“It doesn’t matter if someone likes the album; it matters whether or not we as a band like the album.”
Thus, guitarist Esa Holopainen offers no apologies if you, as an AMORPHIS fan, can’t find worth in the band’s new outing, Circle. But really, if you’ve been a devout follower even through the experimental Am Universum / Far From The Sun era (2001/2003) and the entrance of vocalist Tomi Joutsen in 2005 (who replaced Pasi Koskinen), there’s nothing to complain about. Circle boasts the full-on Amorphis quality of recent years, albeit heavier and more face-grabbingly immediate than some folks might expect.
“I’ve only heard from one reporter saying that he wishes Circle sounded more like the previous albums,” Esa admits. “But, that’s always been the way with this band. You know you've done something right when you please some of the people. If everybody would hate us there wouldn't be any point to releasing albums at all. We’ve received lots of positive feedback, and when you know yourself that you worked hard on the songs and you truly enjoy the results, it’s a great feeling to talk about the album with people.”
Circle is a pleasant surprise in that it’s heavy without bordering on overly brutal, probably more up-tempo than some fans expect, and dark without venturing into the realms of goth/doom melancholy.
“I definitely agree with you,” says Esa, “and that’s why we brought the guitars up front, to make things heavier. The guitars on this album are much more up front and in-your-face compared to the previous albums. As a guitar player, that really works for me (laughs). We paid more attention to the overall sound. We used different guitars sounds on certain parts of the album, and there were songs that we wanted to sound more organic, more old school. We didn’t want to changes things radically; we had a new producer and a new environment for the recording sessions and that really helped us achieve our goals.”
Said producer is no mere soundbooth knob-twister. Circle was brought to life with the assistance of none other than Peter Tägtgren, known for raising hell with both HYPOCRISY and PAIN, as well as having years of experience as a (primarily) black metal producer at his famously infamous Abyss Studios.
“I think it’s sort of the best of both worlds because we’ve known Peter for years,” Esa says of how the collaboration with Tägtgren came about. “We did our first tour with Hypocrisy in 1995 - it was the first Nuclear Blast festival tour - and he was just building up his Abyss Studio is Sweden at the time. Every since then we’ve played with the idea that it would be nice to work together, and he’s always said that we should come to him to record an album.”
Put Amorphis up against Hypocrisy or Pain and one would think there’s nary a thread to link them except for their metal heritage. Listen to Circle and, if you give a damn about production values, the record does have that noisy seal of Tägtgren approval even during the album's more atmospheric moments.
“The music that Peter does for Hypocrisy and Pain is so different from what we do, but we share a lot of the same interests. He can work with bands completely different from his own, no problem. He once told me that when he started producing black metal bands it was because there were no other bands around at the time. When he did the first DIMMU BORGIR album, the more extreme bands out there wanted to record at his studio. He ended up being labelled as a savior for black metal album (laughs).”
“He’s done other stuff since then, of course, but I think doing Circle was good for him as well as us,” Esa continues. “He worked his ass off on this album. Peter worked on it for five weeks and I think he had three days off. He likes to party, sure, but when he works he doesn’t drink at all. Peter was very clear-minded and his focus was always on the music. The most unbelievable thing was that when he got home, he immediately started writing for the new Hypocrisy record. And their album was released before ours (laughs).”
In tune with changing their musical approach slightly – no pun intended – Amorphis made the ballsy move of trimming Circle down to only nine tracks. A tactic that paid off given how often Yours Truly has hit the “repeat” button since receiving the record; you can’t help but want to go back and hear it just one more time… again.
“We’re very excited about the new album because we feel there are no leftover songs. We could have put 13 tracks on the album with a 14th track as a bonus song, but we spoke beforehand and decided we wanted an album that really was really compact with no leftovers that people might not want to hear.”
“I think this was one of the easiest sessions we had recording for a new album. Over half the band picked the same songs in almost the same order when we were deciding which ones had to go on the album. Then we turned to Peter for his opinion, and he was pretty much the same as us. I don’t remember doing any other recording sessions where the tracks were so obvious that they belonged on an album, and felt so natural.”
The compact nature of Circle is a breath of fresh air in this day and age, particularly as more and more bands seem bent on releasing as much material as possible in one go. In most cases it’s simply too much information all at once, making a potentially enjoyable listen overwhelming.
“I can imagine that, and it's the same for me,” Esa agrees. “I think that if you're a journalist doing album reviews, the nightmare would be getting an album where the band put it out thinking ‘Ha ha! We have a metal opera that’s two hours long!’ Holy shit, that must be horrible (laughs). No, we wanted to keep this album as compact as possible.”
Amorphis haven’t been shy about their belief in the new album, going so far as to play it live in its entirety at an official release party in Helsinki, Finland this past April. Sure, only nine songs, but a brave move just the same considering the news songs had never been performed in front of an audience.
“It was exciting. It wasn’t frightening because we did several rehearsals to run through all the songs, and they still worked (laughs). If I look back at the previous album, Beginning Of Times, we could never imagine playing that album live from beginning to end. I think it would have been impossible. Tommy (Koisuvaari/guitars) had the idea of doing Circle from beginning to end for the release party, and at first it sounded like a weird idea, but in the end we decided to go for it. The new songs really worked in the live environment. It was a good challenge for us and a nice thing for the fans as well.”