(By Kira Schlechter, Guest Contributor/Writer, RiffRelevant.com)
Finland’s AMORPHIS is fast becoming that country’s most reliable export of exceedingly excellent musical work.
While 2015’s “Under The Red Cloud” coalesced the elements of their sound, their latest for Nuclear Blast, “Queen Of Time”, takes those ideas to the next level, adding sounds, instrumentation, and complexity to create a bold and daring album that is at once completely them and at once a launching pad for a multitude of different incarnations of themselves.
The fluttering, erratic rhythm of the opening track, “The Bee,” strongly resembles the insect’s flight path. It thematically mourns the recent mass die-off of bees worldwide and is unique in that it has no distinct chorus but perhaps two short, but equally compelling ones.
From that track on and nearly throughout, the album’s themes are life arising from death (“and when the tiny one /from heaven comes /crawls inside the chosen skull,” as a line from “The Bee” goes), or death reclaiming life, as in “Message In The Amber.” That track has a strong folk bent with its lilting rhythm, and a classical influence from the delicate choral arrangement. Those are aspects the band is further developing and making their own, to great effect.
Many would, and have, argued these moves turn AMORPHIS soft, but would they have a band with such deep roots in its country’s traditions totally abandon them to appear more “metal”? I’d hope not.
“Daughter Of Hate” features keyboardist Santeri Kallio’s church organ and it is harsh and nightmarish. Its unique musical embellishments – wafts of saxophone, monosyllabic choral singing, and a spoken-word section by lyricist Pekka Kainulainen – make perfect sense. These are distinct risks and chances the band is taking and they nail them – the choir voices especially are carefully and judiciously placed and serve a distinct purpose.
“The Golden Elk,” a metaphor for the fleeting nature of time throughout the seasons and through life (along with the image of “the queen of time”), is extraordinary. Its’ achingly beautiful orchestral arrangement and choral singing is very reminiscent of Nightwish but without all the excess. A main guitar line almost Latin in melody and a chorus that’s very nearly perfect makes this song just sublime.
“Wrong Direction” features the shimmer of very AMORPHIS-like delayed guitars, a percolating, terse groove, and a glorious chorus. It is perhaps the most AMORPHIS of all the tracks, and that’s not bad.
“Heart Of The Giant” hints at environmental devastation, and boasts a potent, punchy string arrangement and Kallio’s Jon Lord-like organ. Its syncopated, sinister chorus is drawn thematically from folklore.
“We Accursed” is pointed commentary, led by mournful whistles and singer Tomi Joutsen’s accusing bellow. A jazzy bridge of whistle, guitar, and keyboards gives the track a bouncing lightness than does nothing to detract from its very serious point – that our divisions and hatreds will doom us.
“Grain Of Sand” has the same Middle Eastern flair as “Death Of A King,” from “Under The Red Cloud.” It too is about the transience of life, that death is inevitable and that we go back to the earth in the end. Its chorus trades off on Joutsen’s growls and his soaring clean singing.
The glorious “Amongst Stars” features the crystalline, almost knife’s-edge voice of singer Anneke van Giersbergen and a very folky bridge. Joutsen’s darkly romantic croon lends earthiness to her spiraling wail.
“Pyres On The Coast” is a splendid epic, a tale of alien raiders conquering a land and enslaving the natives, the signal fires set as warning ultimately serving as funeral pyres. The orchestral part lends tension and urgency and drama, the gorgeous low-key bridge of guitars (that’s Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari) and Jan Rechberger’s tribal drumming echo the sadness of the story’s tragic turn.
Speaking of Joutsen, his voice has never been so versatile, from his trademark roar (which he shows off often), to his clean singing. Both styles are used at exactly the right moments and often unexpectedly — where you might think you’d get one, you get the other.
Newly returned bassist Olli-Pekka Laine wrote the music to the first bonus track “As Mountains Crumble,” which alternates between light and musing to heavy and full of despair. It has a distinctly progressive, almost jazzy vibe, set off by Kallio’s scatting organ lines.
The other, “Brothers And Sisters,” is a fairy tale of the earth and the sea (depicted as “brother” and “sister”) with a fantastically catchy chorus. Most bands would kill for AMORPHIS’ bonus tracks — they’re that good and that contextually sound.
With chart debuts higher than they’ve ever been in a multitude of countries, fans realize too that AMORPHIS has never been better. Catch them in North America this fall with Dark Tranquility, Moonspell and Omnium Gatherum at these dates:
Sep. 07 – New York, NY – Gramercy Theater
Sep. 08 – Montreal, QUE – Cafe Campus
Sep. 09 – Quebec City, QUE – Imperial de Quebec
Sep. 10 – Toronto, ONT – Opera House
Sep. 11 – Ft Wayne, IN – Pierre’s
Sep. 12 – Detroit, MI – Harpo’s
Sep. 13 – Joliet, Il – The Forge
Sep. 14 – Minneapolis, MN – The Cabooze
Sep. 15 – Winnipeg, MB – Park Theatre
Sep. 17 – Edmonton, AB – The Starlite Room
Sep. 18 – Calgary, AB – Dickens
Sep. 19 – Vancouver, BC – Rickshaw Theater
Sep. 20 – Seattle, WA – El Corazon
Sep. 22 – Berkeley, CA – The UC Theatre
Sep. 23 – Anaheim, CA – City National Grove
Sep. 24 – West Hollywood, CA – Whiskey a Go Go
Sep. 25 – San Diego, CA – Brick By Brick
Sep. 26 – Tempe, AZ – Marquee Theatre
Sep. 27 – Las Vegas, NV – House of Blues
Sep. 28 – Salt Lake City, UT – Liquid joe’s
Sep. 29 – Denver, CO – Herman’s Hideaway
Oct. 01 – Dallas, TX – Trees
Oct. 02 – San Antonio, TX – Rock Box
Oct. 03 – Houston, TX – Scout Bar
Oct. 05 – Tampa, FL – Orpheum
Oct. 06 – West Palm Beach, FL – Kelsey Theater
Oct. 07 – Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade
Oct. 09 – Louisville, KY – Diamond Pub and Billiards
Oct. 10 – Durham, NC – Motorco
Oct. 11 – Baltimore, MD – Soundstage
Oct. 12 – Philadelphia, PA – The Trocadero
Oct. 14 – Clifton Park, NY – Upstate Concert Hall