Sunday 13 May 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Amorphis, "Queen of Time"

By: Nathan Harrison

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 18/05/2018
Label: Nuclear Blast

it is a near perfect melding of death metal, folk, prog, hard rock, orchestral and choral music and a number of other elements which mean that no song stands still for long yet every fleeting, tiny moment of each one has impact

“Queen of Time” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. The Bee (5:30)
2. Message In The Amber (6:44)
3. Daughter Of Hate (6:20)
4. The Golden Elk (6:22)
5. Wrong Direction (5:09)
6. Heart Of The Giant (6:32)
7. We Accursed (4:59)
8. Grain Of Sand (4:44)
9. Amongst Stars (4:50)
10. Pyres On The Coast (6:19)

The Review:

From their death metal beginnings 25 years ago, Amorphis have slowly progressed further and further towards a more melodic sound, which culminated in their quite frankly stunning 2015 release “Under the Red Cloud”. That album was centred around an entirely epic feel, catchy guitar riffs and choruses that couldn’t help but elicit huge singalongs on the tour that followed. With their latest album, “Queen of Time”, this approach has been altered slightly. All of the above is intact, but it has been added into a much richer, more complex mix with a heavier focus on synths and, for the first time in the band’s history, the use of a choir and orchestra. Needless to say, all of this combined leads to an engaging and varied record which reveals more and more secrets with every listen, as any good progressive release should.

Opening the album in style is ‘The Bee’, which immediately signals the band’s desire to do something a little different to “Under the Red Cloud” – whereas the latter opened with a haunting piano refrain, this newest effort begins with heavy synths which slam into an even heavier riff. Throughout the track the synths and guitars constantly intertwine as vocalist Tomi Joutsen veers sharply from powerful, deep death growls which could tear the head off a bear, to tender mournful clean lines which show off his rich, clear tone which, cutting across even the most thunderous moments throughout the album.

‘Message in the Amber’ deftly introduces sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on a Jethro Tull song, with a folky, thoroughly 70s English prog riff standing out wonderfully. ‘Daughter of Hate’ takes things in a darker but still mind-bending direction, with black metal screams and dissonant guitars somehow working exceptionally well in the same track as a saxophone solo and a spoken word section courtesy of the grizzled sounding Pekka Kainulainen, the band’s long time lyricist. His work here, as with most Amorphis releases, is based around the Finnish national epic poem, “The Kalavela”. For a non-Finnish listener, this does make some of the lyrics a tad obscure, but this does not distract from the sheer beauty and other-worldliness of the imagery which does not require context to be appreciated.

The next two tracks, ‘The Golden Elk’ and ‘Wrong Direction’ dial up the melody, the former pacey and catchy, the latter an emotional and accessible centre-piece to the album which hints at a more poppy approach that Amorphis could easily and convincingly take in future (the visually stunning video for this song is also certainly worth a watch). ‘Heart of the Giant’, with its distinctly oriental main riff, demonstrates how expertly the band have used the orchestra and choir on this record – they are used sparingly and subtly throughout so that songs like this where they are brought to the fore have a lot more impact. ‘We Accursed’ makes use of soaring strings as the backing to its thundering chorus and that unmistakable 70s prog sound makes a welcome return towards the middle of the track. ‘Grain of Sand’ offers more of the fantastically effective oriental sound, combined with a soaring chorus, where Joutsen’s powerful, melodic cleans duel with his equally impressive growls before leading into a pummelling outro where the solid riffing of Esa Holopainen locks in with the powerhouse drumming of Jan Rechberger to create a compulsory head banging moment.

A very special guest crops up on ‘Amongst Stars’ in the form of Anneke Van Giersbergen of The Gathering, The Gentle Storm and Devin Townsend Project. A more perfect contrast to Joutsen’s vocals could not have been chosen – the fact that her strange, ethereal tones have not graced an Amorphis record before now seems rather an oversight. ‘Pyres on the Coast’ is an impressive closer, a brooding atmosphere permeating the entire track despite its ever-changing heaviness and speed.

It is this last song that neatly sums up what Amorphis have done with this record and how it relates to their entire career to date – it is a near perfect melding of death metal, folk, prog, hard rock, orchestral and choral music and a number of other elements which mean that no song stands still for long yet every fleeting, tiny moment of each one has impact, is meaningful and shows just how talented a band Amorphis are to bring so many diverse sounds into a cohesive and highly enjoyable whole.

“Queen of Time” is available here

Band info: facebook