Despite album art that is easily likened to a certain Shephard Fairey piece, “hope,” “progress” and “change” are not accurate descriptors for Under the Red Cloud, Amorphis’ twelfth offering as a Finnish metal amalgamation. After debuting as a death-doom band with The Karelian Isthmus (1992), Amorphis metamorphosed on their sophomore album Tales from the Thousand Lakes (1994). What has arguably remained their most renowned record retains hints of the band’s death-doom origins while embracing a vaster, more textured sound that incorporates elements of folk, melodeath and progressive rock. With the exception of an atrocious cover of the classic Doors track “Light My Fire,” Tales is a carefully balanced work that mixes just the right amount of outside genres into a solid core of progressive death metal songwriting. Amorphis subsequent dectet of releases has forged ahead on the path set by Tales whilst toying with the aforementioned levels of genre fusion from offering to offering and ultimately achieving varying amounts of success. Unfortunately for these Fennoscandian death metal veterans, Under the Red Cloud – as the introduction alludes – presents nowhere near the quality of composition that have presented on albums past.
What plagues Red Cloud is a multifaceted issue resting with almost every member of the band. Due entirely to his kit’s solid production sound, drummer Jan Rechberger provides the only piece of instrumentation on the album devoid of flaws. His bandmates create Red Cloud’s true issue, being a lack of passion in favor of an excess of polish. Tomi Joutsen is certainly competent as a vocalist, but his performance feels like nothing more than the bare minimum, as if he was forced to host an introductory metal vocal seminar at which he had no interest in appearing. Even so, what Joutsen was provided to perform atop is not particularly inspired in itself, feeling standard and cliché as well. Save for a handful of notable solos from lead guitarist Esa Holopainen (such as on the title track), his and Tomi Koivusaari’s playing has extremely little in the way of bite or finesse. Every riff and lick is at best passable and at worst forgettable filler.
Yet, perhaps the most egregious offender is keyboardist Santeri Kallio, who was ostensibly responsible for most – if not all – of the “folk” elements present on Red Cloud. From the mid-day television commercial soundtrack quality of the opening piano phrase of the title track, it is clear that Kallio has raided some stock database entitled “Vaguely Folk Instrumentals” and slapped them haphazardly around his bandmates’ painfully average performances. Occasionally the band comes together for a coherent performance, like the Arabic themed “Death of a King,” which is honestly more sonically consistent than compositionally thrilling. But for the most part, Red Cloud is just a bland bricolage of inoffensive performances that leave little impact. This is exacerbated by the overall structure of the songs and album: every song maintains nearly the same runtime and formula, leaving the album feeling like a collection of filler tracks that are never broken up by anything more ambitious or detailed. Each track simply stumbles in, hobbles about and then limps out.
In essence, Red Cloud reduces the characteristics of Amorphis’ signature sound down its absolute bare minimum. There are subtle differences between each of the albums ten tracks, but ultimately, every song does more to illuminate the album’s overarching issues than to stand out as a distinct, noteworthy installment in Amorphis’ catalogue of material. Being as prolific a band as Amorphis certainly leaves room for a few blunders, and unfortunately for Red Cloud, that seems to be the designation that the album most deserves.
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Amorphis’ Under the Red Cloud gets…