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This review is from: Circle (Bonus One DVD) (Audio CD)
Per capita, Finland spends more money than any other country on musical education. That goes some way towards explaining the wealth of musical talent that has emerged from those shores in recent years, among its brightest stars Nightwish, Insomnium, Omnium Gatherum, Swallow the Sun, Ensiferum, Wintersun and - at the top of the pile - Amorphis. Upon hearing Amorphis, it's tempting to think that their musical gifts must have come from the Viking gods. While this may be part of the story, the rest is that the band has relentlessly rehearsed, composed, recorded and toured for over two decades.
In 2006 Amorphis created an album that demonstrated mastery of their craft. That album was Silent Waters, a vast and varied pastiche of brutal heaviness, mythological themes, immaculate composition, perfect execution, and melodies so delicate they seem otherworldly. The next two Amorphis albums - Skyforger and The Beginning of Times - have the trademark Amorphis sound, a unique blend of heaviness and melody, yet lack the consistent brilliance of Silent Waters. With Circle, Amorphis is back on breathtaking form...and then some. Words can't do justice to the magnitude of this album. A swathe of mythic lyrics, jagged riffs, beautiful composition, wall-crumbling bass and drums, soaring vocals and eye-wateringly gorgeous melodies, Circle has to be heard to be believed. This is the sound of metal with the blinkers taken off and all limits blown sky high.
Here's the track-by-track breakdown.
1. Shades of Gray
Far from the lightweight opening of previous album The Beginning of Times, this kicks off proceedings with riffs that bite like a hungry beast, followed by a bridge and chorus reminiscent of Skyforger opener Sampo. That is no bad thing. The guitar solo is sublime: a folky melody played on clean-toned electric guitars. Tomi Joutsen alternates between clean-vocalled soaring and brutal growls. Light and shade in equal doses. A perfect opener.
A brief piano intro leads into a gargantuan guitar riff. This is Amorphis on their home ground: gorgeous Scandinavian melodies played with extreme heaviness that magnifies the impact. Flawless and straight from the Silent Waters school of music. Tomi's vocals are clean throughout.
3. The Wanderer
Not a million miles from Silver Bride in its melody, the chugging guitars of the verse lead into another quintessentially Amorphis chorus, Tomi's vocals soaring over piano, guitars, bass and drums. Like Shaman from Silent Waters, the track lacks real bite or heaviness but is no worse off for it, the melody evocative enough to carry the song.
4. Narrow Path
The flute intro leads to a riff that's pure Thin Lizzy (no bad thing!). The Celtic theme continues throughout the song, as Lizzyesque riffs meld perfectly with Tomi's anthemic vocal. Somewhere, Phil Lynott is listening to this and smiling. Once again, the guitar solo is worthy of mention. It resonates in my soul and makes me smile. Genius.
5. Hopeless Days
The verse's guitars and drums are tribal in the style of Saigon Kick's Peppermint Tribe. Again, Joutsen's vocals soar high above chugging riffs. Midway through, the track segues into a section that's eerily close to the 'bow down before the one you serve' part of NIN's Head Like a Hole, but delivered in undeniably Amorphis style. The track could be accused of being too derivative, merely piecing parts of other bands' songs together into a Frankensteinish whole, but that whole works as a song in its own right, so I can overlook the perhaps-too-obvious tips of the hat to other artists.
6. Nightbird's Song
Half a minute of delicate intro is followed by a roar from Tomi and a riff that's atypically discordant and almost black metal in its tone. This soon gives way to the more familiar sounds of clean guitars and soaring vocals. After a prog-rock section with Jethro-Tullish flute (really), a second roar from Tomi signals a return to heaviness. A diverse song, this fuses many musical styles into a coherent whole with its own identity.
7. Into the Abyss
This tune - from its piano intro to the choral-style backing vocals and soundtrackesque guitars - could easily be Nightwish. Only Tomi's vocals, which are absolutely recognisable, give away that this is Amorphis. Twin guitars - one clean-toned, the other down-tuned - drive the song with a chugging rhythm, above which soars another amazing vocal from Tomi.
8. Enchanted By the Moon
A poignant melody is delivered with extreme heaviness. Jan Rechberger's drum performance is inhuman. Enchanted by the Moon is a modern-day sea shanty played by Vikings with command of both brutal heaviness and heart-wrenching melody.
9. A New Day
Epic. A slow burner driven by more inhuman drumming by Jan Rechberger and meandering bass from Niclas Etelävuori. Anthemic metal at its best.
10. Dead Man's Dream
No messing about. The track starts out as pure death metal, its riffs from Hell accompanied by Tomi Joutsen's demonic growls. Masters of light and shade, Amorphis soon transition into a cleanly sung bridge and chorus carried by Santeri Kallio's Faith-No-Moresque keyboard and the spectacular twin-guitar delivery of Tomi Koivusaari and Esa Holopainen. Special credit must go to Jan Rechberger, whose drumming is once again breathtaking.
An amazing accomplishment. If you buy one metal album in 2013, make it Circle.