Thursday, May 26, 2011

Amorphis - The Beginning Of Times (2011)

Amorphis is a band that is aptly named. Derived from 'amorphous,' which means without determinate form, or shapeless, this Finnish six piece always keeps you guessing. From one album to the next, you never truly know what you will get, which is both refreshing and unnerving. As they unveil "The Beginning Of Times," their twelfth disc in a career spanning almost 20 years, we wonder which Amorphis will emerge.

The familiar sound of delicate piano keys greets you, as "Battle For Light" begins. Clean, almost melancholic crooning alternates with the signature raspy growls that have made Amorphis such a force to be reckoned with. Guitars manage to walk the fine line between upbeat, jaunty melodies and heavy, chugging riffs. All six members move in lockstep, adding layer after layer to the mix. The breakdown section comes crashing down, backed by creepy keyboards. The track ends like the encore of a concert, leaving room for applause.

Haunting female chants ring out to start "Mermaid," which features a punchy guitar lead. The song builds to a stomp, with drums keeping everyone in time with fill after roll. The vocals remain softer, delivering excellent storytelling. "My Enemy" has a guitar hook that only Amorphis could execute, but don't let the intro fool you. Growls enter the verse, and the guitars crush you in ways that hardcore bands only dream of. They manage to work in beautiful melodies, but this is the heavy hitting, powerful band that many felt was missing from their previous album, "Skyforger." The first single of the album, "You I Need," boasts a spacey keyboard tone and melodic sensibilities. This is a metal love song, straight and true.

The tempo sees a jump on "Song Of The Sage," layering vocal track on top of vocal track, creating a haunting echo effect. A folky interlude catches you off guard, with flutes and strings lightening the mood. This all paves the way for a well placed guitar solo. The keyboard leads us to the end, before the chugging mastery of "Three Words" kicks in. Drums and guitars pound you, while a second guitar provides the lead. The song is as diverse as any you will hear, cutting to acoustics and soft crooning. The chorus is powerful, while the breakdown is gritty. Beautiful contrast.

Keyboards lead the way into "Reformation" and melodies aplenty. Double kicks and a whining guitar take "Soothsayer" to another realm, paired with those earth shaking growls. The start/stop style allows the clean vocals to shine through when needed. Keyboard and guitar play a dueling lead at times, sharing the stage with both male and female vocals. "On A Stranded Shore" is a track that combines everything good about Amorphis and their style. Layer upon layer of instrumentation. Distorted guitars, strings, keys, pounding drums and the beautifully delivered soft vocals form something that is as impressive as it is powerful.

The album ends with a trio of tracks that will renew and reinvigorate your respect for this Finnish progressive onslaught. "Escape" is the beauty. "Crack In The Stone" is the beast. Both are necessary to highlight the other. The title track takes us home, complete with a bass line that of the highest order. Double kicks share time with sizzling cymbals, airy keys and melodic guitar riffs. It is as if the vocals convey the feeling of a storyteller, closing his book for the evening.

"The Beginning Of Times" is a rebirth for Amorphis, one that comes at a time where the band simply has nothing left to prove. After a long, successful run, they could simply rest on their laurels. But they choose to come back with something energetic and inspiring. This speaks for not only the talent, but the commitment to excellence this group possesses. So, after a nut job predicted the end of times were upon us, we can now move forward, and celebrate the beginning.


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