Monday, May 14, 2018

Album Review: Amorphis - Queen Of Time

In every genre, there are a few bands whose names are used as shorthand for everything that came after their inception. Those bands have the struggle of living up to their own legacy, and trying to overcome the nostalgia for their early work as they develop and grow through the years. Amorphis has managed to do just this, as they have evolved into a more sophisticated purveyor of melodic death metal punctuated with somber clean vocals. They set a standard years ago, and have continued to build upon that, with their last album being a deep and fantastic effort that was remarkable in how they were able to fuse brutality and beauty. "Under The Red Cloud" was well-received at the time, and has only become more loved (at least in my eyes) ever since. So when Amorphis returns, not to mention with a release they call one of their most challenging, it's a big occasion.

That promise was proven true early on, as the release of the album opening "The Bee" was a signal that Amorphis was going to be challenging listeners this time around. That track winds through riffs that could have come off one of the recent Avantasia albums, with a structure that moves through bridges and hooks without a pattern. It's a deep track that requires your attention, but every facet is remarkable. The guitars have heft and flair, the keys add delightful texture, and the vocals are plaintive cleans and bellowing harshes that both stick like honey. It's a fantastic song that ony heightened the hype for the rest of the record.

Moving on from there, "Message In The Amber" is a folk-influenced song that not only relies mostly on Tomi Jousten's growls, but even features an ethereal choir for the softer, clean bridge. There's a lot packed into each song, which certainly needs time to reveal itself and be digested. That continues to be true, for example when "Daughter Of Hate" punctuates the first verse/chorus cycle with a saxophone solo. It brings a touch of jazz influence into the proceedings, and catches you off-guard. Progressive music, in its most honest form, is supposed to challenge the preconceptions of genre. That is absolutely what Amorphis is doing here. This is not rote material whatsoever.

"The Elk" is closer to being 'standard' Amorphis fare, until the song switches gear and spends a few moments on a contemporary classical piece. The use of a real orchestra for those parts is heard, as there is a beautiful depth to the sound that feels weightier and more important than if it was a thin reproduction.

"Queen Of Time" is an album that goes deep into Amorphis' sound to pull out songs that push them further than ever before. While that takes these songs in many interesting directions, there is one thing I find missing from this album; melodies. What made "Under The Red Cloud" such a great record was that their death metal and prog all centered around a mournful melody in nearly every song. There are a few of them on this record, but not nearly enough of them. These songs dig deeper into prog, which leaves a bit less room for Tomi to showcase his melodic singing. I can see how and why it happened, but I can't help but feel it holds things back a bit.

The work the band put into this album is evident. It's a beautifully crafted nd executed album, and it's take on progressive death metal is engaging. If it was being judged solely on its own, I would think this is a great record. But when I think about where Amorphis has been recently, and hear what they removed from their recipe to get here, I will admit to being slightly disappointed. "Queen Of Time" is high-quality, but it's not what I was hoping it would be.

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