In the near 20 year existence of Amorphis, their fans have become split into so many camps it’s not even funny anymore. Some wish the band still played death metal. Others just want Elegy made over and over. Another group only enjoys the more rock-oriented albums, and others still want Pasi Koskinen back as the band’s vocalist.
Well quitcher bitchin’.
It’s high time to get over the past and embrace the present. The simple fact is this: Amorphis have been on a roll since Tomi Joutsen joined as vocalist and the band released Eclipse in 2006. Silent Waters then continued that roll in 2007. With their ninth full-length Skyforger, they add even more momentum to their current hot streak and prove that they still have plenty of great material left in them (and plenty of Kalevala-inspired lyrics left).
Skyforger continues the sound of the previous two albums, adding a hair more heaviness and removing a bit of the darkness. All of the elements are here: infectious vocal melodies, folk-tinged lead guitars, chugging rhythm guitar, varied and well-placed keyboards, and an attention to nuance that most of their peers lack. They are a band that knows where to put what in a song, never creating an awkward moment or transition. Lead-off single “Silver Bride” exemplifies this skill with an addictive chorus (lots of those) and an intense ending which effectively adds in some tasty death metal growls (lots of those too). This formula is employed on several of the album’s tracks, but because Amorphis possess such strong songwriting chops, “formulaic” is not necessarily a negative term here. Amidst 10 strong songs, a few are true standouts. The aptly-titled “Majestic Beast” is the heaviest song Amorphis has written in at least 13 years. It brings to mind recent Opeth during the verse, with haunting keys and a heavy doom riff, only to shift mood into an uplifting chorus. The title track, with its grandiose build (both musically and lyrically), is an instant classic, and along with opener “Sampo” brings back a touch of Elegy‘s progressive tendencies. By dispersing standout tracks throughout the album’s 47 minutes, Amorphis have made Skyforger less front-heavy than its two predecessors, which in turn helps the less immediate songs to sink in. All of these songs will sink in, and then they won’t leave. It’s infectious stuff, but its great, so quitcher bitchin’.
Not surprising, the band sounds refined and professional. From Tomi Joutsen’s ever-improving vocals to lead guitarist Esa Holopainen’s moody soloing, Amorphis sound as skilled as a group of session players yet as natural as a seasoned road band. The only (slight) musical shortcoming is drummer Jan Rechberger. While his playing is more than adequate, one can’t help but wonder what a little subtlety on his part would add to the whole. The lush production is once again provided by the team of Marco Hietala and Mikko Karmila, successfully balancing the many elements of the Amorphis sound.
Amorphis have solidified the most consistent era of their career. Although it doesn’t quite reach the brilliance of Elegy or Tales…, Skyforger settles the band into a veteran status that many of their melodic metal contemporaries should envy and strive for. Sure there isn’t much new, but it just doesn’t matter. These Finns have the rare ability to somewhat tread water while remaining exceptional. So no matter where you fit in the complex mess that is the Amorphis fan base, get off your ass and give this album a good long listen. If you don’t, you can’t blame me for what you’re missing.