Archive for Folk Metal

Album Review – Amorphis “Circle” 2013

Posted in Album Reviews, Sevens to Nines with tags , , , , , on May 18, 2013 by Lightning Slim

AmorphisCircle.jpg  Twenty years and no bad records. I don’t know that there are many other bands in this scene that could claim the same, and I don’t know what else to say here besides: Amorphis has done it again. Circle might be their best yet, a powerhouse recording that combines the ferocity of Tales From the Thousand Lakes with the sophisticated direction they’ve been following since Tuonela.

The first thing you’ll notice is the album’s almost shocking heaviness. Producer Peter Tägtgren throws a wall of noise up in front of other sounds, and you’ll have to fight your way past the massive drums to find the folk-inspired guitar melodies for which the band is known. However, those melodies are most certainly still there (not to mention the best flute and sax solos you’ll find on a metal record this year), and Tomi Joutsen gives a true showman’s performance to bridge the space between the weight of the mix and the light touches necessary to tell the story of Circle. That story is an original, and not taken from the Kalevala, although it shares the Finnish Epic’s interest in death, rebirth and the healing power of music.

The band has always had a great ear for a catchy chorus and a good head for selecting a single. “Hopeless Days” is as good a choice as any – and I say this out of admiration, not ennui. Record companies need singles; the album doesn’t. Once it’s in your ears, Circle will become a compulsive front-to-back experience where each track makes the next even more necessary.

In this age of single downloads, Amorphis has produced one of the best full-album experiences I’ve heard in years. Circle is their heaviest, most tuneful and most addictive work. Baroness and Mastodon fans, why aren’t you this train yet? 9 out of 10

Album Review – Eluveitie “Helvetios” 2012

Posted in Album Reviews, Sevens to Nines with tags , , , , , on April 2, 2012 by Lightning Slim

  I should begin by mentioning that Eluveitie still rock the house with one of the biggest and most raucous live shows around right now. On-stage they are one of the best metal bands operating, whether you include the “folk” prefix or not. This review is for recorded material only. 

Helvetios surpasses  Eluveitie’s 2010 record Everything Remains as it Never Was in several ways: 

It is faster: by and large Helvetios is a thrashier record than its predecessor. There’s quite a bit of full-bore headbanging with beats just shy of blast velocity. 

It is louder: although there are quieter sections, spoken word bridges and show-stopping ballad “A Rose for Epona” included as part of the journey, the mix is dominated by death vocals and pushes the traditional musical elements away from the centre. 

It is angrier: the concept of Helvetios is a retelling of the historical period of Roman persecution of the Helvetii tribe during the Gallic Wars. The album is boundless in its fury towards Rome’s cultural imperialism; one wonders if a meeting between Celt-positive Eluveitie and Canadian metallic Caesar-freaks Ex Deo would result in some sort of rumble. 

All this being said, the record cannot outstrip the previous release in one critical category: 

It is not as cohesive. In the end, Helvetios is faster, louder and harder but it really isn’t any better. I don’t see myself returning to it nearly as often as I do ERAINW. This is by no means a failure – this is simply a band branching out in new directions and trying different things while remaining true to their fanbase. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. 7.5 out of 10

Deals and Steals: All You Need is Cash

Posted in Deals & Steals with tags , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2011 by Lightning Slim

  Deals and Steals goes a bit country this time out, with a whole lot of the Man in Black with just a bit of blackened metal. All prices $US, shipping was $6.99.

 Johnny Cash – American Recordings, Unchained, The Man Comes Around, A Hundred Highways, Ain’t No Grave. Otherwise known as the entire American Series, collectively purchased at Second Spin for $32.96. The only missing title, American III: Solitary Man, showed up at The Beat Goes On for me the same week for $9.99. Cash’s late-period tales of retribution, regret and redemption are a must-have for anyone even mildly curious about this fascinating musician.

Also headed my way this month:

  Skeletonwitch – Beyond the Permafrost and Breathing the Fire, $7.99 for the pair. Deathly fun with serious riff chops. Have you seen this amazing artwork before?

Blackguard – Firefight $7.99. French Canada’s fast n’ frilly response to Children of Bodom. They put on a heck of a set at Heavy MTL 2011.

Album Review – Amorphis “The Beginning of Times” 2011

Posted in Album Reviews, Sevens to Nines with tags , , , , , on July 29, 2011 by Lightning Slim

  Finland’s Amorphis have been on a Kalevala-inspired roll of late, with albums packed with epic power-pop inspired by the rich images of life and death within the national epic. This year’s outing The Beginning of Times is a bit more solidly conceptual, focusing mainly on (duh) the creation myth and the world’s first hero-figure Vainamoinen. 

It’s a quieter, more self-contained listen than Eclipse, Silent Waters or Skyforger, yet contains many of the elements that have made this phase of Amorphis’ career so successful. Singles “You I Need” and “Mermaid”, while no “Silver Bride”, still manage to show the band’s mastery of the verse-chorus-verse structure that confounds many a technical metal band with its deceptive simplicity. “Mermaid” also contains some timely and tasteful female vocals produced by Marco Hietala, who knows a thing or two about these things.

Solid work from the melodic Finns, The Beginning of Times only misses the podium due to the long shadows of its predecessors. 8 out of 10

Album Review – Amorphis “Magic & Mayhem” 2010

Posted in Album Reviews, Sevens to Nines with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2011 by Lightning Slim

  Magic & Mayhem is the same type of project as Arch Enemy’s The Root of All Evil, a re-recording of early hits with new band personnel. In particular, these versions of songs from Amorphis’ first three records seem like studio mountings of the live performances found on the already-excellent  Forging the Land of Thousand Lakes. Truth be told, if budget is a consideration for you, get that release instead of this one if you want to hear Tomi Joutsen sing the hits.
 
These tracks are lusty, tightly-played and very well-engineered, but none is particularly superior to the originals (the same can be said of the Arch Enemy project). Indeed, Esa Holopainen is clear in the liner notes that this is all in fun and nothing was meant to be supplanted. There are some high points of selection, such as the inclusion of “On Rich and Poor” and the band’s go-to cover “Light My Fire”. Also, as a gift for those of us who could never decide whether we loved the acoustic or the rock version of “My Kantele” more, it is here presented as a clever amalgamation.
 
A last, niggling nitpick, perhaps caused by the nature of compilations, as it wouldn’t have been as noticeable within the flow of an album: Joutsen begins each song with an identical vocal line, growling “Rrrroooiiiiiyyyyeee!!!!” as if issuing a battle challenge to Canadian whiskey. The man is good at what he does, and has been a godsend to the band, but this repetition makes Magic & Mayhem seem a bit hurried and artificial. Don’t panic – Amorphis 3.0 is the Pixar of metal; they don’t produce bad material. This release is just more of a curiosity than a knockout. 7 out of 10

DVD Review – Amorphis “Forging the Land of Thousand Lakes” 2010

Posted in Album Reviews, Sevens to Nines with tags , , , , , , on October 5, 2010 by Lightning Slim

  I wasn’t initially sure whether to review this release as a concert DVD, video compilation or box set. I checked out Amorphis.net and they’re calling it a DVD set with bonus CD’s, and they would know. Besides, the music discs are “only” sound captures of the most recent show on the DVD. The thing is, these “bonus” music tracks are the secret weapon of this set, and worth their weight in gold, as Amorphis’ 2009 show in Oulo, Finland is incredible stuff.

Tearing through material both new and old, Tomi Joutsen lays the memory of former vocalist Pasi Koskinen to rest with authority, making the material, the stage and the crowd his own. “Silver Bride” and “Sampo” have the teamwork and polish of the band’s new phase of Kalevala-inspired material all over them, and the fans clearly and audibly love the nod to former times in the combination of “Black Winter Day” and “Magic and Mayhem”. Forcing its way into the spotlight, however, is a marvellous and muscular medley of highlights from the band’s mid-career melancholy masterpiece Elegy. You don’t need video to tell (although it’s all right there for you) that the ensemble is glad to be free of the psychedelic trappings of the 90’s and getting back to business.

If that wasn’t enough, the second DVD contains an equally excellent performance from the 2009 Summer Breeze Festival, all of the band’s video clips (the good, the bad and the silly), along with an in-depth documentary culled from tour diaries and personal reminiscences. The whole set manages the enviable feat of being a reward for older fans and a great band primer at the same time.

There are two things I almost never buy as a music consumer: live recordings of metal bands and performance videos. I’ve just always found that they can’t (with very notable exceptions) capture the essence of what truly talented musicians do in the studio when they’re firing on their creative cylinders as opposed to their showboating ones. Forging the Land of Thousand Lakes presented a challenge for me in this respect, especially with Live After Death setting the bar so high, but I think Amorphis just bumped against it. As they continue to hone their craft and gain stature as truly relevant, vital songwriters in a massive and resurgent global metal scene, we may all look back on this release one day as a time when they hit that bar on the way over it. 9 out of 10

Deals and Steals: Hammer Time!

Posted in Deals & Steals with tags , , , , , , on May 13, 2010 by Lightning Slim

Just one contribution this time. Last week I was at Beat Goes On and saw a 2-CD label sampler from Hammerheart Records on the shelf for $6.99. I took a chance and grabbed it and I can tell you it was quite a find. It contains many, many bands:

CD1: Thyrfing, Primordial, Necronomicon, Havayoth, The Ravenous, Rebaelliun, Alas, Defleshed, Aeternus, Solstice, Aura Noir, Severe Torture, Thanatos, Skyfire, Hypnosia, Corona Borealis

CD2: Dimmu Borgir, Ancient, Tulus, Avrigus, Hades Almighty, Trelldom, Dead Head, Cruachan, Old Man’s Child, Dead Silent Slumber, Die Apokalyptischen Reiter, Infestdead, Invasion, Carpe Tenebrum, Kampfar, Halgalaz’ Runedance

As you can see, it’s chock full of grind, black, death, doom, folk and power metal from all the corners of the globe. Hammerheart (now known as Karmageddon) really casts the net widely, although all the songs on this compilation can be said to be loosely bound by their Norse paganism. Long story short; it’s a great deal and gave me some perspective on the state of pan-global extreme music in the early 2000’s.

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