Style: Groove Metal
Release Date: 6 Mar 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | YouTube
I'm seeing a lot of different labels for Külmking, who are from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Their Bandcamp page tags them as death metal, folk metal and pagan metal; their Facebook page shrinks down to just the latter; while Metal Archives plumps for death/groove metal. On the basis of this album on its own, I'd lean towards groove metal as a descriptor of the sound myself, though with a strong death influence.
Presumably the pagan and folk angles are tied to the lyrics; the band's name is a "malicious spirit in Estonian folklore". It seems that Google Translate isn't too great with Estonian, as is evident just from attempting to figure out who does what in the band. It makes sense that Madis Velström takes care of "a hellish vocal" but Rain Parkman is apparently the man who handles the "grab drum heating", whatever that is. Searching for individual words, I see that Sven Põder is on "welding guitar" while Raiko Parts handles the "chisel guitar", but I could only get "eminent bass" for Mihkel Orek. Well, eminent is good, I guess.
Given descriptions like those, I'm surprised that this isn't more vicious in nature, but it's very controlled material. The musicians mostly concentrate on riffs and a succession of complex time changes to separate them, which is enough to make this a very djenty experience if not for the death influence and the reasonable pace. It does feel like the band could have taken this a heck of a lot further in many different extreme directions but they chose to avoid them all in favour of keeping the songs as tight as possible.
The band start off on Timuka tütar as they mean to keep going. Only the odd but intriguing intro really separates it from the other nine songs on offer. It's djenty for a while, that jagged guitar tone that makes it sound like a bass, but there's a thrashy guitar later on when the song gets moving. Madis Velström grunts and growls his way through, as if he's not entirely sure if he prefers death growls or hardcore shouts. He moves from one to the other a lot here. The approach works well as a companion to the guitar sound.
The lack of variety is surely the album's biggest problem, just as the tight musicianship is surely its biggest asset. Some songs feature faster sections that play closer to older school metal, but they always return to a staccato riff at some point. Jaaniöö is a great example of all of that, but it's also elevated by what I initially presumed was a backing vocal that's less polished but more characterful than Velström's lead because it's just singing, not playing the role of a singer. Other faster songs, like Libahunt, just play that staccato djent style faster.
I wished I knew who the backing vocalist is. He shows up again on Libahunt and at further points throughout the album and sings in a folkier style. I would never call this folk metal because it clearly wants to be modern and I don't hear any ethnic instrumentation at all, except for maybe a quiet moment late in Surm that is probably a guitar but sounds more like a lute. However, that backing vocal adds an extra element that, over a few listens, became the one and only identity I could take away from the album. When it's in play, the band sound like nobody else, only Külmking. When it isn't, they're just one more djenty metal band, however musically proficient they happen to be. And it turns out that the backing vocalist is the same Madis Velström who sings the lead. I appreciate his versatility.
I'm not a big fan of djent, so the fact that I like this is telling. I can't say I like it a lot but that may just be my personal tastes showing. It's as capable, as well written and performed, as anything with that sort of sound. I just happen to prefer the Külmking that Külmking seem to be trying not to be, the folkier band of songs like Kaarnakiwi with a different vocal style.