Amorphis are known for their terrible modern output that consists of ridiculous pop cliches and monotonous chugging. While their latest offering has furthered the pretension of this band and their Opeth like attempts of appealing to pseudo intellectuals through whatever the mainstream considers to be “deep,” it is hard to fathom that this band once produced some of the greatest Finnish Death metal to ever grace our ears. Through restrained, simplistic melodies that were all very tightly knit and some basic understanding of chord theory, Amorphis carved a grandiose album that would see them climb to the top of a fledgling movement.
The album opener “Karelia” – an acoustic piece recorded with two 12-string guitars – announced the intentions of conjuring grand battlefields where heroes would emerge amidst the chaos. The first guitar repeats a basic melody in the natural minor scale as the second guitar follows with the appropriate combination of diatonic minor and major thirds. As the melody continues without variation the diatonic chords move up a few semitones up the scale creeping towards battle as the chords quickly return to their original position until distorted guitars announce the battle.
A rhythm guitar sustains the main melody through a two note power chord ascent emulating the chaos of war as simply as possible to allow the main motif to pierce through. A voice of light guiding the warriors to complete their mission. While the riff is played in one position on a guitar there is actual melodic movement as the melody starts from a power chord and resolves with a major third a semitone above. By starting with two consonant notes and then drifting into dissonance until a consonant, happy conclusion clashes over a very dissonant minor chord. Though from a musical perspective it makes no sense, greater wisdom and attention to the feeling invoked by the combination of sounds make this a truly majestic segment as heroes fight in a grueling war. Like Karelia before it, everything is shifted up four semitones as a simple means of creating movement before returning to the starting point and the vocals emerge presenting the horrors of this war.
As I sense their steel
As I see the mighty one
As we all gather once again
The gods of war summon us
Our narrator presents himself as a soldier fighting an enemy army with swords in a possible medieval setting. All his kin have been gathered to this battle under the watchful eye of some powerful individual.
The rhythm guitar shifts to a longer natural minor progression as a new melody emerges also in the natural minor scale with just a chromatic major seventh to add an extra step between the two parts of the melody separating it in two parts. This leads to another variation of the secondary melody that moves around a lot in fourths and minor seconds. The simplicity allows Amorphis to logically attach riffs of almost contrasting in a logical way like Quothorn did in his “viking” era and to concentrate entirely on the moods being transmitted to the listener. The drums are in half time while the piece maintains the same tempo allowing a fluid change of pace as our narrator sees more of his kind joining the battle.
North wind blows to our valley
Men with ships, with swords, with honor
A pure hardcore punk riff that would have been very comfortable on any of the Swedish Death metal records of the time blasts out as Koivusaari takes a much more rhythmic approach. A chromatic riff syncopated showing the absolute chaos of battle but not by being chaotic in the vein of war metal bands but pointing to it through a minimalist riff that is easily interpreted as being chaos through the bare bones chromatic descent.
Their horses between flames
Their dogs eating enemy childs
Our heavenly father, what is this mortality
Do you see my mortal agony
Their enemy is losing the battle not through their soldiers but through attacks on innocent victims and our narrator asks the christian god the reason behind such a massacre and the meaning behind this suffering and whether or not this god feels the pain of the protagonist;
Full on tremolo riff as both guitars burst through in unison. Still in the natural minor scale but moved up to the Lydian mode but with a rapid chromatic descent in the middle. Notice how Amorphis rely on a small quantity of very simple tools that they apply across their ideas. Once again the chromatacisim adds depth and grandeur to what could have been a vanilla melodic death metal riff.
Look, I see the shield up high
This must be the sign from my lord
This can be my death-sentence
What a fine day to die
Let us ignore the obvious reference to Bathory that proves that Quothorn was a major influence on these young musicians. God has finally answered our hero and he has sentenced him to die fighting beside his brothers. Both guitars take the tremolo riff, slow it down move it and harmonize in octaves while removing the notes out of the scale. This is an obvious influence from the NWOBHM bands but here it shows a form of sadness as the narrator prepares himself to die while he kills as many enemies as possible.
We return to the main melody but this does not halt the progress of the song but allows it to reach the conclusion in any way that composers would have wanted.
Taste of blood comes up high
Wind blows hard, our men fall
One by one
This oath claims me
I must bleed for my generation
The men are dying in a promise they made to their god, their land and to each other. The album title references this strip of land that has been heavily contested for years and that has become a symbol of Finnish nationalism. The men do not falter and each of them shows no cowardice as they die.
Climax and Conclusion(3:26)
An exquisite harmonized melody in the natural minor scale as bass and guitars cover a large number of notes leading us to the climax. The part played by the lead guitar imitates the sound of war trumpets and our hero has mustered the courage to charge among his brethren.
Strong is the enemy
Strong is my sword
The hammer is rising
I feel their cold steel
In Christian fashion, the warrior does not ask for god to make his tasks easier but to give him the power to rise to the occasion. He is now in battle and has already been struck at this stage. The melody moves up a minor second while maintaining the same shape as to add an extra element of sorrow. Amorphis are genuinely aware of the horror and do not seek to glorify but rather to acknowledge it as a form of duty when in dire need.
We no return to the tremolo riff in a wrongly calculated attempt to add urgency because this feels more like a step back to catch our breath than a genuine attempt to usher this song to its Conclusion. The lyrics repeat themselves signifying no intent of actual movement. A slight mistep in an otherwise fantastic song.
Now we reach the climax of this song which is in fact the secondary melody but in a completely new context and the illusion of a much tempo in contrast really accentuates the melody as most of the melodies in the composition are based of this melody. Unlike the previous tremolo riff this melody is in a completely different context, this feels appropriate as this is the mother melody of the development and like a good story we go from a place of balance to unbalance to final stability.
Now when I leave this world
I shall open the mighty oaken gate
And we all shall gather once again
The narrator has died like those fighting with him and now seeks to gather in the next life not in war but in community and in joy. The band uses this grand image of war to demonstrate medieval nationalism not through race but through religion and by shedding blood for a common land. The greater meaning rather than focusing on the political is the art of preparing one’s self for a challenge .To strive to do great things even though the outcome is predetermined. The song urges each of us to charge headfirst into our objectives with no regret and with the will to surpass thyself.
Through the climax feels as it should lead to another melody and the tremolo lower the tension slightly, this remains a great study in the art of assembling simple elements in short epics. A complete rejection of youthful energy for a more thought out and precise effort showing wisdom beyond the average age of the band just long enough for them to release one legendary album before descending into modern idiocy.