In 1996 Amorphis decided to ditch their dark Death Metal roots and explore new territory, pulling out the very interesting Elegy
. While the death/doom influences are still present, they are mixed with a new exploration of progressive, melodic rock and folk territories - with mixed success. The music on Elegy
has a great melodic sensibility and light feel; the massive presence of the Moog synth, a permanent clean vocalist and use of unconventional (for a Metal band) instruments (electric sitar, classical piano, accordion) all contribute to this. Due to the progressive influences the songwriting is very complex for the band, with each song lacking an obvious verse/chorus structure and many alternating passages.
Many of the emotions present on Elegy
dwell in the familiar darkness of their early works, but an equal amount are a lot brighter. The album’s name can be interpreted as relevant to the dark aspect of the album, but there is a feeling of re-awakening (not necessarily hope) prevalent – as the death of someone close has made you realise the truth about your relationship with that person (good or bad). The song that captures this mix of emotion and atmosphere best is the phenomenal ‘My Kantele’; the lyrics detail how music exists purely to express sorrow (the classic Finnish instrument, the kantele’s ‘strings gathered from torments and its pegs from other ills’) yet the music has a positive, almost uplifting feel, like the joy of one confiding in the sheer beauty of music itself. The lines ‘so it will not play, will not rejoice at all/music will not play to please’ are very powerful, making it clear Amorphis consider music as an expression of the artist’s personal emotion and not made for the specific enjoyment of an audience. There is also quite a religious feel throughout the album (the serious nature of the riffing, the organ backing it and inexorable lyrics), giving it an obvious epic overtone.
The songwriting on this album is greatly diverse and interesting, but so much so it borders on directionless and confusion throughout parts of the record. The aforementioned songs’ lack of structure leads to brilliance as the acoustic reprise of ‘My Kantele’ seemingly evolves as it goes along, making the songwriting feel incredibly natural and subsequently, memorable. Unfortunately opener ‘Better Unborn’, despite its amazing intro/build-up, is five minutes of dreary repetition which becomes hard to listen to. Amorphis’ main strength as songwriters has always been the mellifluous guitar (and often keyboard) melodies they write. This album contains the largest amount of these melodies they’ve done on a single album, resulting in two things: tons of awesome, catchy melodies (‘Song Of The Troubled One’ is prime Melodic Death); oversaturation of these melodies. The key changes (the same melody being played slightly differently), while sounding cool at first eventually become tiresome in ‘On Rich And Poor’ and ‘Against Widows’. The diversity of the songs itself is once again hit and miss; ‘The Orphan’ is a melodic and relaxing tune yet has a crushing doom section giving the listener a pleasant surprise, while the disco break in ‘Cares’ is too out of field, even with the song’s genius folk instrumentation and synth against the crushing heaviness.
It’s clear Tomi Koivusaari was losing his voice at the point of recording this – his growls on Elegy
lack the rough Death Metal growl
edge they should have, and have a weird layering effect on them making them sound less powerful. All is not lost however; they are still brutal and deliver the necessary dark atmosphere. His impassioned performance on the title track is something to behold; conjuring all the brutality and pain his voice can muster, the screams of ‘Long evenings full of longing...and all times the bitterest’ are moving and epic. Pasi Koskinen’s clean vocals are simply very hit and miss. At times his singing is okay but the vocal melody written sounds awkward (see ‘Against Widows’) and other times his voice sounds bland and not melodic enough to carry a song (‘On Rich And Poor’/’Weeper On The Shore’). He does show he has potential to be a good vocalist; his performances on ‘My Kantele’ and ‘The Orphan’ (the latter featuring just him) are fantastic with his fitting vocal style and strong deliverance of melody.
Individual instruments do little to shine here as Amorphis plays as a collective unit, but each band member plays well to achieve what the songwriting demands of them. Esa Holopainen’s lead guitar playing, handling most of the melodies, is done with great feel and he shows his versatility with the electric sitar in ‘Better Unborn’ and a dissonant solo in ‘Song Of The Troubled One’. Tomi Koivusaari’s rhythm guitar pumps out the necessary heaviness and is largely responsible for the doom parts of the album, yet he can also do some skilful leads shown in the orgasmic harmonies in the finale of ‘My Kantele’. The synth does a fantastic job of creating atmosphere as well as leading tracks – the sombre piano in the title track is an example of this. The rhythm section is handled solidly – despite a few overly busy fills the drummer maintains a unique groove throughout and the bass plays independent bass lines which help drive the tracks along with the guitar and keyboard harmonisation going on.
is a mixed bag. Tracks such as ‘My Kantele’, ‘The Orphan’ and ‘Elegy’ show why Amorphis are so influential, writing some of the best Metal out there, and the album is an incredibly unique listen. Sadly lots of the album is weighed down by a lack of direction, inconsistent vocals and a few bad songwriting ideas. As a nice meeting point between two eras of Amorphis (progressive rock and death/doom) this comes recommended.