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Amorphis - Tales From the Thousand Lakes
Review: This album attempts a new fusion that is an old fusion, and partially achieves it, although a lot of the end product falls flat from too much of a composite approach, that is, taking of the whole of what is already done and fusing that, rather than infusing ideas of style into a language of style that can become its own subgenre.
Amorphis take metal toward the appearance of progressive rock, at least in ape: they've added a keyboardist who uses a Moog (immediately leading record companies to scream 70s prog influence, which has been around in death metal for years). Other influences are the classics of metal: Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and should we mention Bathory Blood on Ice, which appears to be the template this album is imitating.
An instrumental track opens, but "The Thousand Lakes" is more intro than song, and doesn't even competently introduce an album as "Karelia," although far more basic, did on the last. Mainly keyboard-as-piano, it moves about musically a bit but doesn't go anywhere. It is followed by "Into Hiding," which starts with a decent riff and then drops into a series of slightly-modified standards which work okay, but end up with a boring song that doesn't do that much for the album. It picks up toward the end, and becomes the first song to have a "V" circled next to the song on my album: the vocal warning indicator.
I assume this is guitarist/vocalist Tomi Koivusaari attempting normal vocals, but his vocal talent seems insufficient, and to cover that, he pulls some goofy and annoying vocals - they're compressed and recursive, and dance around the notes without pulling a real melody. These are in addition to the normal death vocals (his voice may be terrible, but he's got some throat) but don't augment the song, and detract by being aesthetically displeasing through their whoring attempt to be aesthetically appeasing.
As an introduction, this song stands in a good place on the album by revealing early that this album will follow rock conventions pretty smoothly laced into death metal. There are many more repetitions, and predictable harmonic inquiries by neighboring guitar sounds, as well as keyboard backing in the rock n roll places. The lead guitar work is more rock as well, but more intricate, and often extremely beautiful, becoming a welcome addition to the album. There is some almost pink-floydish experimentation at the end of this song.
"First Doom" follows, a track that has a high rock content and isn't exceptional, but can be called functional and appreciated. The beginning riff to this is so predictably rock and roll that it scared me, but the song works as a pretty good transition between the introduction-first song part of the album and the core of it, which is "Black Winter Day" and "Drowned Maid", which are followed by more experimental and simultaneously more derivative tracks which don't approach the beauty of either core song.
"Black Winter Day", the finest track on this album, follows an intricate riff that if played with fast strum speed would be a heavier black metal song. It takes some of the ideas of tonal movement from the first album and spins them into sprawling but cohesive patterns which move throughout the song, using choreographed phrasing which resolves in several different styles of finality ending up with a song that you follow through its racing convolutions and appreciate. There's a bit of rock n roll here in some of the end-phrases, but this is metal at its finest.
"Drowned Maid" isn't as fine, but moves with some dark harmonics to interesting heights and achieves nearly the same glory. This couplet are the heart of this album; it's so profoundly integral that Tomi's terrible vocals on "Black Winter Day" do little to diminish the potency here. "Drowned Maid"'s main riff shows how a layered metal riff can be done well, and how effective it can be.
"In The Beginning" gets both keyboard and vocal warnings, being the first track where the keyboards are too rock and roll and a bit cheeseball, and not enough necessary to justify their existence in the song. It's not bad, and is in the second echelon of good songs on this album, but doesn't have the compactness of artistic unit that the two tracks previous do. However, it's the break for where the album goes into its third stage, where more experimental things are done, but they are experimental in many senses only for death metal, and often are too reminiscent of previous works, albeit great ones.
"Forgotten Sunrise" and "To Fathers Cabin" get a circled M, or Iron Maiden warning. Harmonized guitars and sped-up oldstyle patterns make these not very heavier and nearer the progressive end the keyboards hint at, but without the richness of complexity that progressive provides. The end result is a spaced-out form of death metal that clearly bows to Maiden's "Number of the Beast." These aren't bad tracks, but they're too close to the composite and not enough worked-into a new style with ideas from the old integrated.
The album ends with "Magic and Mayhem," which begins, and then launches into a riff that's a good ape of older Black Sabbath. This song, like the two before it, is very rock and roll, but is pretty good, with a warning that none of these three really come together, and that they have no hope of being as impressively epic as "Black Winter Day" and "Drowned Maid", nor as solid as "The Castaway" and "In The Beginning". These are on the same level as "Into Hiding," but are at least more experimental and more circumspect about repetition.
Commercially, this album may succeed, but it will probably function more as a transition to a new style which will be the band's first real wide-scale success. As an album of such intent, "Tales From the Thousand Lakes" has escaped the syndrome of aping commercially successful nineties hard rock and grunge acts. It will not revolutionize metal and more likely will help rock music assimilate it, for in the devil's bargain we gain broader tonality and technique, and lose the spirit of antisocial metal that gave it a platform to speak at all to our individual souls.