8-Track: Amorphis

Amorphis has had an eclectic career, to say the least. The Finish melodeath pioneers have been responsible for some of the most memorable and the most forgettable melodic death metal the genre has to offer. While modern times may have seen them become overshadowed by their countrymen in Insomnium and Children of Bodom, yet few have traversed a stylistic spectrum as wide as Amorphis. The near three-decades since their inception has seen the band go through significant line-up changes, all while incorporating sizable aspects of folk, progressive, doom and even power metal into their ever-evolving sound. Now with thirteen studio records under their belt, finding an entry point into their oft-overlooked yet not inconsiderable career can be a daunting task. So, in celebration of the release of their new record Queen of Time, here’s a look at 8 of the most definitive and rewarding moments of their career.

“Into Hiding” (Tales from the Thousand Lakes, 1994)

As great as The Karelian Isthmus (1992) is—and it really is quite good—Tales from the Thousand Lakes (1994) is where Amorphis truly became Amorphis. Whereas the material on their debut was cut from a fairly traditional death metal cloth, the tracks on Tales took a broader, more challenging approach that is certainly felt on its powerful opening salvo. The interaction on between the string section on “Into Hiding” is as confrontational as it is harmonic, with Tomi Koivusaari and Esa Holopainen’s soaring folk melodies setting the stage for Olli-Pekka Laine (Barren Earth)’s climactic bass solo. The track is a fierce statement of intent, which gestures toward many of the directions they would further develop throughout their subsequent records.

 

“Magic and Mayhem” (Tales from the Thousand Lakes, 1994)

Staying with Tales from the Thousand Lakes for a second, the album is bookended by another definitive Amorphis classic in “Magic and Mayhem”. The track begins in melodramatic, almost funeral doom fashion before dropping into some frenetic Black Sabbath-style riffing that rivals Candlemass at their most reverent. Then, about halfway through, the keyboards really come to the fore it becomes this spacey, almost-dance number, with these electronic aspects driving the song (and the album) to its abrupt conclusion). It was a foreshadowing of where the band would take their sound over the next couple of albums and, while Amorphis certainly wasn’t the first death or extreme metal band to use keyboards, they were perhaps the first band where the instrument was truly foregrounded and dictated their sound and progression, rather than merely accentuating it.

 

“On Rich and Poor” (Elegy, 1996)

With Elegy, Amorphis took a turn for the epic—placing a greater emphasis upon keyboards, melodic leads and even clean vocals. Although the record is packed with similar, iconic offerings, such as “My Kantele” and “Against Windows”; it’s the frenetic “On Rich and Poor” which perhaps stands tallest among its impressive track list. Driving, rhythmic momentum and catching folk leads anticipate a style that would be perfect by Amon Amarth roughly a decade later, while the soaring, sing-along melody of its memorable mid-section channel Iron Maiden at their very best. Like the record that contains it, “On Rich and Poor” perhaps feels more like a blueprint or halfway house than a truly finished product. Yet what it lacks in polish and refinement it more than makes up for with brimming potential and the exciting melting pot of genres it provides.

 

“The Way” (Tuonela, 1999)

Tuonela is an odd record, even by Amorphis’s standards. It also might just be their crowning achievement. If Elegy was the sound of the band tentatively probing more progressive territories, Tuonela (1999) is the sound of the band driving full bore off the cliff into the progressive canyon—Thelma and Louise-style. For this record, the band abandoned many of the melodic death trappings that had been so central to their sound up until this point, including an abundance of harsh vocals, and just going with the flow and seeing what sticks (such as with mixed metaphors, for example). For the album’s opening statement, the Fins made the staggeringly genius decision to open a song in the style of U2‘s “Where the Streets Have No Name”, and finish it in the vein of Pink Floyd‘s “Comfortably Numb”. It’s one of those ideas that are “so crazy it just might work”, and Amorphis milk it for all its glory.

 

“House of Sleep” (Eclipse, 2006)

Am Universum (2001) and Far From the Sun (2003) proved unmemorable entries in the Amorphis canon—the band having perhaps pushed themselves as far as they could go with their progressive direction on to Tuonela. In light of this, the Helsinkians decided to hit the hard reset button, recruiting semi-iconic frontman Tomi Joutsen and returning to a more melodic death-focused direction with Eclipse (2006). The sextet found themselves reinvigorated in their new, more streamlined setting and delivered what is likely their most well-known composition in “House of Sleep”. What the track lacked in musical exploration and bold experimentation it made up for with its powerful, catching chorus and emotional impact. There’s a reason Amorphis have largely stuck to this style since their seventh record and the song continues to close out many of their sets to this day.

 

“Silver Bride” (Skyforger, 2009)

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a saying for a reason and, after traversing more tepid, sullen territories on Silent Waters (2007), Amorphis dug out the template for Eclipse in order to deliver 2009’s Skyforger. By the same token, “Silver Bride” is almost structurally identical to “House of Sleep”—beginning with a piano refrain, alternating between a lofty chorus and a fairly simple verse melody, before culminating with a cathartic key change. Perhaps in spite of its un-originality, “Silver Bride” proved no less effective than its forebear, and arguably even outclasses it due to its more metallic edge and punishing climax.

 

“Shades of Gray” (Circle, 2013)

Circle (2013) is easily the strongest of Amorphis’s modern output—perfectly combines the band’s many facets into something at once palatable and diverse. “Shades of Gray” and its surrounding record represent some of the heaviest material the band has come up with since Tales from the Thousand Lakes, while its melodic mid-section rivals that of anything taken from Elegy and it boasts a chorus that could go toe-to-toe with anything from either Eclipse or Skyforger. That such a combination may no longer be groundbreaking doesn’t make it any less effective, and the updated production gives the track, and record overall, an extra bit of kick compared with their earlier releases. That Amorphis are capable of delivering such considerable material this deep into their career is no small feat, and Circle has no small claim to being the strongest record of their career. One listen to its opening number should give you a pretty good idea why.

 

“The Golden Elk” (Queen of Time, 2018)

Although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Circle, the newly-released Queen of Time is a worthy addition to the Amorphis catalog, and “The Golden Elk” represents its strongest offering. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, it’s merely Amorphis doing what they do best, and that continues to be a hell of a lot more than most bands. The blending of melodic, folk, death and symphonic elements here is as potent as ever, and the added acoustic passages and operatic vocals help it stand out against its extensive backdrop. For all their early experimentation and broader progressive tendencies, Amorphis seem to have settled into a fairly comfortable rhythm following Skyforger. Yet, as both this track and “Shades of Gray” show, that may only be because they have finally perfected their craft, and they could do a lot worse than to come out with material of this quality every two or three years.

Queen of Time is out now via Nuclear Blast.

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