicely into a two-tier system of a low-range chugging and a mid-pitch guitar theme that is nicely creepy. The production is clean if unspectacular, the only gripe being that on occasion the snare seems to disappear in the speedier sections of the album. The drums were apparently recorded in a remote log cabin in the arse end of nowhere and here and there that actually does show.

“Veriaura” immediately falls into the trap of the vocals following the tune which is a bit disappointing, schoolboy error stuff. Happily, once this opening is out of the way, the whole thing slows down and some good song craft returns. There follows an alternation between slow and heavy chantiness paced balls out raging metal, rounded off with some acoustic twanging and menacing timpani. If we had any way of following the much-vaunted story of this album, I’d guess that something important happened during that track.

And so we trudge through the snow on to “Kurja Raakile” which of all the tracks here has the most BM feel. This could happily lurk on a Dimmu Borgir album from 1994 and not be found out. Short, snappy and full of grim frostbitten riffing this is the most enjoyable track on display so far and is a great setup for the album’s single, “Sukujyrkkämä” As befits a lead single, this is far more catchy and accessible than most of the other tracks. After the vast choirs that kick things off, we are treated here to some big-time epic atmosphere. By far the stand-out track of the album there is a healthy variation between lightning-fast nastiness and mid-range skull pummelling crunchiness. It’s all backed up by those nicely crafted choirs and first-rate production that allows the whole song to breathe as it was intended. A very high-quality item that is worth the admission price on its own.

“Kylmä Kalvaa” leads us to the finishing post in a melancholic fashion that has all the hallmarks of a story coming to a close, which one would assume this actually is. There’s clearly vocalised narration, minor chord plucking and strumming aplenty with a wistful, sad atmosphere throughout its 10 minutes. A lot of these epic BM albums strive to leave you with the feeling that you have just undergone an experience, that you have left behind the pressures of normal existence for a while to be transported to another time and place, to someone else’s story.

Here Kouta has been generally successful. The production and song craft is competent enough to ensure that one can drift away. There’s nothing jarring or significantly amiss. For Finnish language speakers, I’d imagine the story would flow nicely through the tracks. For us mere mortals there’s still the impression that Kaarnaköydet has given us a tale that’s worthy of the time invested. To make a proper dent in the scene, however, Kouta is going to have to keep this up. Together with additional musicians, they’re a fairly big unit which is a tricky thing to keep together, especially as these tracks seem to have been written by various members of the band. They even handle their own (very good) artwork. There’s going to be a lot of egos flying about in their log cabins in the future but hopefully, Kouta will take off and break through as they deserve. This album is good, but I reckon the next one will be great.


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