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Sunday Old School: Amorphis

When being interviewed a few years back in Tampere, Sakis Tholis of Rotting Christ stated that he believes Finland is now the capital of metal music. Looking at how many bands come from there and how commercially successful the genre is in the country, one could say it’s quite hard to argue with the man. It wasn’t always this way though, Finnish bands had to work hard to build both scenes and reputations and one of the bands who really helped make Finland a metal force was a group from the capital city, Helsinki, who go by the name, Amorphis.

Amorphis was put together in 1990 by drummer and guitarist, Jan Rechberger and Esa Holopainen, both members of the thrash metal outfit, Violent Solution, which struggled on for a while as the duo recruited a former bandmate, Tomi Koivusaari on vocals and guitar, as well as bass player, Oppu Laine. The band put together a demo, "Disment of Soul," the next year, helmed by the Stratovarius guitarist, Timo Tolkki, which was deemed good enough for the band to be offered a worldwide recording deal with Relapse Records. Their debut album was then released in 1992 under the title, "The Karelian Isthmus," receiving some very high praise upon release. It was much more of a solid death metal album than later releases, albeit with some doom influences on display, a style which could also be heard on the demo collection, "Privilege of Evil," which was released a year later.

Though they more or less remained a death metal band when their second album, "Tales from the Thousand Lakes," was released in 1994, the band had begun to expand upon their doom influences, as well as bringing in elements of folk music. The latter move was fitting considering the record was essentially a concept album based around the Finnish poem, Kalevala and was also notable for including clean vocals for the first time, in addition to the use of synthesizers.

Clean vocals proved to be an area the band were more serious about, to the point that they recruited a sixth member, singer Pasi Koskinen to fulfil these duties. He would split the vocalist position fifty/fifty with Koivusaari on their third album, "Elegy," which was released in 1996. The album took inspiration from another source of Finnish mythology, the Kanteletar, a sister collection to the Kalevala work. It moved further away from the band’s death metal origins and more towards progressive metal, with further elements of folk music and some New Wave of British Heavy Metal influences thrown in for good measure.

Touring for the record was extensive and it wasn’t until 1999 that a new album hit the shelves under the title, "Tuonela," the title of which again comes from Finnish mythology, this time referring to the realm of the dead. By now, Amorphis had shed practically all traces of death metal, with Koskinen’s clean vocals being the only singing throughout the record and a stoner/doom metal sound becoming more prevalent, in addition to new instruments featuring on the album such as saxophone and the flute. It was followed a year later with the compilation album, "Story," which earned great reviews and proved a good stopgap until their next album.

A new album would turn out to be not far away, as in early 2001, "Am Universum," was released. It was more or less completely progressive metal in its sound and spawned another music video, this time for the song, "Alone," which was something of a success. This sound continued on to their next album, "Far from the Sun," which featured the return of drummer Jan Rechburger, who had previously left after the release of "Tales from the Thousand Lakes." Though the somewhat lighter album marked the return of one member, it also saw the departure of another, as Pasi Koskinen parted company with the group soon afterwards.

After a thorough search, sifting through over a hundred demo tapes from potential new singers, Amorphis recruited Tomi Joutsen, who urged them to return to the use of contrasting vocal styles. The resulting album, "Eclipse" was a critical and commercial smash, with some critics calling it a return to form and some even hailing it as their best album yet. This success seemed to fire the band up for more and after performing on the festival circuit throughout Europe, they released their seventh album, "Silent Waters" in 2007, only a year after, "Eclipse." It brought some of the melodic death metal roots and became their second album to go Gold in Finland and was successful enough for the band to head out on a third headlining run of North America, bringing Samael and Virgin Black with them.

It was clear that Joutsen’s presence in the band had really helped creatively, as in 2009, the band released "Skyforger," once again to a great reception and critical acclaim. The success of three albums in a row allowed the band to record a show in Oulu, Finland and release it as their first live DVD, "Forging the Land of a Thousand Lakes" in 2010. The DVD including a documentary film, "Tales from the 20 Years" and was followed that same year by, "Magic & Mayhem – Tales from the Early Years," a collection of re-recorded songs from their first three albums, as well as a cover of the classic Doors song, "Light my Fire."

Naturally, an album of new material was next on the agenda, which surfaced in 2011 under the title, "The Beginning of Times." It was another concept record, this time focusing on one of Finnish mythology’s most important characters, Väinämöinen, the god of chants, songs and poetry. The album continued to keep their place as darlings of the metal music press, who all seemed highly impressed with the current incarnation. It paid off commercially as well, topping the charts in their native country as well as fairing well in Germany, where it reached number sixteen on the Media Control charts.

Only a year after the release of "The Beginning of Times," Amorphis announced that they were back at work on a new album, which came in the form of, "Circle" in early 2013. As had become standard, it earned rave reviews and was even voted album of the year by Metal Hammer and was interesting in that it represented a change in lyrical approach, this time using an original story instead of one stemming from the Kalevala.

Amorphis are currently hard at work on their next album, which they predict will be released this September, just before they embark on some big shows with Nightwish and Arch Enemy. It will no doubt be another intelligent and fascinating work, whether they meet their own high standards or not. They’ve created an expansive, varied and excellent catalogue of music over the past twenty five years and have certainly assured themselves a place as one of Finland’s best metal acts in history, and perhaps as one of their best bands in general.

Amorphis - "The Pilgrimage"

Amorphis - "Black Winter Day"

Amorphis - "Against Widows"

Amorphis - "Divinity"

Amorphis - "Alone"

Amorphis - "House of Sleep"

Amorphis - "Silent Waters"

Amorphis - "Silver Bride"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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4 Comments on "Sunday Old School: Amorphis"

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Anonymous Reader
1. Ginnie Moon writes:

Thanks for this, Ollie. I've been an Amorphis fan from the beginning, through ALL the changes, and am still impressed by the risk and the range the band is capable of. Plenty of bands (Ulver, Opeth and Samael come to mind,) work hard to stretch themselves and go in new directions, but few have done it with the grace and proficiency Amorphis have. 'Always nice to see 'em get a "horns up" from metalheads... and I can hardly wait for a Nightwish/Arch Enemy/Amorphis tour. THAT will be amazing!!!

# May 3, 2015 @ 4:39 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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2. americanpatriot1 writes:

Elegy blew my balls around my head, and smacked me in the mouth. I kinda liked it.

# May 4, 2015 @ 10:15 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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Senior News Correspondent

3. Diamond Oz writes:

You're very welcome Ginnie. I'm really pleased you enjoyed it!

# May 4, 2015 @ 6:23 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
4. Carlos Santos writes:

Great article for an excellent band.

# May 16, 2015 @ 1:32 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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