Saturday, August 31, 2013

Amorphis - Circle

Amorphis
Circle
Nuclear Blast Records/Riot! Entertainment

Although I call myself a fan, I can’t say that I’ve truly enjoyed everything that Finnish (Helsinki) based outfit Amorphis have released throughout the years. When I take a broader view of their output from their twenty three year career, it’s apparent that for every one of the band’s truly inspired releases, there’s a follow-up release that sees the band treading water with an album that seriously lacks in inspiration and song writing that lifts it up and beyond the bar set by the band themselves in the past. In other words, while Amorphis have released some truly outstanding and memorable releases, the band’s back catalogue isn’t without its share of lacklustre releases as well.
It’s been two years since the release of ‘The Beginning Of Times’ (2011), and I can’t say that I was in any great rush to listen to their latest release ‘Circle’ given how disappointed I was with their last effort. Granted, ‘The Beginning Of Times’ did have its moments, but I couldn’t help but feel that the album didn’t really offer much in the way of anything new from the band sound wise, and the album’s hour long running time left me feeling like they were simply padding the album with needless filler instead of trimming it down to an album of tracks that represented them at their best.
So with virtually no expectations, I decided to give the twelfth full-length effort a spin. And while I’m not about to say that ‘Circle’ is the one of the band’s best, it’s certainly a stronger and more inspired sounding effort from the band in some years.
The six piece band (Who comprise of vocalist Tomi Joutsen, lead guitarist Esa Holopainen, rhythm guitarist Tomi Koivusaari, bassist Niclas Etelävuori, keyboardist Santeri Kallio and drummer Jan Rechberger) get the album off to a truly outstanding start with the opening cut ‘Shades Of Gray’. Starting out with plenty of aggression that leans more towards the band’s early death metal roots, the song soon transforms into something more akin to their current melodic rock vein, bolstered by a chorus that’s memorable. Amorphis have never been afraid to blur the boundaries between genres in the past, but never have the band been able to cleverly mix the old with the new in such a potent and seamless form. Joutsen’s vocals (Both in growl and cleaner efforts) sounds as impressive as ever, while the band’s ability to move from one style to the next and back again is nothing short of fantastic.
The next track ‘Mission’ isn’t really all that far removed from what Amorphis have been offering up for some time now (Especially since Joutsen joined the group in 2005), but when it’s done this well, doing something completely different doesn’t enter the equation. With its epic undertones, lush atmospherics and stand out chorus structures, ‘Mission’ is the kind of song that Amorphis have built their career on, and this is the perfect example of when the band is truly inspired and write a song that draws together all of the trademark elements that make up their sound in the one song.
‘The Wanderer’ (The second single lifted from the album) follows a similar path to its predecessor, albeit with a little more directness and a greater emphasis on guitar riffs/solos over keyboards (Holopainen really stands out on this track), while ‘Narrow Path’ sees a welcome return of the band’s folk influences with the use of flute (Provided by Sakari Kukko) interwoven throughout the song’s decidedly guitar heavy driven soundtrack.
‘Hopeless Days’ (The first single released from the album) is a track that took me by surprise with its darker sounding verses and light filled choruses. Amorphis aren’t afraid to experiment a little here and there, but this track really does see the band pushing the progressive side of their song writing a little more in that direction and it works exceedingly well. And when the clutches of guitar passages are delivered with openness like this that can only be produced by Peter Tägtgren (Who is otherwise the mastermind behind Hypocrisy and Pain), it transforms the whole song to an entirely new level. Needless to say, the song is a personal favourite.
The doomy/melodic black metal influenced ‘Nightbird’s Song’ continues along the same vein in terms of heaviness with Joutsen’s growled vocals coming back into the mix, but is broken up with some passages of flute to give the song a bit of breathing space, while the slower paced ‘Enchanted By The Moon’ maintains the heavier vibe of the former track, albeit with a greater sense of doom atmospherics that Amorphis mastered some years ago.
‘Into The Abyss’ best represents the album with its melodic progressive metal sounding direction, Holopainen’s outstanding contribution of guitars throughout and Joutsen’s superb melodies, while the progressive based closer ‘A New Day’ finishes up the album on a high note with some saxophone being brought into the mix and Joutsen’s truly soaring chorus.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always considered Amorphis’ track record a little hit and miss. But after giving ‘Circle’ a good listen, I have to conclude that this is one of the band’s finer efforts in recent years, and certainly one of this year’s unexpected surprise releases. In short – this album comes highly recommended to Amorphis fans.

For more information on Amorphis, check out - http://www.amorphis.net/

© Justin Donnelly