Kalmah’s “Heroes to U.S.” Tour Turns NYC into Swamp

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Melodic death metal heavy-hitters Kalmah delivered their first-ever New York City performance on Tuesday night at the Gramercy Theatre. The Pudasjärvi-based band, known for unflinching performances and a loyal legion of fans known as “Swampheads”, descended upon Manhattan on the penultimate date of their 14-stop “Heroes to U.S.” tour.

Photo credit: Kalmah’s Instagram

Kalmah sat down for a roundtable interview with Metal Solstice, including Pekka Kokko (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Timo Lehtinen (bass), Janne Kusmin (drums), Veli-Matti Kananen (keyboard), and Harri Hytönen (lead guitar), who has made other live appearances with the band in the absence of founding member Antti Kokko. The band of few words opened up about the tour, and what surprised them about traveling the U.S.

Kusmin said, “It’s been going really well! There are some big distances between each show. And lack of showers in venues; also the prices, and the amounts of food. They are not so big as we thought!”

The group cited an arduous visa process as one of the main reasons a U.S. tour was such a long time in the making. Kusmin said, “You need shitloads of that stupid paperwork, and we were too lazy to do that.” Kokko chimed in, “We ran into one problem, and another, and then another. There was lots of paperwork, but finally we got here.”

Local opener Winter Nights kicked off the show, followed by black metal troupe Empyrean Throne of California, who backlined the tour and provided a brief, intense set to the Manhattan crowd.

Norwegian group Vried came next, featuring lyrical elements of mythology and war. They were no strangers to life on the road with Kalmah, as the two bands shared tour dates across Europe in late 2018. Vocalist and guitarist Sture and bassist Hvall swapped places, with Hvall taking center stage, occasionally trying to inject humor in between songs.

Following a brief set change, Kalmah took the stage unceremoniously, tuning their own instruments before diving headfirst into “Hook the Monster”, from their 2010 album 12 Gauge. Kusmin said of the setlist, which included music spanning their eight-album catalog, “We chose from about 20 songs. There are some we practiced for this tour, but others we haven’t played in years.” Kokko laughed, “You know 20 songs?!”

The five-piece hit their stride with “The Evil Kin”, the first single from their most recent album, Palo. The crowd cheered “KAL-MAH” for the band to continue, to which Kokko rumbled, “We are here!” He proceeded to tell audience a brief tale about ice fishing and how to correctly pronounce the Finnish profanity perkele, before kicking off “Pikemaster”.

As old friends on a new stage, Kokko and Lehtinen, cradling his five-string bass, exchanged grins in between growling choruses of “Swamphell”. “Moon of My Nights” was a clear audience favorite, and the band broke into a groovy interlude during the song, giving the set even more momentum and exposing to the crowd a glimpse of the band’s 21-year history.

When the evening approached midnight, Kokko questioned, “Where are the X-Men? I put them on the list, just can’t see them. Have I been cheated?!” Kalmah rounded out the night with the powerful “Heroes to Us”, coupled with an encore of “The Black Waltz” and “Hades”.

While recording a new album isn’t on the horizon for 2019, Kokko said, “We do have a couple of new songs ready.” Upcoming performances include Finland tour dates in May with Brymir and Suotana, and a special Helsinki show at Tavastia with Ensiferum in August. Festival appearances include Norway’s Tons of Rock, Slovenia’s MetalDays, Germany’s Boarstream Open Air, and Tampere’s SaariHelvetti.

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