Sunday, September 6, 2015

Album Review: Amorphis - Under The Red Cloud

I've never gotten much into the scene that gets described as either 'dark metal' or 'melancholy metal', which is actually funny, because when I do hear some of these bands, they are often playing some of the most beautifully melodic metal of anyone out there. Something about the deeper side of emotions resonates in a melodic way that is highly appealing, as long as the underlying feelings don't begin to seep inside you and work their influence. I suppose that's why I've been hesitant to review more albums that fit the bill; I actively try to avoid music that I know is going to make me feel lousy. It doesn't work that way for everyone, and I've had arguments about this before, but depressing music isn't usually good for me. But when I hear the beauty a band like Katatonia can conjure, I'm willing to give it a chance.

Amorphis is one of the bands that fits this bill, turning out highly emotional metal that preys on the darker side of our emotions. But instead of turning that into bitter hate and ugly black metal, they remind us that there's something beautiful in all of the human conditions. Their music is not what you would call hopeful, but it is reassuring in the sense that the darkness is normal.

The album opens with the title track, softly introducing itself with a piano figure before the guitars come in with their ringing metallic crunch. There's guitar harmonies over the top of chugging riffs, while the chorus digs deep with growled vocals roaring over the maelstrom. Those death metal roots shine through in the tremolo-picked riff of "The Four Wise Ones". The song is much more interesting than that, with heavy folk influences that pop up and give the song a tantalizing flavor.

But it's on track three, "Bad Blood", that everything kicks into gear. That track is the perfect blend of heavy death metal through the verses, and soaring hooks in the chorus. Maybe you could say it sticks a little too close to the formula, but that exists for a reason. It's an absolutely killer track.

When Amorphis focuses on their hooks, the songs are uniformly great. "The Skull" and "Death Of A King" are similarly effective, and then "Sacrifice" strips away all the death metal elements for a dark pop sound that is startling in how engaging it is. Like latter-day Katatonia, it shows the beauty that comes from misery.

This might not be my style of music, but I don't need to be a fan to know quality when I hear it. My mood isn't often right for this kind of music, but when it is, "Under The Red Cloud" is a remarkably good example of how to do it right. I can't claim to have been familiar with Amorphis beyond their name before this, but they've made an album here that is the best thing I've heard all year with any death metal roots. Take my praise with the requisite grain of salt, since I'm not the usual audience, but "Under The Red Cloud" is great stuff.

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