Will one of the most renowned bands from Finland top their own game?
It is OK to claim that Amorphis is an institution in the icy Finnish circles.
Since the release of The Karelian Isthmus they have been developing a unique style, produced by the mix of melodic and folkloric inspired metal with grains of progressive twists to their formula. By this same token, Tales of a Thousand Lakes is regarded as one of the groundbreaking albums of the melodic death metal genre, not only for the epic feeling of the entire concept, based on the Kalevala epic poem, but also because the band ventured into new territories with the inclusion of keyboards and gloomy textures into the headbanging-approved material.
After that, the band released plenty of records that are lauded by the critics as good tributes to their ever-changing sound and folkloric roots, including titles like Skyforger and Silent Waters, which feature the current vocalist, Tomi Joutsen, a more than capable growler with a good range of clean vocal output.
I felt that the last Amorphis albums lacked something of that interesting textural and melodic treatment that they printed on Tales of a Thousand Lakes, so I approached Under the Red Cloud with a bit of skepticism and, yes, they blew my mind off with a fresh take on their entire career. It seems that the tour, in which they played the entire Tales record, helped to forge a new hammer with their forgotten tricks.
The folk elements are represented by keyboards, flutes, strings and whistles that are not solely used for melodic patterns. In this album, the band utilizes this wide arrange of instruments to create layers behind the constantly changing structures in order to provide a more moody and distinct melancholic approach to each lyrical theme.
In the lyrical department, helmed once again by Finnish artist Pekka Kainulainen, each song is crowned by the band’s trademark poetic writing style, but the novelty in Under the Red Cloud is that every track begins and closes as one; they are stand-alone pieces that are encompassed by a central arc, related to human experiences and nature, exploring the conflicting dualities in the earthly domain. The Kalevala references are still in some lines, but they are more scattered with a more symbolic overtone.
The riffing is paired with the solos as well-placed bits that cultivate the organic feel of the album, in which the keyboards and the foreign instruments finds their way through the more harsh side without making a competition between the distinguished features. The delicate equalized guitar tone of Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari blends perfectly with the Niclas Etelävouri bass foundation.
Tracks like “The Four Wise Ones” or “The Skull“ follow the death metal route that Amorphis themselves constructed along their career and mix that humid growled package with a dynamic slash of progressive tastiness, with plenty of absorbing riffing. On the other side, Tomi’s vocals welcome the more straight-forward cuts, like “Death of a King”, which is a song graced by the Eastern-ish layers of melodies, the guest presence of drummer Martín López, and the complete devotion of the vocalist to the dual attack of growled verses with an explosive clean chorus. “Sacrifice”, on its own, reminds of the Circle era, retaining a catchy flavor with ever-increasing melodic vocal lines.
Is the second half, with “Dark Path” or “Enemy at the Gates”, the vision began to stumble; repetitive patterns plumb these two songs into a drop of concentration on the music, even with the correct drumming of Jan Rechberger. But, it is on “Tree of Ages”, a folk-driven tune that drops a central melody with an ambivalent mixture of nostalgia and narrative, that I recovered my faith in this record. The journey ends with “White Night”, a mysterious piece aided by the ethereal vocals of Swedish singer Aleah. With a more slow-paced track, the circle of Under the Red Cloud finishes with a rather distinct style.
This Amorphis ode to the arcane forces of life and nature is one of the best pieces of their entire catalog. They threw every bit of style they have created in the past into a boiling cauldron and created an alchemic record that feels familiar with several new hooks. On this album, they grasped onto a more concise and straight-forward song-writing style, and while the tracks employ a more narrative structure, the stacking layers of instruments and textures turns the experience to a very enjoyable one.
I have to note that Jens Bogren’s production highlights the different facets of the music and the heavy usage of layers urges repeat plays. This is a great sign that the band is still eager to add segments or different structures to the songs they create.
For all of this, this is a colorful, approved album with an excellent 4/5 flaming toilets rating.
Great job in this journey, Amorphis!
Cover art made by Valnoir Mortasonge.