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Kuolemanlaakso - "M. Laakso - Vol. 1: The Gothic Tapes" (CD)

Kuolemanlaakso - "M. Laakso - Vol. 1: The Gothic Tapes" CD cover image

"M. Laakso - Vol. 1: The Gothic Tapes" track listing:

1. Children of the Night
2. Roll the Dice with the Devil
3. Where the River Runs Red
4. The World's Intolerable Pain
5. She Guides Me in My Dreams
6. No Absolution
7. Deeper into the Unknown
8. My Last Words

Reviewed by on June 27, 2016

"If you dig any band where the front man refers to himself as a “vampire” and utilizes deep clean vocals about seduction, well, you've got yourself a new entry to check out."

Finland's Kuolemanlaakso came out of nowhere in 2012 with an incredibly strong debut album (which actually earned the band on a spot on our best metal newcomers list that year). The group shook up the death/doom scene, offering a varied and sonically interesting taking on that style, which morphed and changed quite a bit over the next EP and subsequent full-length.

Now in 2016 the band changes drastically yet again, this time due to lineup issues. Turns out vocalist Mikko Kotamäki is busy supporting Swallow The Sun's latest release and can't be around for this album cycle, so band namesake Markus Laakso has decided to do a “solo” disc with the rest of the band. Gone is the progressive Scandianvian death/doom sound, instead replaced with a straight up homage to '90s - 2000's gothic rock melded into some metallic mayhem.

While the instrumentation is overall solid (particularly dig that Middle Eastern vibe in “She Guides Me In My Dreams”), the vocals are not working for me at all. There are parts where its classic gothic metal that straddles the line and doesn't go overboard (“Where The River Runs Red” is pure The 69 Eyes), but more frequently they are just too cheesy and off-key to work. The enunciation of “No, no, no, no, no, nobody can save you from yourself” in particular had me sort of giggling where I wasn't supposed to be.

While I have a lot of respect for Markus Laakso as a musician, there's a reason that Mikko Kotamäki is the band's vocalist. The female vocals thrown into a few songs works nicely though, especially layered over the baritones. "No Absolution" also brings in some classic throaty black metal growls and a more atmospherically dark sound.

Unfortunately the lyrics aren't particularly inspiring either, and have a lot of needless repetition. Throw in the really far away sounding clap effects and cliche backing shout vocals (“Red dress, white lies!”) and sometimes I can't tell if the sound is just poorly done or if the band is trying too hard to mimic that old school gothic style on purpose.

Here's the thing: for metal fans who like gothic rock, you should probably give it a listen to try out Laakso's take on the style, which is fun in a classic way but certainly not groundbreaking or going to dethrone any of the gothic giants from years gone by. If you dig any band where the front man refers to himself as a “vampire” and utilizes deep clean vocals about seduction, well, you've got yourself a new entry to check out.

If you were expecting something akin to the previous albums, "M. Laakso - Vol. 1: The Gothic Tapes" certainly isn't it. I get that that's actually the point, the problem is that the execution of the new style just didn't click. Even though I'm not entirely sold on the change in sound, I wouldn't be averse to hearing more of this idea in the future from these Finnish experimenters. Maybe next time around Kuolemanlaakso can polish this sound, add in a bit more the extreme end, and tweak the vocals to give us something perfect from beginning to end?

Highs: I like the experimentation present and the nod to classic gothic rock, along with the little black metal flourishes and female singing.

Lows: The vocals need work... badly... and there's nothing here to particularly set the music apart from similar bands that have already perfected the style.

Bottom line: The Finnish death/doom band decides to take a sharp left turn and detour into classic gothic rock territory.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)