Archive for Kalevala

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

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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 – Amon Amarth “Surtur Rising” 2011

Posted in Album Reviews, Sevens to Nines with tags , , , , , , on April 19, 2011 by Lightning Slim

  Surtur Rising kicks off with “War of the Gods”, a punishing gallop through territory Amon Amarth knows very well, and they deliver the goods with polish and ease. As an opener, it also serves as a “Previously On” looking back to previous record Twilight of the Thunder God, which was an exhilarating (and possibly unsustainable) headlong charge. The rest of the album explores different tempos and moods, the tone of these songs having a lot more in common with earlier works With Oden On Our Side or The Fate of Norns. The deeds and passions of gods and men mingle here, and if it is difficult to distinguish between the two that is likely by design.
 
What Amon Amarth are doing here, exploring the small moments across the battle field of Ragnarök, is the same thing Amorphis have done by returning to the Kalevala for source material: added a mature legitimacy to the enterprise. These are actual Scandinavians recounting the legends and history of their people with an eye to detail that makes Manowar seem like a bunch of bikers who like to LARP. The story is here viewed though the veil of myth, not the fuzzy lens of fantasy, a difference that seems small but allows us to immerse ourselves in a different time and place without projecting MTV-era values onto them.
 
Speaking of the mainstream, however, my deluxe copy contains bonus covers “Balls to the Wall” and “War Machine”, which AA make their own with aplomb to round out a solid recording. It’s not Thunder God’s runaway freight train full of TNT, but Surtur Rising is great metal by anyone’s standards, and another milestone for the heavy hitters of Team Viking. 8.5 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

Decade Review: Ten Bands that Rocked the 2000’s

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2010 by Lightning Slim

Decade Review: Ten Bands that Rocked the 2000’s 

This isn’t a best-of, more of a reflection on who had a good decade in my musical universe. Some artists are old masters making a comeback, some are newer bands that hit right around the Millennium, and some are just hard-working dudes who cranked out a good ten years’ worth of tunes without having any kind of meltdown. 

  1. Amon Amarth – With every record, they just keep getting better and better. Not too shabby, especially when they keep banging them out every 20 months or so like clockwork. While the past few years have been their time to shine, AA’s pagan thunder has people excited to see what’s next.
  2. Ministry – After starting the decade in rehab and stumbling out of the gate with Animositisomina, Al Jourgensen roared back into focus with his “Dubya Trilogy”. Ministry’s best moments have always been collaborative, and these supposedly final slabs of finger-pointing are fortified with the likes of Tommy Victor, Burton Bell and Paul Raven (RIP). If he really is done this time, the Alien has capped off his career with head held high. 
  3. Iron Maiden – In early 2000 I received a promotional postcard with a picture of Eddie on one side and one sentence on the other: “Bruce is Back.” Exciting, but that wasn’t the whole story, as Dickinson brought songwriting partner Adrian Smith with him and the band kept bonus guitarist Jannick Gers. Now a six-piece, the big boys of metal released three albums in the Zeroes. All of them are long, noodling and by no means The Number of the Beast, but at the same time they are consistently better than anything since Seventh Son. Maiden were also smart enough to realize that the new material isn’t as rousing onstage – their solution was elegant and ingenious: Dust off your ass-kicking 1985 World Tour gear, pack it on your own  jet plane and just do it all over again. This is captured in all its glory in the highly recommended documentary Flight 666.  
  4. KMFDM – In 1999 KMFDM released Adios, their farewell album. They’ve cheerfully made fun of this while making six studio albums and about a bazillion singles, remixes and side projects since. Bringing in Lucia Cifarelli brought an end to hired-gun female vocalists as well as adding another songwriter to the fold, and the often underrated Tim Skold had his fingerprints all over their third decade of bold-faced rip offs “conceptual continuity”. Still political, still angry, KMFDM have nonetheless loosened up a bit, presenting a little more Blackadder than black leather. 
  5. Amorphis – If Entombed and Chrome Division define Death n’ Roll, Amorphis created a kind of DoomPop with Tuonela, a record filled with the rich textures, lyrical imagery and saxophone (!) you’d normally get from artists associated with the singer/songwriter world. It’s the heaviest U2 album ever made. After that, things got a bit weird with two straight-up psychedelic releases before Eclipse, Silent Waters and Skyforger returned us to the land of the Kalevala with Tomi Joutsen as our upgraded tour guide. By mining the national epic for narrative, Amorphis became a band with stories to tell, the Neil Young of the metal world. 
  6. Arch Enemy – Obviously, it’s been a good decade for the “A” section of my shelves, and AE really got cooking with the addition of pint-sized punk menace Angela Gossow. Debate as you will about who did what first, Gossow has become the poster girl for female contributions to extreme metal. She’s made enough of an impression that the Arnotts have retroactively made her the sole vocalist of the band by putting her up front in early-hits redux record The Root of All Evil. Sorry, Johan! The band put out four studio albums in the Aughts (two great, one good, one so-so), toured relentlessly and recorded tons of live material. We don’t know what the Teens will bring, but as of right now, they are Kind of a Big Deal. 
  7. Rob Halford – I wonder if the Metal God likes to make lists? If he made one for the 2000’s, it might look a bit like this: Reunite legendary metal band Judas Priest – check. Successful solo records praised for their heaviness (thanks Roy Z!) – check. Clothing line, recording studio – check and check. Just for fun, make a well-received Christmas album – check. Do all of this as a gay man in his fifties – ka-check!
  8. In Flames – I’m still learning to love 2004’s Soundtrack to Your Escape (and might never), but otherwise it’s been full speed ahead for the Jesterheads. Arguments over which of Clayman or Reroute to Remain is better are futile, since both are excellent. The choruses have gotten punkier over the years (they do tour with hardcore bands a lot) but the band still lays a firm claim to their piece of the Gothenburg Sound.
  9. Danko Jones – He’s “big in Sweden”! Thus Danko complains to typically lackluster Toronto crowds whenever he plays at home. He can be moody with his non-emotive Canadian fans but it hasn’t stopped him from releasing several chunks of straight-up rock. They’ve all got some great numbers on them, and very little filler. Danko’s also one of the few guys operating today who sings about girls without sounding either emo or femicidal.  
  10. Apocalyptica – There’s that “A” again. 2000 was the year Apocalyptica stopped depending on cover songs and took off on their own with Cult. Each subsequent release added new elements to the cello quartet’s classical sound: Reflections has drums and a touch of piano, Apocalyptica throws in some vocalists and Worlds Collide finally fully embraces the big goth-rock mess of the genre they basically invented. I’m not as much a fan of the latter album, thinking that they lost some of their unique charm by putting too many kids on the vocal side of the teeter-totter. As a whole, however, they make this list by rising above the tide of “A Gimmick X Tribute to Band Y” to become their own masters.

 Honourable Mention: Motörhead, but then, it’s always their time.

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