Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: April 19th, 2013
Genre: Modern progressive metal
Tomi Joutsen – Vocals
Esa Holopainen – Guitars (lead)
Tomi Koivusaari – Guitars (rhythm)
Niclas Etelävuori – Bass
Santeri Kallio – Keyboards
Jan Rechberger – Drums
1. Shades of Gray
3. The Wanderer
5. Hopeless Days
6. Nightbird’s Song
7. Into the Abyss
8. Enchanted By the Moon
9. A New Day
When it comes to Finland, heavy metal is certainly not a new thing. Finland has always been a hotbed for metal bands of all genres. While you have metal scenes like the one over here in Quebec (Canada) that are known for a certain genre more than others (over here, it would certainly have to be death metal, with big household names such as Martyr, Kataklysm or Neuraxis), Finland seems to have an incredibly rich and diverse scene comprised of all metal sub-genres. You like death metal? There’s Sotajumala. Prefer it more melodic? There’s Omnium Gatherumand Insomnium. You like black metal? Horna is there for you. And so on. Out of all metal bands, there are some which most metal fans know about and have come to associate with Finland. Bands like Nightwish, Stratovarius orSonata Arctica, for example. Another important Finnish metal band which has been garnering more attention for a few years now is Amorphis.
Amorphis has had a bit of an unusual ride. Starting out with a rather unusual, very stark and gloomy type of death metal with their 1992 debut The Karelian Isthmus. Amorphis’s brand of death metal was quite far removed from what was going on in the United States and in Sweden at the time. It was especially due to Tomi Koivusaari’s rather unusual, incredibly low growl and his vocal style was part of what made Amorphis so unusual. Another element that made the band so unique was their inclusion of atmospheric and rather epic segments. In that fashion, a lot of similarities could be drawn to what bands like Therion or Septic Flesh did at the time; they were trying something different. They weren’t happy with just chugging away and grunting in a microphone. Their craft had something different and almost visionary to it. To me, their decision of re-releasing early material the next year with the now legendary Privilege of Evil EP has always been a weird one. I quite frankly hate that EP. Sure, Tomi makes it sound incredibly cool with his unusually low growl but the music is pretty boring to me. Thankfully, not even a year later, the first masterpiece from Amorphis would be unleashed upon the world: Tales from the Thousand Lakes. If anything, that album changed the way many people would look at death metal. With that album, they proved that death metal could be oozing with death and dripping with venom and yet be as epic as any power metal band.
Things would change drastically after that album, when the band would start moving away from their death metal roots and shift to a more folk-driven sound. Pasi Koskinen joined the band and the band release Elegy in 1996, which I still hold as their best work. Most seem to prefer Tuonela, Elegy’s follow-up album and the first album without Tomi Koivusaari’s vocal presence (he’s moved back to full-time guitarist now) and it is driven almost exclusively by Pasi’s clean vocals (except for “Greed”). Personally, I must say I never was a big fan of Pasi’s clean vocals and always preferred his work with his much darker side-project, Ajattara. Because of Pasi’s presence, I tend to findAmorphis’s mid-period their least enjoyable one for me. The two following albums, Am Universum and Far Away From the Sun didn’t help either, with the former flirting with retro prog sounds and failing miserably at it and the latter trying to get a more accessible sound and ending up just plain boring (mediocre, even).
For me, seeing Pasi leave and concentrating on Ajattara was a blessing. To be honest, I had almost slashed offAmorphis and I wasn’t very excited about a new singer, considering Pasi had pretty much ruined the band for me. But Eclipse came in 2006 and I was completely floored. Tomi Joutsen gave new life to the band. His powerful growl and his great clean singing brought back Amorphis in full force and is still my favorite after Elegy. From there, it’s been a hell of a ride, with the band pumping out fantastic albums in Silent Waters, Skyforger and The Beginning of Times. As such, I was fully expecting their new album (entitled simply Circle) – already their fourth album with Tomi Joutsen – to live up to expectations. The cover artwork surprise me a bit, being quite different from what I came to expect from an Amorphis cover. Would the music reflect the darker, creepy tone of the artwork? More importantly, would it still sound like the Amorphis I know and love?
The album opens up with the rather surprisingly heavy and violent “Shades of Gray”. Honestly, I find it the worst possible choice to open up an Amorphis album. It doesn’t mess around and it throws you into a violent storm from the get go and I’m not quite sure I like that. Not from Amorphis, anyway. The song itself is not great, either. It’s not catchy at all to me and I’m not sure of it’s because of the promo copy but the production is a bit chaotic, as well. A very strange choice it admittedly ruins the album a bit. I now pretty much skip it altogether. Thankfully, “Mission” follows and gets my hopes up with its nice intro, breaking into a nice bouncy typical Amorphis-sounding number. It is driven by a slower tempo but is very melodic and enjoyable. That song would make an excellent second single! “The Wanderer” is a great song as well, with catchy verse delivery and a good chorus. It also boasts a fantastic solo. “Narrowpath” is very cool and brings back the folk sound of the band. It’s a nice, energetic song and one of my favorites on Circle. The next song is “Hopeless Days” and is the first single of the album. I’ll be honest: I don’t like this song all that much. It would fit on an Anathema album more than for Amorphis. It’s not an immediate skipper like the opener but it’s definitely not the best on here. “Nightbird’s Song” is decent (better than “Shades of Gray” but there’s nothing spectacular about it for me. It’s a pretty dark song and Tomi’s growl shows up. I have to say I never dug his growl so much and I would rather have him sing clean all the time, as he is a thousand times the singer Pasi will ever be, in my opinion. ”Into the Abyss” is a good song, just not spectacular. I like the main riff, though. Tomi does deliver a good vocal performance, as well. “Enchanted by the Moon” is amazing and is a definite highlight. It’s an epic song, both in scope and execution. Musically, this is absolutely fantastic. Less use of the growls would make it stellar, though. The album closes with “A New Day” which ends the album on a positive note, with its mid-paced melodic side and good vocal delivery. The album does have a limited bonus track called “Dead Man’s Dream” which my promo did not have, sadly.
So in the end, I’m definitely a bit disappointed with this album. It’s not a catastrophe or anything, but it’s not up to par with the last few to me. It’s also definitely not that Tomi can’t sing anymore and it’s obviously not that the band suddenly suck at their craft. It’s just that the album feels a little different from the past ones and I don’t quite like several of the songs featured on Circle. Some very odd decisions on track listing also mars the enjoyment of the album quite a bit for me. Having an opener which I skip 90% of the time is not a good thing and while you can skip it, it’s rather silly to start an album on the second track every time.
Either way, I think most fans will enjoy the album but I won’t be very surprised if they don’t enjoy it as much as the previous ones. The bottom line is, Circle still sounds like Amorphis. It’s just that they seem to be exposing a slightly different side of the band and it happens to not be quite the one I personally prefer. The score is on the low side because I find it a bit inconsistent and as I said before, some decisions in vocal approach and track-listing hinder my enjoyment of the album. However, some of that is a matter of personal choice and thankfully, it so happens that to my ears, an average Amorphis album is still better than the best a lot of bands can offer, so do take the final score with a grain of salt and judge accordingly to your enjoyment of the band.
Written by Chris Auclair
Ratings Chris 6/10
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