Finnish metal label Woodcut Records releases records by Finnish bands that don't sound Finnish. How dare they! Here's a couple that recently found US distribution:
Sotajumala - Teloitus (Woodcut, 2007)
When you're first broadening your listening habits into extreme music, it's pretty easy to get hooked on death metal. Classic DM bands sound savage, cold and committed to punishing groove, all seductive traits for new converts. After prolonged exposure though, the joys of Deicide, Sepultura and Bolt Thrower tend to ebb a bit as you search for more sublime endpoints than ultimate brutality, outlets for aggression that involve more than just blastbeats 'n growls.
But ya know, that stuff can still be scary powerful. Finland's Sotajumala (that's "wargod" in Finnish) pull off a humdinger of a straightahead DM album with Teloitus (that's "execution" in Finnish). So good is the band's songcraft and... ::gulp:: execution that it gets me pumped on Morbid Angel and Suffocation again, convinces me that tremolo picking, double-kick, throaty howls and divebomb solos are all I need to satisfy those twin primeval urges to destroy and be destroyed.
Without compromising a teaspoon of intensity, Sotajumala's songs breathe. Guitarists Kosti Orbinski and Pete Lapio shape riffs that actually lead places, then fashion icy-smooth solos out of demonic-sounding "tall" harmonies. These songs are tonal and have proper chord changes, wax and wane between grinding punishment and big festering riff slashes. Drummer Timo Häkkinen's the MVP here, doing double duty as timekeeper and rhythm subverter -- listen to the way he takes the bottom out of that gigantic groove in "Riistetty Viattomuus" with his spectacular tom work. Close my eyes and I'm listening to "Where the Slime Lives," only Pete Sandoval was never recorded this well.
Alghazanth - Wreath of Thevetat (Woodcut, 2008)
Ah well, can't win 'em all. Instead of experiencing the full-scale wrath of hell when I listen to Wreath of Thevetat, I am struck by the cuteness of Alghazanth's corpsepaint-by-numbers. Like the loving father watching his child's first soccer game, I stand by the sidelines, listening intently as Alghazanth hurl their blastbeats and walls of guitars and fake choirs at me, loving that they take themselves so seriously even though I know deep down that they suck.
This band has been around since the mid-90s, and its bassist/rasper Goat Tormentor (aka Mikko Kotamäki) also sings in the majestically awesome Finnish doom metal band Swallow the Sun, so at some point, someone in Alghazanth's creative cabinet must've realized that early Emperor is pretty old hat now, and that one Dimmu Borgir is more than enough, thank you. But no, there they go with their pleasingly melodic, big-for-bigness's-sake demi-epics, each longer than it needs to be and stuffed with a little too much pomp for this old man to take. Wreath of Thevetat sounds like black metal for 14-year-olds just learning to play their instruments. Except it's made by grown men who are really fucking good at their instruments. The press release about Wreath of Thevetat helpfully informs me that "majestic atmosphere forms the flesh around its bones and Occult Satanism runs through its veins." Somewhere, Satan is laughing.