Amorphis
Ad Universum

If there was ever a band in metal that reveled in defying expectations and restrictive labels while continuing to move in a forward direction, it has been Amorphis. Ever since their groundbreaking effort Tales from the Thousand Lakes, they have been on a seemingly endless track of experimentation and evolution.

Am Universum, their latest effort, shows the band leveling off a bit into the melodic, spacey landscapes of Tuonela, while still bringing in a few surprises and embellishments. The album blends hypnotic guitar effects, rich organ and sax layers, pulsating rhythms and passionate melodies in what is already a major contender for ‘album of the year’ honors. Producer Simon Efemey helped the band’s individual members bring forth their most complete performances ever. Vocalist Pasi Koskinen shows the most overall improvement, giving what is easily his smoothest and most comfortable recorded performance. The death growls, that barely showed themselves on Tuonela, are almost non-existent here. They’re mainly confined to exclamations more so than actual lyrical delivery. New bassist Niclas Etelavouri falls in perfectly with drummer Pekka Kasari. Their dark, throbbing grooves will make almost anyone start swaying and tapping their feet instantly. Keyboardist Santeri Kallio weaves ambience and texture into every fiber of the record, with a balanced mixture of digital effects and Hammond organ. Guitarists Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivussari thicken the brew with deep distortion tones and atmospheric effects, knowing when not to play as well as when to. Session saxophonist Sakari Kukko could almost be added as a full time member, as his jazzy lines take on more of a lead role here than on Tuonela.  

Am Universum, without a doubt, contains the most mature, ambitious song writing in Amorphis’ history. Highlights include ‘The Night is Over’, with it’s nasty organ parts and driving tempo. The melodies on this one stay in your head for days! This song has some of the album’s most dynamic transitions as well. Lead off track ‘Alone’ begins with sparse piano chords over an ambient soundscape, peppered with nicely effected guitars, before picking up into a mid-tempo verse. Pasi’s vocals here are graceful and seasoned. The dramatic chorus grabs hold of your ears and won’t let go! Kukko’s sax on the bridge takes on a Middle Eastern, snake charmer vibe woven into the tempo.

‘Crimson Wave’, my personal favorite, delivers one of the album’s heaviest riffs on the opening before pulling back into jazz-inspired, ‘smoky club’ feel on the verses. Then when the guitars come back on the bridge and chorus, the drama factor goes through the roof! I almost picture the guys in black and white, grainy film footage performing this song in suits and shades (video idea!), especially during Kukko’s emotional sax lead! ‘Drifting Memories’ contains some of the most dramatic melodies on the album. Pasi’s vocals and Esa’s underlying theme leads work together on the chorus to stunning results. Once again, Kukko adds his touch in little fills and ad-lib’s.

Closing track ‘Grieve Stricken Heart’ starts off with some digital keyboard effects, easing in a slow tempo drum rhythm and haunting vocal melody. The clean strumming guitars here are fantastic! Pasi really shines vocally on this one. Kallio’s organ works with the guitars in creating a melancholic air. The pounding feel of the chorus segues into a tasteful keyboard solo, with a 70’s ‘strumming yet distorted’ guitar groove underneath. Very cool! The closing sax solo here just screams Pink Floyd (in a good way!) and takes the album out on a perfect note.

All in all, this album is an amazing collection of songs with stellar performances and vivid sonic brilliance! Sadly, they lost a lot of their ‘metal’ fans some time ago. And while Am Universum isn’t likely to win any of them back, for lover’s of good music it is a must have!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Shawn Pelata
April 7th, 2001

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