Since Amorphis’ 1992 debut, The Karelian Isthmus , the Finnish band has been pushing the death metal envelope into the previously uncharted waters of psychedelia and prog-rock. Over the years, Amorphis has perpetually refined its sound to a more accessible one that’s no less compelling. Now with the majestic Tuonela , Amorphis, more appropriately, is simultaneously making extreme music more accessible, and vice versa.
No doubt Tuonela ‘s crowning glory, lead-off track “The Way” finds Amorphis skillfully toying with dynamics: one clean, delayed guitar providing the perfect anchor for the heavy one to run the gamut of psychedelic effects pedals, the oft-rumbling drums straddling fist-pumping mid-tempos and double-bass buildups alike; in sum, a weighty dose of crunch ‘n’ swirl chunder that’s the epitome of power and an aesthetic yardstick for the doom to follow. The rest of the album forcefully drifts like the gray, glacial landscape of the band’s homeland, few records before this channeling iciness into a sort of aristocratic warmth. Lock, stock, and barrel, session man Santeri Kaltio’s keyboards often engage in an epic battle with the psychedelia-drenched dual-guitar interplay of Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivasaari for which element can be the most stadium-ready (or cathedral-ready, for that matter) — overblown, yes, but in the most tasteful of ways, wholly lending themselves to the epic proportions they so expertly aspire.
But as highbrow as Tuonela may seem on the surface, Amorphis possesses the elan to fuse such ambitions into a coherent, immediately accessible sound, ragas (yes, ragas) included or not. Though head-growler Koivasaari may only get to vent his spleen on the Indian near-mantra of “Greed,” he often provides apt counterpoint to Pasi Koskinen’s clean-piped vocals, thus making the moments they both harmonize that much more cogent. Sitar, flute, and saxophone find a place on Tuonela as well, further compounding the album’s grandiosity.
With a catalog as rich and diverse as Amorphis’, it stands to reason that Tuonela is yet another jewel in the band’s almighty crown. Sophisticated enough for high-minded death metallers, accessible enough for mainstream-inclined adventurous sorts, Tuonela stands as a metalwerk of stifling intensity and clarity, an opus guaranteed to weather the genre’s oncoming over-diversification and -simplification.
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