Amorphis is a name that has gained much prestige in the world of melodic death metal and folk. Having been around for some twenty-plus years, the band has released a myriad of albums that have been influential and diverse in style. Amorphis has never been one to remain too close to their humbler beginnings, instead of overtime branching out into, at times, cleaner and a rather-more-accessible release like Circle or Skyforger. With varying degrees of success, Amorphis has managed to remain a strong figurehead in the world of folk and melodic death metal, with its lead vocalist Tomi Joutsen having quickly become one of the two sub-genres key players, despite not being a founding member.
This year has seen the return of Amorphis with their thirteenth studio album, Queen of Time, which will drop on May 18th via Nuclear Blast Records. To get this out of the way early, this may be the band’s most experimental release yet, playing around with the likes of sounds not previously heard on past releases; such as the stronger use of synthesisers, but with a return to the heavier and darker sounds of the bands’ earlier offerings, Tales from the Thousand Lakes. In fact, purely from the opening track of the album and its first single, “The Bee”, condenses two decades of Amorphis’ evolution into five-and-a-half minutes of symphonically-layered melodic death metal majesty.
The expertise and brilliance to Queen of Time is not purely into the showing of the musical talents of its six members, but more to how they coalesce and flow together with the peace and tranquillity of a river stream. With the lyrics for the album again, as always, touching on stories from the Finnish Kalevala, Queen of Time focuses rather on a more unknown and eclectic side to the national poem’s writings, touching more on the beauty of nature held therein, as opposed to the traditional hero stories you might be expecting. Between the folk metal and leads-driven track “Message in the Amber”, through the poignant “Daughter of Hate” and the wondrous “The Golden Elk”, the album continues to build momentum and awe as it moves on to “Wrong Direction”, a song that continues to put on full display the inspired clean vocals of Joutsen and the impressive keyboard work of Santeri Kallio. While it’d be all too easy to gush over the musical talents of each of the band’s members, I’ll instead note that the sonic expertise that Amorphis manages to weave is some of its most mystical and jaw-dropping yet.
The secret to what makes Queen of Time such a smooth listen is the mixing and mastering, allowing the familiar folk melodies and riffs to blend as one whole; lending itself to a smooth and enjoyable listening experience that is both, at once accessible, and at the other, moving the band forward again into new musical territory. While it could be argued that what you are hearing isn’t all too ‘new’ or ‘different’ as such (a lot of it does recall their previous offerings), it doesn’t evoke the sense of being fresh to today’s metal climate; one that is incredibly over-saturated and makes older bands as Amorphis harder to stand out in the crowd. It is a testament then to the strength of the band that they can produce music that, while familiar, remains relevant in this day-and-age and has a message that is important and interesting. This is especially true with two of the album’s standout tracks, “Heart of the Giant” and “We Accursed”; both of which exercise Joutsen’s equally impressive harsh vocal range and the beautiful lead and rhythm guitar work of Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari.
With a strong Middle-Eastern flavour to it, “Grain of Sand” is the most eclectic song of the album, but one that is a joy to listen to. As the album nears its close with “Amongst Stars”, the guest vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen immediately invite you in before Kallio’s gorgeous key work flutters in over Joutsen’s vocals once more. Giersbergen was an inspired choice, and her ethereal voice adds a whole other strength to this track that elevates it quite high. It also couples surprisingly well with Joutsen’s performance whether he is adopting his clean or harsher range at any given time. Closing on “Pyres on the Coast”, the empowering atmosphere of this song makes it a great closer for the album, bringing together the symphonic flavours of Queen of Time before leading to a satisfying conclusion that lays it all out on the table. This is Amorphis at their best.