by Mark Gromen
AMORPHIS and I go back to '95, when we were both on tour, the (then) young Finns opening for PARADISE LOST throughout Germany and Eastern Europe. Since then I've met up with mainstays Tomi Koivusaari (guitar) and Esa Holopainen (guitar) almost annually, at some Euro-fest, the rare North American gig or, for the last seven years, as attendees at the Helsinki Metal Meeting (or its forerunner Finnish Metal Expo), in their hometown. Thus was the backdrop for a listening session for the album The Beginning Of Time. Inside of Sonic Pump studio, where Silent Waters and Eclipse were similarly recorded, alongside friends and some of the biggest metal mags across the continent, the entire band (minus drummer Jan Rechberger) and Nuclear Blast somewhat nervously unleashed the master work, as neither label heads nor management had heard the final product!
The music is recognizable as Amorphis, but not of the throwaway, "heard it all before" variety. In fact, there's a strong '70s progressive vibe running throughout, yet Tomi Joutsen (pictured below) employs his deadly pipes (for effect, as well as full lyrical passages) with increasing regularity. Scheduled to be in stores May 27th, the artwork features a giant egg hovering in the foreground (think Alien movie poster), above a grove of snow covered trees. Finns unconnected to the band surmise it's a reference to the creation myth in the Kalevala (recurrent source of band's inspiration), where a Mother Earth figure raises her knee out of the sea as a passing bird lays an egg. It cracks, rolls down her leg and the shell fragments become Earthly land masses. The final artwork will also bear the eventually chosen title.
What follows is a transcription of my comments/thoughts (verbatim) jotted down during that initial playback:
'Mermaid' - piano and strings, cooing female vocals are the first things heard, then kicks into that Amorphis groove. Once vocals start, frantic pace has decreased to mid-tempo. Smooth, catchy. Post-chorus guitar break returns to the initial tempo.
'My Enemy' - Instantly recognizable as Amorphis, lilt, but then death vocals starts. Switches to clean voice, alternating verse & chorus, as music takes a decidedly heavier tone. Abrupt end.
'You I Need' - Keyboard introduced, sporadic notes, not some grand flourish. Piano remains in forefront throughout. Mid-tempo. Almost ballady, instrumental passage with practically only piano notes. Guitars briefly stir towards the conclusion.
'Battle For Light' - Piano atop wisps of synthesized strings joined by full band. After clean beginning, we hear the return of Tomi's gruff throat, but neither the magnitude nor intensity of earlier. Periodically interrupted by normal singing range. Acoustic guitar leads into final, crudely harmonic vocalizations. Segues right into...
'Three Words' - About this time I realize this album is going to slot nicely alongside Eclipse and Skyforger, ie. if it ain't broke mentality. Late in the track, more gruffness, which closes it out.
'On A Stranded Shore' - Picks up the pace a bit. For some reason it recalls '70s rock. Then slows, minimalistic, with electric piano notes at the fore. jazz drumming, block of wood or rim of snare.
'Escape' - Distinctive guitar, but only to open. Uptempo w/ gruff accents. Staccato, belabored riffs.
'Reformation' - keys and drums introduce, straight into a gallop of guitars, that settles into Amorphis pace, once the lyrics show up. Chorus is more lively, multi-voice backing choir of "ah." Dynamic changes galore!
'Soothsayer' - Real metalized approach, complete with bellowing, offset by almost whispered section and then piercing highs. Neither lasts very long. Something of a Middle Eastern undercurrent. Impressive.
'Song Of The Sage' - High pitched guitar races. Sudden break, drops guitars and keyboard driven 70s psychedelic pop (almost flute pitch) takes over. Almost as if aware it's wandering in a strange direction, turns to death voice and then back to format from which it sprang. False ending, into wah wah guitar and more simulated flute (?) keys. Fades out to a lone key note.
'Crack In A Stone' - Slow and heavy begun, another abrupt 180 degree change, to growl. Living up to their name, this chameleon never remains in same for very long. Hypnotic! Switches again, to keys atop military snare cadence and gradual pounding of big toms. Ends with off kilter mish-mosh that sounds almost like a mistake.
'Beginning Of Time' - Jangly, acoustic (BON JOVI, 'Wanted (Dead Or Alive)' style) intro. Proposed title cut. Fairly lively. Growls return in later half. Almost orchestral scheme, from full orchestra, to solo highlights, with changes in light/dark, both musically and lyrically. Ends with a reprise of that jangly six-string (almost sitar-ish).
Hopefully that whets your appetite for what is sure to be an oft listened to platter, at least if one is going to digest it properly.