Review Summary: Amorphis' best.
Amorphis was once a great band before they went all whiny pseudo In Flames on us. This album is a testament to their former glory, which unfortunately can never really be recovered. Firstly, it should be said that this album is quite unaccessible to the mainstream metal crowd, due to the mostly negative and hard-to-swallow riffs. Nevertheless, the album succeeds in creating a powerful, coherent, and rather nihilistic atmosphere that most bands today shun in favour of constant bouncy climaxes.
The production is actually rather clear and even for a death metal band in the early nineties. If Demilich's boxy production were pushed more to the forefront and grew a bushy mane of hair, it wouldn't be too far removed from what is being offered here. The snare gives sufficient power, while the bass drums just punch away in the middle of mix with a slight reverb reminiscent of breaking glass. The guitar is thick and burly, and the vocals growl somewhat unremarkably in the low middle end of the sonic spectrum. The bass can actually be heard, and the occasional keyboard interlude doesn't intrude too much on the music.
The songwriting here is obviously based on a phrasal mode of storytelling. Most of the riffs start off in a similar dissonant fashion, before winding off on its own path into a unique mid and end point. There is not really a single positive riff to be found here. Whenever a phrase starts to veer into the realm of surgary melodeath, it almost immediately finds a way to twist itself back into a despairing and hopeless mood. The riffs are not exactly pure atonality in the mold of Morbid Angel, but rather a hybrid of that and sorrowful melody- giving the music an extra emotional dimension rather than a straightforward assault like early Deicide. Like any GOOD death metal band, all the songs start from chaos, evolves into order, and then stamps on a cold and logical conclusion at the end. It should be said that most of the 'order' comes from the atonal riffs morphing themselves into a coherent set of depressing notes, deconstructing said set, and then gently laying the results out on the table like a misty tarot card enthusiast. The conclusion of the album will leave the listener in a contemplative mood- not of the morbid or wanly smiling type, just contemplative.
As for the musical level of the players, the guitarists are of middling quality, but use their limited talents to devastating effect. The drummer is slightly below average, but he keeps the time well. The vocalist has a weak growl that sounds like Glen Benton having heartburn,but it's quite irrelavent. Given the limited scope of their playing abilities, the emphasis is once again put on the principle of how superb songwriting and tastefulness can pretty much get you through anything.
In closing, Amorphis died when they lost their sense of constructing songs that take you through an existentialist journey to a cold finale. Their later releases show only a band interested in marketing themselves to the mainstream through average clean vocals and faux-emotions conveyed through stolen 'positive' riffs and keyboard meanderings. This is them at their most fresh and honest state. Get this album if you're a self respecting death metal fan, period.