October 19, 2013 Amorphis – Circle (Album Review)
One of the most consistent and productive bands in the heavy metal pantheon, Helsinki’s own Amorphis dropped their 11th album Circle back in April of this year, once more to critical acclaim. Hard at work since 1990, the Finnish six-piece has evolved from three guys blasting old-school death metal in their basement to a multi-faceted, emotion-filled dynasty of professionalism and memorable, timeless tunes.
After a creatively rocky period at the turn of the millennium, the addition of vocalist Tomi Joutsen breathed new life into Amorphis, resulting in a slew of great albums. Joutsen’s ability to growl and sing brought a dynamic back into the band that most fans felt had been missing since 1994’s seminal Tales From the Thousand Lakes.
For latest studio album Circle, the Finns surprised many by choosing to work with famed producer Peter Tägtgren at Abyss studios, a distinct change from their previous efforts. If there is one thing Tägtgren was able to do on the album, it was to improve Joutsen’s growled vocals, giving them some nuance and adding to the album’s overall heaviness.
The nine songs of Circle (ten if you bought the digipak) will take the listener on a journey as varied and polarizing as life itself. Once again taking their lyrical themes from the Kalevala, that ancient codex of the Finnish people, the album follows the life story of a lost and lonely character, adrift and without hope. That is, until a crisis brings a spiritual guide into his existence . . . look at the beautiful album cover – the androgynous person depicted on it is that guide. Named for the proclivity of wise men to conduct business seated in a circle, the album is as rich and deep as its backstory.
The songs ebb and flow with a balance missing from most musical outfits these days. The interplay between keyboardist and compositional genius Santeri Kallio and the magnificent riffs and leads of Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari on guitar is something to behold. Held down by the rhythm section of Niklas Etelävuori on bass and founding drummer Jan Rechberger, these songs are made to last. Opener “Shades of Grey” goes from a growled death metal styling to an anthemic chorus guaranteed to stay in your head all day. Rare it is to find a band that can truly mix the aggression of death metal with the melodies of progressive rock and really make it work. Amorphis make it work.
Each song weaves mood and melody into a tapestry of warmth and feeling almost too sublime for words. “The Wanderer”, “Narrow Path”, and “Hopeless Days”, showcase Joutsen’s ever-improving clean vocal abilities, though “Hopeless Days” will definitely have those fists in the air at shows. When that lovely chorus hits you’ll be moved back up into ethereal realms of mood and mystery, and back again. Such is the beauty of Amorphis. This album remains strong until the final note, the keys and the voice, the guitar and the drums surging and cresting like waves on a frigid Lapland sea . . . . Amorphis are an institution, a rare gem from the old days that’s actually getting fresher and better as the years tick by. Don’t miss out on the ride. CrypticRock gives this album 5 out of 5 stars.