At first Death Metal but now encompassing Folk, Symphonic and Prog Rock elements, Amorphis are a multifaceted Finnish Metal group with nearly thirty years on the clock (twenty eight, but who’s counting). Following on from the driven yet melodious Heavy Metal of Under the Red Cloud is their thirteenth album Queen of Time (Nuclear Blast), along with the production skills of Jens Bogren – whose previous work includes Amon Amarth, Kreator and Opeth amongst others. This record follows the same urgent, heavy yet tuneful ethos but with a much broader scope, with synths, choirs, violins, folk and prog all adding to the mix. Continue reading
When Battle Beast guitarist and co-founder Anton Kabanen left the band in 2015 shortly after their third album Unholy Savior (Nuclear Blast) had topped the charts in their native Finland, it left the remaining members somewhat unsure of their future. Continue reading
With a career spanning 25 years, Amorphis are a true powerhouse in the Metal scene, and with the arrival of their twelfth album, it seems there is nothing that will stop them from going on for another 25. Under the Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast), is a testament to the skill and heart of these musicians. It is perhaps a tad heavier than most of their recent work, but it is once again filled with amazing licks, lyrics, and compositions.
The title track has an excellent intro with guitar and piano gently combined before diving face-first into the metal. Throughout the album the vocals switch the between a beautiful, crisp voice and deep grunts. There does seem to be more grunting than on the previous few albums, and this corresponds to the rest of the music. Much of the middle section of the album has a lot of elements of Black Metal, and Tomi Joutsen’s deep grunts are well suited to the style. ‘The Four Wise Ones’ is probably the blackest of the songs, while ‘The Skull’ combines Power, Progressive, and Black Metal into something heavy yet uplifting, with surprisingly sensitive twists. ‘Death of a King’ adds a delightful whistle over the grunts and heavy riffs.
But not all is heavy or blackened on this album; ‘Sacrifice’ is pleasant yet dark Power Metal, while ‘Tree of Ages’ is definitely barking up the Yggdrasil of Folk Metal. There is a spacy keyboard solo in ‘Enemy at the Gates’ and even a somewhat bluesy mini guitar solo in ‘Dark Path’, which also features a stunning intro with piano and acoustic guitar.
One of the absolute highlights is the album closer ‘White Night’, with its hauntingly beautiful female vocals and well as lovely melodies in the male vocals and guitars. Of particular note is how the beats of the drums and vocals alternate in the chorus to create a very unusual yet captivating sound.
One of the most impressive elements in Amorphis’ music is the flow of the guitar licks which, unlike in many other bands, doesn’t stop as soon as the singing starts. In ‘Under the Red Cloud’, for instance, the motifs continue behind the chorus. The effect is one of great vivacity. Another winning ingredient has to be vocalist Tomi Joutsen, because of the great variety and energy he brings to his vocals.
All in all it is clear that Amorphis have once again delivered an excellent selection of music.
It has been twenty five years since guitarist Esa Holopainen and drummer Jan Rechberger (a)morphed their thrash metal band, Violent Solution with death metal act Abhorrence (featuring guitarist Tomi Koivusaari) to begin their new band Amorphis. In that twenty five years (save for a seven year spell around the turn of the millennium when Rechberger was absent) the trio have been the heartbeat of one of Finland’s most influential and admired acts.
For 2005’s Eclipse, the bands seventh album but first of a budding and fruitful relationship with Nuclear Blast, the band integrated vocalist Tomi Joutsen to produce an album that defined their sound from that point forth before 2013’s Circle saw the band experiment with a darker, more metallic Peter Tagtren produced album that reintroduced a heavier side to the band following the poppier, more melodic (but thoroughly brilliant) The Beginning Of Times.
Step forward Under The Red Cloud, the bands twelfth full length, and an undeniable return to form… and then some… with rising producer Jens Bogren (Soilwork, Moonspell) helping the band to find the ultimate, classic third era Amorphis sound. Taking a heavier turn, it is packed with powerful riffs and sweeping, epic melodies. “Yeah, …Red Cloud definitely follows where we were going with Circle, but production wise it’s way more dynamic” begins founding member Holopainen, expounding on the importance of working with a producer who is not only good at his craft, but also knows exactly what elements to draw out of a band.
“It’s the first album we’ve done with Jens as a producer and he wanted to take all the elements he likes about Amorphis and translate them into this album, and I’m so happy with the results. It’s got more growling vocals than any other album with Tomi, but not too much – it’s a good balance with the clean vocals.
“I think it’s the best one we have done with Tomi on vocals. I have a really, really positive feeling about this album.”
For a band with several distinct epochs, there has been a consistency of sound and style since Joutsen’s integration; a stronger, more uptempo metal presence than was evident in the Pasi Koskinen era. The appointment of Joutsen, and the carving out of their newer style, is seen as reinvigorating, and perhaps even saving Amorphis; a band whose critical star had shined so brightly on the legendary pairing of Tales From The Thousand Lakes (1994) and Elegy (1996), but who had strayed from the elements (uptempo, folk-infused melodic death metal) that many associated with them.
“He’s made a huge impact for us”, agrees Esa. “It was very, very motivating for the whole band when Tomi joined Amorphis. All that reflects in the music as well, and it’s been great fun writing music with him; a really talented guy and when you’re writing it gives us some extra things to the music as you know what he can do.” A multi-talented vocalist, Joutsen restored a mix of growled vocals, along with his hugely impressive, strong and distinctive cleans, to the Amorphis sound. “It was an easy switch when he joined, and he fit from the beginning. It’s a different era – you can easily compare the two, it’s like totally another band”, the mild mannered guitarist continues.
“The funny thing about Tomi is that he always surprises and feels like he’s gone one louder on this album with the vocals! He uses almost like a black metal vocal sometimes on this one, and he’s developed the contrasts with his growling stuff; it’s really strong.”
Had, by the time the band were releasing Far From The Sun (the bands last for Relapse) and Koskinen’s own motivation had waned, Amorphis strayed too far into progressive and rockier territories?
“In the past, after Elegy we did a couple of albums which were moving quite far away from the metal sound. But at that time, those albums were very important to do and from those albums we still have a lot of those elements in our sound with the more open guitars and more ambient sort of sound that we like to flavour our music with.
“With Jens coming in, he said he wanted to take everything that’s good about all of Amorphis, and I guess we are more influenced by the older sounds of the band again now than we were.”
Holopainen’s enthusiasm for …Red Cloud is apparent, and he is clearly feeling fired up by this albums’ amalgam of past and present. “This album doesn’t have any fillers, all of the songs on the album earned their place. It’s a very, very natural progression from Circle, where we started to allow the extreme influences back into the album, and I think this album takes that on, but stronger. Also we felt that nobody would be surprised if we went in a heavier direction after doing the Tales From The Thousand Lakes (20th anniversary) tour.”
Under The Red Cloud has a feeling of being a culmination of everything Amorphis has been before. While it was the previous album that was titled Circle, it is this one feels like the “circle” being closed, because it pulls together everything that is and has been Amorphis. In the accompanying press release Esa had stated that he sees Red Cloud in the top three Amorphis albums… and it’s easy to see that this is an album that can stand up to an impressive legacy.
“I surely hope so. It was a great feeling to get the final product in my hand and listen to the album through and I have a really good feeling about these songs.
“I do love Eclipse a lot because I have good memories of starting to work with Tomi, and it’s a strong album, and Elegy, for me, is my favourite album of the earlier Amorphis times, but when you do a good job you know it, and this is the best album we’ve done with Tomi.”