Ergonal on July 11th, 2016
Dodging a Bullet
Is it too much to say that Amorphis is becoming a bit idealistically fragile? I don't want to sell the band short and say that this is a bad album, but it is an unsavory foreboding of the direction the band is taking of cheap ideas and unspectacular execution. Strategically speaking, however, the band was able to use the few good ideas they did have and lean on them throughout the album to make it listenable and somewhat musically interesting. The problem lies in the fact that this album acts like a spoiled child: when properly reared by the rod of musical creativity, it is well-behaved, but when taken off the leash and allowed to roam wherever it wishes, it becomes terrible and desired to be ignored.
To illustrate, there are numerous examples of the unstable composing on this album, primarily in "Nightbird's Song" and "Enchanted By the Moon". Yes, here's an idea. Let's go ahead and bash the outright terrible tracks and save the good news for last. "Nightbird's Song" is the freak you get when you take the good little "Hopeless Days" that does all of the things it needs to do musically before you release it. It's awful, and personally, I have no idea how it made it onto this album. It's not a song. It's a jam session with hard vocals, and it's certainly not a good jam session. The only good thing about is the riff between the main riff and the pre-chorus, the main which, containing only four notes, is completely unconvincing. The pre-chorus is even worse, with the clean vocals only bothering to hit three unique notes, but it's the chorus that really threw me for a loop. I thought I wouldn't have to hear that inferior intro sequence again, but lo and behold, it is the entire framework of the chorus, along with hard vocals that do not mix well with the lead guitar, proof of the band's failure to come up with clever clean vocals for the chorus. The idea behind this track's failure is its dependence on a recurring theme that, at least in the case of this song, isn't a very good musical theme. The same is true of "Enchanted by the Moon" and, to a lesser extent, "Into the Abyss" (that song's main problem is that it's just boring). In "Enchanted By the Moon", the intro and main guitar work in the beginning work well with the distant operatic vocals, but when the trope uncomfortably forced into being the chorus, you can tell, it it's not only due to the vocalist's insecurity about his own notes.
However, fear not, for behold, this album is still chock full of great ideas, just not a whole album's worth. Take "Narrow Path" for example, which feels almost completely separated from the rest of the album because of the thematic flute-and-guitar throughout the track. It's not forced into a box like many of the other tracks, though, and the song has a natural flow to it, where all of the essential elements which seemed so canned in many of the other songs just fell into place one after the other. If there's a lesson to be learned from "Narrow Path", it's that the chorus of a song, which is so commonly endeared as the climax of the song, does not have to be the same as the opening riff, and in many cases, it is better for the album if not because it opens the door to a little more potential for ingenuity and unpredictability in the release. The same goes for "Hopeless Days" and "Shades of Grey", where, first of all, the ideas on the songs are at the very lease tolerable, and at the very best spectacular, and, secondly, the ideas are met in natural succession with one another so that nothing is overused, and the stupid parts are not heard any longer than a handful of seconds, like the proxy-deathcore directly before the chorus of "Shades of Grey" during the first and third verses, or just the entirety of the verses on "Hopeless Days" (if that area had been brushed up a bit, it would have been my favorite on the album).
As a side note, Amorphis seems to have some of the symptoms of Scar-Symmetry-Syndrome, in the sense that on this album they have chronic problems ending each of their songs, especially, well, all of them except for "Mission" and "The Wanderer" (two of which until this point I have not mentioned), the latter of the two, excluding the outro, of course, being somewhat bland (could be worse). Also, the mixing, in my opinion, is poor in comparison to previous releases, with too great an emphasis on the crash cymbals, perhaps to disguise the fact that these guys really aren't that heavy anymore, and haven't been for about ten years. You're not fooling anyone, Amorphis. Sorry.
The final track of this album, "A New Day" is the blessing to this album, as it contained everything good about the goods songs: the recurring good themes that flow naturally, the simple catchy attributes throughout, etc. Simultaneously, it also held nothing bad about the bad songs, and even nothing bad about the good songs and was a pleasant glimpse at what could have been on this album or could be with future releases. Essentially, it pulls the listener through the remainder of the album and gives them hope for the next release (only to have that hope trampled on by "Under the Red Cloud, but that review is for another day). Oh, well. Amorphis dodged a bullet on this one, desperately pushing their fewest and best to the forefront to hide the fact that, in most cases, they obviously had little knowledge as to what they were doing with themselves on this album.
kluseba on May 28th, 2014
Another mindblowing masterpiece by Amorphis
Here comes at least the best Metal record of the year.
Over the years, Amorphis has become my favourite band of all times. I simply adore the epic and yet addicting mixture of genres of the band that went from progressive death metal over progressive folk rock to an addicting kind of melodic metal. With the arrival of singer Tomi Joutsen, the band finally got some stability and has found its very own style as well. The albums fronted by him had many strong points in common but many fans and also the band itself were afraid that a new record could sound too repetitive. A change was needed and found with the addition of an edgier production by Peter Tägtgren of Hypocrisy and Pain fame. This collaboration eventually led to more developed folk elements than ever before and a return to the death metal roots of the band plus the surprising addition of a few very well employed black metal passages. Especially fans of the old days may celebrate the return to the band’s sources but any fan of any Amorphis era should adore this release.
The band offers some of its most brutal and pitiless songs since the first two records. The apocalyptic opener “Shades Of Gray” mixes powerful death metal vocals with dark and heavy riffs and few subtle symphonic elements. The amazing opener is crowned by an energizing clean vocal chorus. Later on, “Enchanted By The Moon” hits the same vein but has a more atmospheric touch. Both songs are absolute killer tracks but this is just the beginning.
The aforementioned black metal parts can already be heard in the atmospheric masterpiece “Enchanted By The Moon” and especially in “Nightbird’s Song”. The latter track features unchained black metal vocals, grounded death metal growls and truly emotional clean vocal passages performed by one singer who performs any style in passionate perfection. The instruments vary from apocalyptic and blistering passages to melodic and liberating breaks. This song is easily one of the best the band has ever created in its long career. Tomi Joutsen has always been one of my favourite singers but this release is his personal opus magnum and perfectly impressive from the beginning to the end.
The enchanting and dreamy folk elements that might please to the power metal community show the other and softer side of the band. The amazing introduction and the appeasing melodies of “Mission” might please to those who liked the Pasi Koskinen era, the faster and even more accessible “The Wanderer” turns out to be the best second single choice for the band, the epic “Into The Abyss” unites elements of the jazzy “Tuonela” and the epic “Skyforger” records and the closing “A New Day” is an atmospheric, cinematic and epic album closer of the highest standard. My favourite folk metal tracks on this record and probably even of all times is though the heavier “Narrow Path”. The folk elements can therefore be described as some sort of guiding line of the album and are included in almost all songs. Some of them even mix both the new dominant folk elements and the black metal tones and these songs turn out to be particularly amazing.
My favourite masterpiece on here is though the first single “Hopeless Days” that mixes brutal energy with catchy and melodic grace in perfect complicity. The verses mix gripping riffs with progressive and soft vocal lines while the chorus is a powerful anthem you won’t be able to get out of your mind anytime soon. Along with “Alone” and “Sky Is Mine”, this is by far my favourite Amorphis track ever.
In the end, this album includes just killers and no fillers. It’s among or maybe even the best record I have ever listened to in my whole life. Only time will tell. I’m pretty sure though that this release will pass the test of time. That’s why it is not only one of the highlights of the year but at least in the top three best releases of this decade in my opinion. Amorphis truly defend their metal throne with what happens to be probably their best album ever released.
Check this album out at all costs and be sure to get the limited box set that features three more high quality bonus tracks and other useful gimmicks.
Originally written for The Metal Observer
stefan86 on December 9th, 2013
Amorphis has been a constant in my playlist for many years, and is a band with a truly fitting band name considering the number of styles they have tried out. Their stint with current vocalist Tomi Joutsen, a master of the growls and a damn good clean singer as well, has produced four albums so far. One might describe it as a very catchy form of extreme metal as growls are often combined with infectious melodies and big choruses.
"Shades of Grey" comes in with a bang as a few melodic tremolo guitar lines quickly transforms into an explosion of distortion and trade mark Tomi Joutsen growls. At this point I believe I'm in for an absolute treat as tremolo riffs hasn't exactly been something this band have been doing in the last ten years or so. The verses are brutal, yet keyboard laden in a way that best resembles "Majestic Beast" from the "Skyforger" album. Chorus is a typical Amorphis clean vocal bombast, it's catchy as hell but nothing they haven't achieved before. It's unfortunately about as good as it gets.
This album does annoy me, and after a few spins I realize why. In the previews the band members spoke of leaving the current sound they've had with Tomi Joutsen for four discs to start a journey towards something different, a well needed change in my eyes since "The Beginning of Times" felt a little bit dry. The best songs on "Circle" are the typical heavy/catchy combo tunes that made me like "Eclipse" and "Skyforger" so much. "Shades of Grey" is good, so is "Hopeless Days", "The Wanderer" and "Nightbird's Song". However, many of the songs that are supposed to bring the change come off as very campy and sound more like a folky mash up between the "Elegy" album and Nightwish than anything else. It's cute and catchy, but leaves me unaffected.
Talented vocal and musical performances aside, this just doesn't come off as inspired at all. It's never outright bad, just kind of there. Tomi Joutsen brings out the growl at times to summon some well needed energy, but it's also worth noticing that he tries out some black metal rasps that sound no more than decent, eliminating possible growl spots in the process. The best clean vocal choruses of the album are the places where it really gets going, as the guitars aren't much to write home about. Unfortunately, they are too far between.
I am also surprised by how Peter Tägtgren's studio job negatively effects the Amorphis sound. A lot of the depth and dynamics that provided punch and proper room for the keyboards and clean guitars to shine is gone. This sounds clean and comfortable, but highly sterile and processed. Worth noticing is also that this is coming from a person who has no problem at all listening to the most Pro Tools-infected Andy Sneap production jobs. "Circle" is not a bad album, but I am disappointed at the lack of effort. It's another attempt at a bunch of hits that are kind of heavy and kind of catchy. How about making some songs that actually stand out as heavy OR catchy? This band needs dynamics, and it needs it now.
Razakel on September 6th, 2013
Aflame with flaring gold
After the trilogy of Eclipse, Silent Waters, and Skyforger, many Amorphis aficionados felt that the band stagnated with their tenth album, The Beginning of Times. While I personally enjoy the majority of that album, it's hard to make the argument that it broke any kind of new ground for the band; to the contrary, it decidedly borrows elements from each of the preceding three albums to make a fitting, albeit less remarkable, continuation of the Joutsen-era. That's all fine and dandy, but where the hell do they go from here? Enter Circle. This album was advertised from the get-go as a no-bullshit departure from the mold that it seemed the band had become all too comfortable in. Based on initial statements, it was impossible to guess what turns this album had in store for fans. Could this actually be a genre-hop as drastic as Tales... to Elegy was, or Elegy to Tuonela? And if so, then what on Earth would it sound like? As a die hard fan, I was as apprehensive as I was excited. Did Circle deliver what was promised? Yes and no, but it's thoroughly awesome regardless.
The album's general sound is much more guitar driven than recent Amorphis endeavors, and this is undoubtedly due in no small part to Peter Tägtgren helming the production. Thankfully the sound doesn't fall into dime-a-dozen Studio Abyss fodder, and manages to maintain an identity that is distinctly Amorphis. Still, it seems obvious that Tägtgren pushed for a heavier direction, since the guitars are always at the forefront of the mix, and are given a much more demanding presence. Take opener, Shades of Gray (I know, right?), for example: bursting straight into a blistering melodic riff (think catchy and oriental like Better Unborn, but a fuckload heavier) we're instantly struck off our feet with a classic RAAAIIIIIIII from Joutsen, and we're off! Shades of Gray is a glorious part of Circle that truly does break new ground. On paper, it basically looks like the typical death metal pop song that Amorphis perfected years ago, but it's somehow so much more. The recurring pre-chorus shows Joutsen using higher pitched shriek-vocals, which can thankfully be found throughout the album in tasteful sparseness. The incredible instrumental break beginning at 3:00 is an example of Circle's slightly more progressive tendencies, as songs will often drift off for a short while into meandering keyboard solos (Into the Abyss), or build-up melodies which give certain songs ass-kicking climaxes, namely Hopeless Days.
Something slightly strange happens after Shades of Gray. It's not that the following few songs are necessarily of inferior quality (okay, well I'd probably say they marginally are), it's just that the sheer truculence of the opening track isn't equaled until track 6, Nightbird's Song. Instead, we get Mission and Wanderer back-to-back, which are both great songs in their own right (especially Mission), but I think their subdued nature would be more fitting closer to the end of the album. If there's one aspect of Circle that I think could have been improved, it's the order of songs. I often find myself skipping prematurely to Nightbird's Song or Enchanted by the Moon after Shades of Gray just because I need more growls, and then going back to Mission afterwards. Having said that, Hopeless Days packs some of the heaviest riffs on the album, and I only wish they could have found a way to incorporate at least one growled section into the song. After this slight lull in continuity, Circle delivers again in a big way. The second half of the record is essentially flawless, with Enchanted by the Moon easily shining as the crowning jewel of the lot. This is definitely one of my favourite Joutsen-era songs, which, by extension, makes it one of Amorphis' best songs period. Unlike anything else on the album, it's an epic journey of a song with so much different shit going on. Santeri even rips a church organ for added bombast. The recurring melody beginning at :30 is fucking Zelda music; the climax beginning at 4:00 is otherworldly. I kind of wish the whole album sounded more like this one song, but then again, that would detract from its uniqueness among the rest.
If you wanted Circle to be Amorphis' ultra-heavy return to full-on extreme metal, you might be vaguely satisfied, but mostly disappointed. That definitely isn't what's going on here, aside from Nightbird's Song (seriously, who guessed we'd hear Immortal riffs in an Amorphis song), and parts of Shades of Gray and Enchanted by the Moon. For the most part, Circle sounds familiar but offers enough glimpses of progression and experimentation to make it stand out among their other post-2005 albums.
What admittedly baffles me is the fact that arguably the heaviest song on the album is the bonus track, Dead Man's Dream. I commend Amorphis for opting for a 9 track album and keeping things concise, but this was not the song to sweep from the cutting board! Alas, the same mistake was made in the case of Separated, the awe-inspiring bonus track from Skyforger. Personally, I don't really care whether the song is on the official tracklist or not, so long as it's available, but still, if I had my way with the order, Circle would look more like this:
1. Shades of Gray
2. Narrow Path
3. Dead Man's Dream
5. Hopeless Days
6. Nightbird's Song
7. Into the Abyss
9. Enchanted by the Moon
10. A New Day
Narrow Path's infectious melody and upbeat pace would make for a suitable, if less aggressive, follow up to Shades of Gray, and Dead Man's Dream would inject the aggression straight back into the album. I can see why it was left off; it really sounds like nothing else on the album, but I think that's why I like it so much. Nevertheless, there's no sign of aging on Amorphis' eleventh full length album, and that is a remarkable feat in itself. If the band takes the same steps forward into new territory on the next album, then I have no doubt that Amorphis have more bright chapters to offer.
JJM1 on July 2nd, 2013
Coming full circle
After twenty three years of making music together I'd imagine everyone knows that the word Amorphis is derived from the Greek 'amorphous' which means without determinate form and has been a lasting way to describe the bands sound since they've never really made the same record twice and surely are always progressing to the next logical level. Here on 'Circle,' their eleventh studio album and already fifth album with Tomi Joutsen as lead vocalist, Amorphis decided to take a break from producer Marco Hietala and allowed Swedish death metal legend Peter Tagtgren to push and turn all those knobs behind the soundboard this time around.
'Circle' has also taken a different lyrical direction, where their early and most recent output has all been based around the Finnish epic, the Kalevala, external lyricist Pekka Kainulainen came up with something of his own, which oddly enough sounds influenced by the Kalevla.
'Circle' was initially billed as Amorphis' most melodic creation since 'Elegy,' which is a hell of a statement considering the overly melodic and influential nature of that album, and while it may not be the same sound it surely is a lot more colorfully melodic than previous album, 'The Beginning of Times,' which was heavily keyboard driven and really snubbed those usually amazing and catchy Amorphis riffs and solos.
'Shades of Gray' kicks off the album powerfully with hard growled vocals and punishing death metal tones, while it quickly shifts to Amorphis' more recent melodic direction with Tomi's amazing lead vocals. By the songs mid-point the it shifts into a more progressive direction and then followed by a wonderful Esa guitar solo that simply can't be beat. 'Mission' is easily my favorite song on the album, with an epic undertone and constantly building and powerful atmosphere its just simply perfect. Figure in some of the bands coolest riffs in recent memory as well a monumental solo and Tomi's finest clean vocal performance and you've got a star here, whereas, 'The Wanderer' is similar, but lacks the majestic nature and drive of 'Mission,' but seems to be the crowd pleaser thus far ( I don't get it). 'Narrow Path' features a heavily folk driven sound that's especially Irish in character and is easily the albums catchiest, phenomenal really, while 'Hopeless Days' hankers back to the opener with some very miniscule symphonic black metal traits interwoven.
'Nightbird's Song' welcomes the growled vocals back into the mix with something of a melodic doomy structure with a few folk parts that sounds rather unique, but totally Amorphis in character, whereas 'Into the Abyss' is just pure melodic progressive metal and absolutely breathtaking in its delivery too (I wonder if Peter helped name this one?). 'Enchanted by the Moon' is the albums slowest and again has a very doomy vibe to it mixed with Amorphis' own brand of melodious grandioseness, while the albums closer, 'A New Day' is more progressive melodic metal and is just immense in its delivery. The saxophone was a fantastic touch as well!
Ten songs strong and 'Circle' feels like a considerably more focused and ultimately enjoyable record than 'The Beginning of Times.' Its always interesting to see where Amorphis will go next and with the bands members still only in their early 40's I see no reason for them to slow down anytime soon. Here's to another ten years and hopefully many more great records like, 'Circle.'
Originally published at Lunar Hypnosis: http://lunarhypnosis.blogspot.com
Baragon94 on May 18th, 2013
It’s hard to think of a heavy metal band that has explored as many genres as Amorphis. These guys have done just about everything, from death metal, to melodeath, to doom, to progressive, to folk, and so on. They never stay in the same place for too long though, and constantly strive to evolve their sound as a band, demonstrated by their continued desire to explore and tread in new waters. Their progression from genre to genre may have been more prevalent back in the Tales from the Thousand Lake Days, as in recent albums, they seem to have found a nice mold in balancing all of them in one satisfying helping. What is presented to us in “Circle” is yet another consistently good offering.
The last Amorphis album I have listened to chronologically was Silent Waters. What is found on Circle is basically the same concept, but they manage to keep things fresh. There’s no bad song on the album, though not every one might grasp your attention immediately. That being said, some of their finest and prettiest melodies ever are on here. It seems that several melodic metal bands have been exploring Japenese melodies these days. Amorphis follows suit, with the beautiful “Narrowpath” being one of the highlight tracks. A lovely flute intro that could easily be the voice of a nightingale is followed by crushing guitars that take it from there and develop it into one of their best songs ever. “A New Day” is another example, which serves as an excellent closing track. The band’s folk influence continues to show, and they continue to find new methods in doing so.
Songwriting should universally be considered the most important aspect of musicianship. Whether or not one can rightfully be called a musician should be based on their actual ability to make music. In this context, the guys in Amorphis are excellent musicians; they are ace songwriters, something that cannot be questioned. Their diverse musical background is constantly on display in their material, as they do a lot of stuff! They play their instruments very well, and utilize them in fun and creative ways. It’s always a real treat listening to an Amorphis album, because you never know what you’re going to get with each track. They take a song-by-song approach, execute it well, and don’t allow labels to limit their writing. One song might be composed of soothing piano melodies, while the track after could be popping out heavy riffs and vocalist Tomi Joutsen’s powerful death growls. Circle is like a box of chocolates; you never really know what you’re going to get but chances are it’s going to be sweet and savory.
Melody has always been the concept to Amorphis, so this is basically the same story, but a different version. That’s the keyword: a different version. Amorphis always brings something special to the table, and they constantly push themselves to achieve excellence. The band is composed of a great group of songwriters who work with a very unique formula. They continue to exploit it well, and while the songs may be something in vein of their earlier work, Circles proves to be an additional solid effort to add to their extensive catalog, which goes to demonstrate that Amorphis is great at what they do. If the shoe fits wear it, and few can fill Amorphis’ big footsteps.
Originally written for dermetalkrieger.com
OzzyApu on May 15th, 2013
Feeling like they were going in circles, Amorphis chose to spice up their Joutsen-formula for something both different and similar. Circle isn’t the freshest album (as the band made it out to be) but it is everything an Amorphis fan could want. Following the post-2000 trend of every other Amorphis album being better than the one before it , this one brings back that ambitious enthusiasm the band sorely forgot on The Beginning Of Times. From the production to the stimulated, developed writing, it seems as though Amorphis have more left in them than the last album hinted at. With that said, this release is a focused, luxurious album with ripe passages rivaling Skyforger.
The production is something to note as it marks a change since the arrival of Joutsen. Peter Tägtgren is one of my favorite metal artists, with his band Hypocrisy being a melodic death band that goes way back in my metal-listening years (about as early as Amorphis). So having his production style utilized by this band is a match made in heaven. It’s not totally different from the kind the band has been using these past few albums, but there is a main distinction to be made. One is with the guitars, which are sharper and harder, adding a bite that makes the riffs a notch heavier than before. Guitars are more upfront, for sure, and that’s what embodies these songs the most. The guitars are firmer, but the instruments sound tighter without sounding flattened. It’s a fantastic balance and one polished to the tune of Amorphis’ graceful leads and vast atmosphere.
Moving to the songs, there’s not one dud on here. Every song has a chorus to fuel the energy and grasp its own momentum. There’s no lack of intensity, no performance failures, rarely any misplaced ideas (“Nightbird’s Song” and the closer could have used some vivacity), and no conflicting concepts. It’s both an album comprised of brilliant songs and unified as a collective, vibrant creation. Esa’s leads are harmonic and cosmic, Koivusaari’s riffs are aggressive, and that bass is principal in constructing the resolute, colossal low-end support. The bland, uneven cheesiness of the previous album is also gone, as this album’s gloomier manner lends direction. There are more uses of Joutsen’s cleaner, mature vocals, so don’t go getting the wrong idea that darker means adopting more death metal elements like Joutsen’s monstrous growling. There’s definitely some more death metal fleshed out like with the attitude, but that won’t take away from the songs or choruses evoking that sense of tenacity and bygone zeal.
Picking favorites on this isn’t easy. You’ve got the powerful “Shades Of Gray” with its commanding chorus and Esa’s epic leads to start this album off proudly. On the other end is the atmospheric “Hopeless Days” effectively balancing dark, crunchy verses (think Swallow The Sun) and Joutsen’s mournful cleans. The death / doom potency (think Swallow The Sun here, too) of “Enchanted By The Moon” might be another one, with its mix of spiteful growls, sorrowful cleans, gothic keys, and tasteful guitars as the spearhead all sounding so electrifying. No, you know what, it’s got to be “Mission”. It’s a contrast to “Enchanted By The Moon,” but it’s got Rechberger’s most memorable drumming as he goes for a catchy beat with lots of hat tapping. Esa’s the real showman, but Rechberger’s drumming and the melodies on this one (not to mention Joutsen’s soaring vocals) make “Mission” the zenith of the album.
This one’s caught between my favorite Amorphis albums and the great ones that don’t quite cut it. Its level of impact isn’t as high as it could have been. It’s a fantastic album, with the only two detractions being the overall quality of “Nightbird’s Song” and “A New Day”. Otherwise, it’s everything I could want in a Joutsen-Amorphis release. It doesn’t deviate from what they’re now known for, but it’s certainly a release that reaffirms their ability to craft intricate songs. It’s been nearly ten years since I first heard this band when they helped get me into metal, and hearing them still retaining their inventiveness is comforting. I just hope they have a few more in them before the inevitable end.
Pale_Pilgrim on April 22nd, 2013
Of fine wine and beef...
Man oh man. Can this band do no wrong? Since vocalist Tomi Joutsen joined in '05, Amorphis has retained a consistent line-up and released consistently entertaining albums. Some are slightly weaker than others, but they're all quite energetic and mostly headbangable. When a band finds a niche as strong as Joutsen-era Amorphis has, one must mark the quality of the individual albums by observing the little things. And this album has a large array of little details that put it a cut above pretty much every other post-Koskinen release (save for, in my opinion, Skyforger, but damn close).
The sound of Circle, at its roots, is indeed not far removed from the previous 4 efforts. For the uninitiated, Amorphis' signature sound is a rather crisp, guitar-driven-yet-keyboard-accentuated approach to melodic heavy metal. This is, though, a band that one really should hear rather than trying to glean their musical approach from descriptive text. Their music oozes atmosphere and the members all write highly infectious melodies. Expect a mix of clean and harsh vocals, in varying amounts depending on the album. Now, let's get on to what's new and what's (thankfully) returned.
First of all, this is unquestionably the heaviest offering Amorphis have served up since Tomi Joutsen joined. Compared to its predecessors, it's almost unrelenting in its high-energy, pounding rhythms and dazzling keyboard interjections. Fans of Joutsen's harsh vocals will be pleasantly surprised, as most tracks have at least some harsh vocals. Hell, the very opener pretty much only uses cleans on the chorus. I have to say - he is in truly amazing form on this album. He doesn't just throw in the usual low death-ish gutturals we've heard in the past - on a few tracks, he uses a higher, raspier growl that has an almost black metal bent to it (check out the varied vocal performance on "Nightbird's Song" - just inspiring). The cleans are what we've come to expect, but coupled with the somewhat more high-octane songwriting, he shines a little brighter. And that's just what's new with Tomi.
Remember the folksy leanings of older stand-outs like Brother Moon and Shaman? Those are back, too. This is especially prevalent in part of the closer and on "Narrowpath", which utilizes a recurring, blazing woodwind melody underlining the winding guitar leads and chunky rhythm section. Definitely have to give extra credit to drummer Jan Rechberger, he stepped up on this one. In addition to Santeri's (beautiful as always) soaring, starry-eyed keyboard riffs, Jan contributed some keyboard sections of his own. Moreover, his drumming is very crisp, a little more adventurous at times (pay heed to tracks like "Mission") and mixed very well. In fact, the whole album is. If you like the mix on the previous album, Circle does sound quite similar, just a little bit beefier. As a bassist, it's nice to hear Niclas so clearly - not that we couldn't before - in this case I mean it more-so in reference to certain sections where he plays a larger role than straight riffing, like in in the intro to the previously-mentioned standout "Mission". Sprinklings of his backing vocals are a nice textural touch, as in the past. Tomi Koivusaari is rocking harder than he has in years, but also gets in a nice acoustic intro on the closing track. And finally, Esa's lead riffage is like a fine wine - better with age and very tasteful. Work like that found on "Into the Abyss", particularly the solo (which immediately follows a spirited keyboard solo) is what being a lead guitarist is all about. It's all designed to perfectly fit the song - no wanking around, no technicality for the sake of it, just smooth-fitting, concise lead work that really catches the ear.
If I had to sum this album up in one word - and yes, I realize my writing is rather verbose - it'd be "well-crafted". I was surprised by this one, for 2 reasons - firstly, I was unaware they'd been working on it and merely happened to be reading up on Amorphis the day before the album's release date. It seemed very soon after The Beginning of Times, to me. Secondly, and most importantly, it caught me by surprise in how intricately written and energetic it is. Big highlight in metal for 2013, and it's only April as I write! What an album. Fans won't be disappointed, newcomers will be floored by it. Which is a hard place to headbang from. Get back up and take it all in, stranger.
Big standouts: Mission, Narrowpath, Nightbird's Song, A New Day
autothrall on April 22nd, 2013
Tedium and annulment
'Were we listening to the same album?' I hate to service such a cliche, but after seeing some of the overwhelmingly positive reactions to the latest Amorphis effort, I found myself asking that same question at least a half dozen times. My own initial response to Circle was that it was a middling but tolerable affair which did little to build upon any of their considerable body of work, but nestled safely between the progressive rock and folk metal aesthetics the Finns have been flirting with since the incredible Elegy back in the mid 90s (still a favorite). Further listens have revealed that is in fact an exercise in retread tedium, and even if it avoids the status of an outrageously 'bad' disc, I find it easily the worst of the Tomi Joutsen era, and their least interesting output since Far from the Sun...perhaps it's celebrating a 10 year anniversary of that mediocrity?
The arrangements and production values of Circle are nothing to scoff at, and it really gleams through the speakers with its overabundance of melodies, but it seems that a great deal of riff writing has been sacrificed in the name of accessibility and atmosphere. The rhythm guitars are tremendously boring throughout the record. Mindless amateur chugs like the nearly nu-metal bounce opening "Hopeless Days", or laying down the foundation to the verses of "Mission", abound here, and I cannot recall a single rhythm guitar pattern over the 46 minutes of content that drew my attention. Remember when this band was capable of right hooking you with an unforgettable melody that could burn across the decades (i.e. most of the guitars on Elegy)? These are but a distant memory, replaced by the simulacra of banal grooves and background chord patterns which almost seem subservient to the vocals and brazen synthesizer melodies which strike like a dawn's early light over a grassland plain upon which nothing much is happening. Lead-like melodies are likewise ineffectual, cleaner guitars or proggy Tuonela-style picking just there to further flesh out the atmosphere rather than author some memorable note progressions.
It says a lot to me that almost any random song of Eclipse, the first Joutsen-fronted album, is greatly preferable to anything on this album, and that was hardly the pinnacle of Amorphis' creativity. Even where the band attempts to get heavier, bringing back the harsher growls, or a denser groove, or a tremolo picked guitar riff (as in "Nightbird's Song"), I was nearly bored to tears. Most of the 'folksy' melodies in tunes like "Narrowpath" seem like they were plucked off the cutting room floor of a band like Alestorm, and the various flute solos and other rural, archaic moments though the album are not themselves capable of summoning up an interesting melody to justify themselves. It's as if they were just placed on the album for a muster of the ranks. Organs? Front and center, sir! Flutes? Still got 'em, captain. Amorphis was once so excellent at weaving together the 70s rock, blues, folk instrumentation into the harder rhythm guitars and melodies, but this all seems like a phoned in par for the course, reinforced only by a pretty sweet engineering job. The bass and drums are pristine in the mix, but rarely does either do anything interesting except rock along to the rather standard riffing construction while the keys flutter through the pennants above.
As for Joutsen himself, he admittedly puts on a pretty diverse and satisfying performance, blending both the clean tones of his predecessor with some more emotional, 'heartfelt' Gothic metal twine that unfortunately makes half this album sound like it could have been written by one of their Finnish neighbors like Charon or To/Die/For. The harder growls aren't particularly convincing, and in fact the entire use of the scarce, heavier sequences on Circle seem as if they were just implemented to shut down the naysayers who think the band has entirely sold out its death metal roots. But listen to just about any comparable passage on Silent Waters or Skyforger and the quality really seems to have taken a dive, especially these terribad boring palm mute chugging elements that are about as bland as week old diet white bread. Another frustration was that every time I was mentally imagine some series of rhythm guitar chords or one of Tomi's chorus melodies reaching an expected climax, it always seemed to misfire into some vapid configuration. Completely unexciting stuff...
To be as fair as I can, a few of the later tunes like "Enchanted by the Moon" or "Into the Abyss" are fractionally catchier than the first half of Circle, but not to the degree that I'd dub them impressive. It seems as if Amorphis has chosen to rest on its laurels here, whereas in the past they were this constantly evolving, fascinating entity who I held very high standards for. A safe album, and TOO safe, if the lame lyrics to a tune like "Hopeless Days" are any indicator. 'I never wanted/I never wanted to be born/Into this cruel world/Into this cruel world I was torn'. Tomi's coverage of these was so cheesily emotional that it summoned to mind memories of Zach Stevens' miserable presence on the first two Savatage albums he was involved with. Yuck. Granted, there are traces enough from Elegy, Skyforger, Tuonela, and other works to sate those simply seeking more of the same, but none are handled quite so adeptly as they were when first introduced into the Finns' matrix of sounds. Quite a bummer, because even though I wasn't in love with their last LP The Beginning of Times, they'd been on quite a roll since acquiring Joutsen. This did nothing for me.