A new album release from an established band is always a reason to celebrate. And yet, it doesn’t always take place in the highest ranks of the group’s discography. This is most certainly not the case here. Metal fans everywhere, rejoice, for this is the album of the year.
Amorphis was born in 1990 in Finland, originally as a death metal group. Its name, derived from the word amorphous (shapeless), could not have been more appropriate. Throughout their career, the band have not only gone through numerous changes in the line-up, but also experimented with different styles whilst finding and developing their own sound. With lyrics largely inspired by folklore and influences drawing from progressive and psychedelic genres, Amorphis have developed a unique and instantly recognizable feel to their music.
Circle is the eleventh studio album in their discography, following 2011’s The Beginning of Times. It is a masterpiece which will no doubt become one of the favorites with their existing fans and is sure to gain the group many new followers. The monumental Amorphis sound is as refined as ever, and yet each complex piece has new elements to be discovered with each listen. Over the course of nine songs, Amorphis, ever the storytellers, take the listener on a melancholic journey through space and time, through legend-inspired tales of search and struggle. As the lyricist Pekka Kainulainen explains, the concept of the album is survival of the protagonist through the struggles of his difficult life. The character depicted on the cover represents a spiritual guide who will help him through the difficult times to find a new way.
The album opens without warning or apologies. It grabs the listener’s full attention, and keeps it – a sharp contrast between the heavy verses and melodic chorus ensure just that. The first song is the essence of the band’s sound – between the low, heavy riffs and the elaborate instrumental passages, “Shades of Gray” is a piece that announces: We’re back, just as great as ever. The following Mission is even more inspired with a poignant instrumental passage suddenly bursting out from the melancholic tones.
“The Wanderer”, a somewhat subdued composition, brings the focus back to the storytelling nature of the group’s albums. “Homeless man he is, a wanderer without a hope,” we hear, as we’re drawn in to the protagonist’s story, wondering how it will unfold. “Narrow Path” follows, bringing a first-person view to the tale. The folk-inspired music gives a more hopeful sound to the lyrics that are now more encouraging, as the character now states, “this is my world, here’s my future”. “Hopeless Days” is another lyrics-driven piece. From a haunting, melodic start it turns to a dramatic chorus as the story unfolds. The more passionately the main character recalls his memories, the more diverse the music becomes, alternating between calm and fast passages, culminating in a melodic solo, capturing the imagination.
Now that the overall tone of Circles has been turned to melancholy and folklore, it is time to return to the heavy depths of Amorphis’ music. “Nightbird’s Song” does just that, effortlessly blending the heavy riffs and vocals with melodic and soaring chorus. The ease with which the two intertwine shows the mastery the group has over their craft. The following “Into the Abyss” only reinforces this point, with lengthier instrumental parts and elaborate solos. This piece is one of the biggest anthems on the record, with poetic lyrics so passionately sung by Tomi Joutsen. “Why have you called me here (…), Why I’m the one”, he asks, and we ask with him, captured by the music and the dramatic story.
“Enchanted by the Moon” brings back the heavy riffs and dark vocals to create a haunting composition, with intense guitar melodies creating a feeling of suspense. The extensive keyboard parts add to the atmosphere of terror and urgency at the album’s turning point. And so the time comes for the atonement of “A New Day”. The soothing opening notes lead into a calming, melancholic yet hopeful-sounding piece. As the protagonist’s story concludes, so does the album.
The CD also features a bonus track, “Dead Man’s Dream”. The song follows the heavier route of Amorphis’ sound. It’s dark, fast, heavy and intense – the band signs off in style.
After twenty years, numerous line-up changes and variations in music direction, it takes a truly great group to deliver an album full of such magnificent sound, both confident and diverse. This record is good news for metal. And if you’ve read this far, there’s only one thing left to do – pick up a copy. You will not be disappointed.
Amorphis is: Tomi Joutsen (Vocals), Esa Holopainen (Lead Guitars), Tomi Koivusaari (Rhythm Guitars), Niclas Etelävuori (Bass), Santeri Kallio (Keyboards), Jan Rechberger (Drums).
Written by Natalia Gronowska
OurVinyl | Contributor