Amorphis is easily one of my favorite bands producing metal in the 2000s. Over the last few years I’ve seen a lot of the bands that I really got into when I was a young, impressionable metal guy start to get more and more popular as they got picked up by bigger labels, got put out on the market, and as metal got cool again (who’da thunk it?)–bands like Opeth, Enslaved, Amon Amarth and others. Amorphis, however, had fallen off my radar, and I think a lot of people’s radars, before they got themselves a new vocalist. A man of small stature, and huge personality and voice: Tomi Joutsen. For whatever reason, this breathed life into the venerable, and quite excellent, band taking them out of their temporary lull and pushing them to the forefront with the bands putting out the best modern metal has to offer.
I managed to listen to this record about 6 times on the day they finally took it down from their MySpace and, while I was disappointed that they took it down, I was incredibly stoked to get to hear the thing in full. And damn, how impressed I was. First, let me say that I think Amorphis is performing like a lot of bands perform in their earliest days. They’ve put out three records since 2006, and each one has been has fantastic. Eclipse, their output from 2006, blew me away because I wasn’t at all expecting it at all, and it has stayed on my playlist pretty much constantly since then. I had very high expectations for Silent Waters from 2007 and it didn’t let me down, and I think that Skyforger is even better than the other two–and quite possibly the finest record they have ever put out.
The production, of course, is pristine. And the song writing has developed to the point where, while maintaining some of their more traditional and progressive roots, these guys have managed to start writing really fantastic “pop form” type songs. But that doesn’t mean that they’re imitating H.I.M. or Sentenced, but instead they have managed to blend a lot of the more mainstream elements into a heavily melodic, and thoroughly enjoyable format.
Another great aspect is the fact that death metal vocals, which had sort of disappeared on the “in between” records (that is, between the Tales era and the current era), have come back with massive power. The track “Majestic Beast” illustrates with, quite possibly the heaviest song that the band has put out in a very, very long time. It’s on par with “Perkele” and “Weaving the Incantation” from their previous two records, and illustrates the power that still exists in the band. But the variation of great instrumentation, the excellent choices of vocal styling and the heavy melody that define this album just impress me.
Unfortunately, something that I didn’t get from this record is the backstory. I read somewhere that this is a concept album, and I would love to know more about the background information so I can judge it. The lyrics are apparently based on a section of the Kalevala (the Finnish national folklore), and the album flows like a story. But I haven’t been able to piece together exactly what’s going on. However, the performance and writing are so strong that even if the lyrics are uninteresting and droll, the album itself is so musically killer that for me it doesn’t matter at all.
It is obvious to me that Finland’s greatest relic after the Kalevala is Amorphis right now. There is a huge scene in Finland right now with some amazing bands, but one band that is absolutely at the top of it’s game right now is Amorphis. I have trouble imagining that these guys can keep it up–but let’s hope that they can. For those traditional fans who couldn’t get enough of Tales From the Thousand Lakes and The Karelian Isthmus and Elegy, I can’t promise that you will fall in love with this record. This is definitely not the same band that was putting out those earliest records, but for those who are willing to give these guys a fresh listen, I strongly suggest it. This is definitely looking like it will fit into the Top 10 of 2009 for this Angry Metal Guy.
Edit: According to Amorphis’ very helpful webmaster: “As for the background story; unlike the two previous albums it’s not based on a single Kalevala episode, instead its different parts of the epos from one character’s point of view (Ilmarinen the blacksmith; an exception is “From Earth I rose”, which is the song of iron itself). The cycle of poems the lyrics are based on (http://www.amorphis.net/?page_id=230) goes a good deal beyond the actual Kalevala text, which names Ilmarinen as the forger of the sky in various places but never goes into details about this role of his.” – Oh, the wonders of editing and e-mail. Go and read those poems, they’re quite fascinating.
Also, buyer beware! Since you WILL be going out and BUYING this album for sure! ;) Apparently there is “a little warning before you enter the record shop – of the album’s two current editions, the digipak batch has turned out to contain a glitch, so at the moment I’d rather recommend the jewel case version. I hope the corrected digi version will be available soon though, it’s very nicely done and contains a bonus track.“