Angry Metal Guy‘s Law of Diminishing Recordings™ will rear its head eventually. Nearly every revered band in the metal scene has seen a glorious upsurge followed by a progressive diminishing over time. It’s been literally thirty years since my favorite album of all time was released, which is the same year that Metallica released …and Justice for All. Neither band fully recovered. In fact, all of my favorite bands from when I was 25 have grown increasingly uninspiring. Except Amorphis. While these Finnish metal icons looked dangerously close to falling into this trap after ’99s magical Tuonela, it’s been pretty smooth sailing since they introduced the world to Tomi Joutsen in 2006. 2018’s Queen of Time marks the band’s 13th album and 7th since Tomi joined, making him the longest tenured vocalist of Amorphis. Furthermore, it marks the first album since Tuonela to feature Olli-Pekka Laine on bass. And hell, with an intro like this it has to either be amazing or I’m building you up for one of those huge disappointment reviews… So, it’s gotta be good, right?
Praise Beelzebub, it’s good! Queen of Time is 57 minutes of pure Amorphis-flavored goodness. And let’s get it out of the way: Amorphis sounds like (almost) no one but themselves (oo, foreshadowing). Their move from death metal to a death-ened metal has seen them try on different hats. The Beginning of Times and Circle saw them wandering into the bongwater-soaked territory of prog reenactment, while the initial trilogy—Eclipse, Silent Waters, and Skyforger for the uninitiated—with Tomi had a no bullshit directness to them. Under the Red Cloud saw these Moomin-adjacent-metallers reclaiming some of the heft from the earlier albums, and was a very good turn back toward the heavier side of their sound. But through it all, there’s an Amorphis sound that is instantly recognizable: choruses and verses with a single guitar carrying a wandering melody (often in harmonic minor), a buoyant 4/4 feel, and melodies that are just this side of poppy. Their tracks are often mid-paced, but they manage to carry enough variation and feel changes that they don’t get boring, while sporting a dash of ’70s influence and the occasional delay pedal. And, despite a string of ‘modernly’ produced albums,1 they have consistently had some of the best bass work in their music. This sound is rooted all the way back in Tales from the Thousand Lakes and has simply been refined with time.2
Queen of Time doesn’t break this mold, but a month or two on the road with Orphaned Land has seen Amorphis gently incorporate some of the band’s sound into their own. “The Golden Elk,” which is reminiscent of Under the Red Cloud‘s “Sacrifice,” sees the incorporation of MENA instrumentation and, in particular, the trademark Arabian orchestra sound that Orphaned Land launched on ORwarriOR. Similarly, “Heart of the Giant” is a growl-heavy track with choirs backing up Tomi and “Grain of Sand” is heavy on the keyboards and choirs—and also features standout bass and an amazing breakdown. This sound adds a dimension that the band has previously hinted at, but never committed to and it works really well. It helps to scaffold the band’s sometimes minimal approach to melody, even if I clearly hear the influences.
When all is said and done, though, the major source of the band’s sound is still Amorphis.3 Opening track, and single, “The Bee” reminds me of Tuonela‘s opener “The Way,” with its use of delay pedal in the opening strains, while “We Accursed” has the kind of breakdown that smells of their green room in the ’90s: patchouli to cover the scent of stale hash. But on top of that, the whole record just has a directness and heft that reminds me of the Eclipse trilogy. It bursts out the door with “The Bee,” “Message in the Amber,” and “Daughter of Hate” and Queen of Time just never lets up, pumping out solid track after solid track. Possibly the highlight for me is “Amongst Stars,” which features Anneke van Giersbergen delivering Song o’ the Year material and making a strong case for being made a permanent member of the band. Hell, even the egregious use of saxophone—delivered by Jørgen “I Destroy Ihsahn Albums” Munkby on “Daughter of Hate”—isn’t enough to ruin a single moment on the album.
Wrapped up in a Jens Bogren DR6 production job, you’re going to have to make ample use of your equalizer to get the bass up in the mix, but as always, the production is crystal clear and well-balanced for its ilk. Having done the last two Orphaned Land albums, Bogren knows precisely how to get the best sound out of the choirs and orchestras. With that in mind, put in 10 very good to excellent tracks, and you have yourself a winner. While the album doesn’t quite have its own “Towards and Against” or “Majestic Beast,” it sports unforgettable material throughout. Queen of Time sees Amorphis doing its best bumblebee impression, staying afloat in spite of the Law. May they continue this trajectory for years to come.