Amorphis
The Beginning of Times

I’ve been extremely grateful for each new Amorphis album since Far from the Sun, considering that I basically gave up on the band with that one. Luckily for us, they realized how to play up their strengths and deliver what the fans want, and they’ve done a fantastic job of it ever since. And now, four albums into Amorphis’ miraculous renaissance, all of those elements that make up their unique sound are still here – the bright, dancing melody lines, the hefty metal crunch and Tomi Joutsen’s spectacular vocals.

10th studio album The Beginning of Times also brings some old and familiar sounds back as well – notably, the Finnish folk melodies that made Tales from the Thousand Lakes and Elegy such haunting, foreign and fascinating listens. Not too surprising either, considering that the album is another mythological saga based on the Kalevala, this time focusing on the travails of iconic demigod Väinämöinen.

Tracks like “Battle for Light,” “Song of the Sages,” the jangly, martial “Crack in a Stone” and the epic title track bring in overtly folk elements like traditional flutes or the progressive folk-synths the band used earlier in their career. These make these songs sound like modern updates of Elegy, which should make long-time fans very happy. Other tracks like “Three Words,” “Escape” and first single “You I Need” sound more like the rousing material off Silent Waters and Eclipse; muscular and solid, even as their melodies take them soaring into the clouds, leaving the earth far below. I also never get tired of how easily Tomi is able to switch between his bloody growls and honey-thick cleans, and the band’s effortless songwriting gives him the perfect platform for those transitions.

And then there’s a new touch as well – female vocals. No, don’t cringe – Amorphis hasn’t gone all Napalm Records on us. An ethereal soprano is used elegantly and sparingly on the gorgeous, cascading “Mermaid” and then later as a duet with Tomi on the reverential, vaguely Semitic-sounding “Soothsayer.” (They also appear on the saccharine Broadway-ballad “On a Stranded Shore,” the album’s only yawner.) Given the stronger folk leanings of The Beginning of Time, the female vocals add a lovely sense of warmth and history, yet without really softening Amorphis’ sound – because let’s face it, the band has had a sumptuous, silky quality for a long time now.

However, I can’t help but feel that as enjoyable and appealing as this all is, there’s nothing here that takes me to the rapturous heights of Skyforger’s best moments. That’s not only my second favorite Amorphis album behind Lakes, it’s also one of my favorite albums of the 2000’s, and that’s largely due to epic, progressive stunners like “Sampo,” “Silver Bride,” ”Sky is Mine” or the title track. Each of those tracks started with a spare, organic looseness, then built up in strength and tone before exploding with emotion and catharsis. The only two tracks here that come close to Skyforger’s triumphs are “Mermaid,” which I’ve already covered, and the majestic  “Reformation,” which manages to be both melancholy and uplifting at the same time.

Most of The Beginning of Times, though beautiful and stirring, stays on a more even keel, with fewer surprises in pacing or mood. It’s also worth mentioning that when I plugged the album into iTunes, it was labeled as “Melancholic Rock,” but most of what’s here still sounds fairly upbeat, so I’d call it “wistful” at best.

I’ve been listening to The Beginning of Times every day for more than a week now, and it’s a solidly constructed, consistent and appealing album. That may sound like damning it with faint praise, but that’s not true – it’s just no Skyforger. And anyway, a very good Amorphis album is still a terrific album by any other standards. You can still expect to find this on my top 10 come year’s end.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
May 23rd, 2011

Comments

  1. Commented by: mccumberv

    Usually these albums take a while to set in…I remember the first few times I heard “Skyforger”, I didnt think it was nearly as good as “Silent Waters”, but after more and more listens, “Skyforger” turned out to be one of my all time favorite albums, every song on it is outstanding. So I am hoping that this one will be the same way.

    Thanks for the awesome review!


  2. Commented by: Blackwater Park

    Brilliant album… as usual!


  3. Commented by: Blackwater Park

    This just gets better and better with every listen. Amorphis can do no wrong.


  4. Commented by: Staylow

    Great review Jordan, though I’m inclined to think this album is every bit as good as Skyforger. It doesn’t have as many standout tracks as it’s predecessor as you pointed out, but the rest of the material is certainly on par. I’ve been diggin the hell out this one.


  5. Commented by: E. Thomas

    Fuck- im listening to “Circle” and they’ve done it again- best since Elegy


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