May 14, 2018 Amorphis – Queen of Time (Album Review)
If there are modern day Heavy Metal bands with old roots enjoying a better run of successful albums than Finland’s restless enclave, the mighty Amorphis, it might be difficult to name more than a mere few. May 18th, 2018 sees these innovators of Melodic Death Metal releasing their thirteenth studio album. The elegantly titled Queen of Time is bestowed upon the world once more via Nuclear Blast Records.
While much in the Amorphis camp has remained static for a number of years, the new album cements the return of founding Bassist Olli-Pekka Laine back into the fold. Taking the spot of the colorful, beloved Niklas Etelavuori, who departed on friendly terms in 2017, Laine handled the bottom end on such classics as 1992’s The Karelian Isthmus, 1994’s Tales From The Thousand Lakes, 1996’s Elegy, and 1999’s Tuonela.
Once more working with famed Producer Jens Bogren, the creative core of Keyboardist Santeri Kallio, founding Guitarists Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari, and long-time Drummer Jan Rechberger believe that Mr. Bogren can coax the most out of their songs. On Queen of Time, they look to build on the success of 2015’s Under The Red Cloud album, a work of art that also saw Vocalist Tomi Joutsen reach new heights of both melancholia and brutality.
It is immediately evident how Amorphis manages to change while staying the same, right from the get-go with single and album opener “The Bee.” The band blends the rough edges of a riff-driven, growled verse to a silken chorus in a way that warms with each listen. What has deepened over time for Amorphis is the layering, and the amount of sonic trappings the creativity of Kallio and the sharp ear of Bogren manage to add to an already lovely set of melodies.
Queen of Time pulses with both the spirit of elder Amorphis while driving the band boldly forward. “Heart of the Giant” and its massive melody churns with the feeling from the lovely Elegy album while exhibiting the massive professional production the band is capable of in 2018. Yet, the addition of things like a chorus of voices augmenting Kallio’s keys, a la Nightwish or Therion, comes off sounding completely organic and still allows the music to breathe. A dueling keyboard and guitar solo? That is the type of Prog influenced melodic deliciousness Amorphis has become known for. This song is a triumph and an album highlight to be cherished. Its climactic latter half affirms how Tomi Joutsen has grown as a vocalist, his studio performance pushing boundaries at every end of his range.
Trappings and flare have not been a big part of the Amorphis canon, but these touches are present in Queen of Time. On “The Golden Elk,” the intro speaks once more of the symphonic end of Prog Metal until the straight ahead melody and drive catapults the listener down the path these Finns have forged for the listener. Could a smoother, more catchy chorus ever burrow its way into the head? Classical instrumentation synthesized amid a detached choral voice and some acoustic guitar strumming show that Amorphis is feeling fearless these days. It is their world; we are just living in it.
Holopainen and Koivusaari have been referred to within the cyberspace of CrypticRock as a ‘two-headed melody machine.’ The nickname fits, as songs like “Wrong Direction” seem to just write themselves for this band. Underpinned by the intuitive play of Kallio, it just should not be this damn easy to write emotional, gorgeous odes like this one. Amorphis sheds them like autumn leaves, though. This lovely addition to the canon, with its yearning chorus, will embed itself beneath the skin like a beloved tattoo. The mid-section breakdown features a well-placed Kallio solo, before launching once more into the chorus that brings it home in triumphant fashion.
Queen of Time has a bit of a pattern going on in the music, and that is the building dramatic climax happening in a lot of the songs. It is like Bogren has the boys climbing a mountain, where the journey up results in reaching a breathtaking summit. It is a subtle songwriting shift that, while it can be found in earlier works, seems to have been synthesized into the everyday on the latest album. For longtime fans, think of the title track of Elegy.
“Daughter of Hate,” by contrast, features quite the blackened vocal on the part of Joutsen. Not to remain at any point stagnant or predictable, the song also features a smartly placed saxophone solo contributed by the prolific Jorgen Munkeby.
Amorphis has a few more surprises up their sleeves, such as an appearance by lovely Dutch Vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen. Popping up in a lot of places lately, she goes back a long way to the heady ’90s and the advent of all this European Metal so beloved. This song, titled “Amongst Stars,” is simply a seductive duet between the two juggernauts of vocal perfection. To a longtime Amorphis fan, this approach took some getting used to, but it does not take long before the tympanic intoxication levels reach a critical mass. Flawless guitar solos, Kallio keyboard runs, and catchiness that never spoils, shows the band being fearless.
Fearless is a good way to describe Queen of Time, and not as a journalist’s attempt to make excuses for a band departing from what made them great. No, Amorphis is taking what makes them great and simply adding some more dimensions to their sound. The results speak for themselves. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives Queen of Time 5 out of 5 stars.