Whether it’s publicly admitted or not, one of the most frustrating things about surviving as a longstanding metal band, apart from the obvious lack of money flow in 2015, must be fans’ persistent weeping about “returning to the roots.”
In the case of Finland’s abiding Amorphis, no matter how far early recordings drift into the past, things always seem to find their way back to “Tales from the Thousand this” or “Elegy that” once new music hits the public eye. The truth of the matter is, however, those records were an impetus leading toward the discovery of the band’s true capacity as rockers who really know how to deliver the HOOK, which is precisely what’s allowed Amorphis to persevere and prosper these long 25 years. Even throughout their more death and prog metal days, it was the – prepare to wash those filthy eyeballs, headbangers – pop sensibility and hook that ultimately slammed songs such as “The Castaway,” “Black Winter Day,” “The Orphan” and “My Kantele” into fans’ lasting subconscious.
The Amorphis era that stretched from ‘99-’03 clearly explored commerciality through a more progressive rock slant, but it wasn’t until Tomi Joutsen joined the ranks for 2006’s excellent Eclipse that the band thoroughly achieved lift-off through their seamless blend of reawakened metal and a more traditional verse-chorus-bridge/repeat design of melancholic arena rock.
And there was much rejoicing. For a while…
Now, after five albums of melodic, melancholic contagion, the formula has become… Expected. Perhaps TOO expected, if you choose to take to heart actual comments such as this:
“This song structure has become as predictable as a goddamn Disney movie.” ~ Likely coming from a random metal fan who would predictably wear his favorite Bongripper hoodie to a christening.
In the end, one person’s consistency is another person’s predictability, I suppose. For some fans, 2011’s The Beginning of Times and 2013’s Circle both began showing signs of by-the-numbers uniformity – something many artists prefer to avoid like the plague. Now, with Under the Red Cloud, Amorphis returns to the spotlight with 50 minutes of new material that’s, according to press videos, “more complex and with more challenging song structures.” The great news for everyone: They’re absolutely right. The bad news for some: The overall design still falls within the scheme of the last five records. The worst news for a few: If you really do consider the bad news bad, you just might be a soulless MONSTER who hates fun.
Under the Red Cloud is the most altogether satisfying record Amorphis has released since Elegy. I probably should’ve opened with that line. At the least, it is the most logical follow-up to the band’s 1996 opus, as it holds the most thorough combination of adventurousness and metal they’ve done in nearly 20 years. Plough the entirety of this thing through a nice set of headphones/speakers and you’ll quickly discover that the record’s many galloping measures carry just that much more heft, and its faster bits bite with just a little sharper tooth, thanks largely to a beautifully hearty production and mix.
A tune like “Bad Blood,” for example, is an absolute banger. If you can keep that big melon of yours still once that beautiful bit of keyboards runs up alongside the charging riff around 3:30, you are obviously dead; you are an actual dead person incapable of head movement. Similarly, the RRROOOOOARRRRR at the onset of “Dark Path” quickly shifts into some of the darkest, most turbulent (but still epic) measures Amorphis has done in years.
But the true selling point – the reason you’re likely to return to Under the Red Cloud time and time again for the foreseeable future – is because it redefines the band as intrepid explorers once again. The progressive element is strong, particularly in a heavy tune such as “Enemy at the Gates,” but also in the way that Amorphis fold in a heavy dose of folk throughout “The Four Wise Ones,” “Death of a King” and the fantastic “Tree of Ages.” Not only do we hear the return of the mighty electric sitar and other Middle Eastern flavors, guest appearances by Chrigel Glanzmann (Eluveitie), Martin Lopez (ex-Opeth) and Aleah Stanbridge (Trees of Eternity) respectively bring a bevy of whistles/flutes, percussion and graceful vocal accompaniment that mingles perfectly with Esa Holopainen’s beautifully elegant, somber lead work and Tomi’s near infuriating insistence on delivering a huge hook in every chorus.
I ain’t about to step away from this review with a bold statement akin to “ANY fan of Amorphis will be able to walk away from Under the Red Cloud completely satisfied” (there’s an asshole on every block, right?), but I will say if you appreciate what the band’s been doing for the last decade or so, you’ll find plenty to sink your teeth into with this record. Dynamic, dramatic, contagious, moody, melodic, elegant, roaring: These are all very suitable descriptors for Under the Red Cloud, but this is still the sort of work that’s best suited for those who understand that Amorphis remain more of a gloomy rock ‘n’ roll band who’ve become particularly skilled at blending in elements of death and progressive metal. If you happen to be one of those people, do not miss this wonderful record.