Whilst the genre is typically associated with autumnal beauty and an accompanying sense of majesty, there is potential for atmospheric black metal to express something darker; for the path in the woods to become obscured, for the plants to be covered in thorns and the shadows be home to danger. Such is the case for Laho, the second album from Finnish band Kval. Translating to “rotten”, Laho is intended as a metaphor for the human mind as we become ever more disconnected from the world and one another, and allow a purveying cynicism to poison our souls. There is a darkness here that speaks of something profound.

Yet Laho is far from being an oppressive album. It’s a hypnotic and vast listen, conjuring up vistas of rain-sodden forests and lonely mountains. Comparisons to Fen and Gris are warranted; and, like the latter band, there is an undeniable emotional edge to Laho, especially in the shrieked vocals. The restrained use of keys is also a huge part of the success of Laho, especially in the opening moments of the title track and throughout opener ‘Valosula’, where they add a touch of star-kissed beauty to what is already stirring music.

Of special note is the way the album closes. After three lengthy tracks of pure atmospheric black metal, ‘Kaihon Kuiskaus’ is a synth-led piece of grace, hypnotic and full of restrained power that crosses the borders between dark ambient and dungeon synth (forest synth, perhaps?). On the CD version of Laho, this is then followed by a bonus track which expands upon its melodies and emotions, transmitting them through more typical harsh black metal guitars. The contrast created is quite stunning and makes the CD version the superior buy. But whatever format Laho is listened to on, one thing remains clear, it is a work of utmost beauty and conviction, and coupled with their debut album, is sure to establish Kval as a major name within the genre.

Laho is released on 24th May via Hypnotic Dirge Records and can be purchased here

Words: Stuart Wain

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