Review Summary: It's not mind-blowing, but it's not bad either. Probably their most consistent effort so far.
Less isn’t more. That’s just a lie people tell themselves and each other to feel better about their shortcomings, be them a result of lack of effort, interest or material to work with. Less is less, and that’s just how it is. When you go out for an afternoon stroll in the park wearing your S&M-themed underwear it’s not a fashion statement even if you wore them all day, every day before; it’s you being poorly dressed for the occasion and probably disturbing other people.
So I am not going to say this album is groundbreaking in any way. Hell no. Most of what you will listen to here, you heard before somewhere else. The last thing you’re going to hear is me saying this is the most creative album Amorphis released. What I am going to say is that it works far better than all the ones that came before it; yes, even Skyforger.
It’s simple and unpretentious, for starters. It doesn’t come across as if anyone was trying too hard in its production, to the point where even the mastering is not as cranked as a metal listener would be used to at this point of the loudness wars (and Peter Tägtgren worked on this, so I’m surprised I didn’t get an earache like I did with his band Hypocrisy and the A Taste of Extreme Divinity). The riffs aren’t unplayable in any way and the leads are quite predictable (even the flute solo halfway “Nightbird’s Song” could have been seen from a thousand miles away). The clean vocals particularly aren’t higher or stronger than before, although I will have to admit there was an improvement regarding Tomi’s growls and grunts to the point where I assumed I had gotten the wrong album and was listening to Omnium Gatherum instead during “Shades of Gray”. And, as usual the songs are slower in tempo than most metal bands but not enough to classify as drone or anything. Based on the Kalevala too (again), which is a very important Finnish epic (therefore overused to death).
Is it all it is, though? A mediocre pile of cliches?
Their vocalist stated “Circle represents integrity. Back in the days, when there was something special to talk about, wise men used to sit in circle.” and I can definitely see where he’s coming from. Before we humans were worried about turning the tropes and cliches we identified into blueprints for products cut out of cardboard or quality identifiers, we sat down and told each other stories: they could be less than intuitive, the characters could get little to no resolution and their actions would have sometimes gone in the opposite direction of what a Hollywood blockbuster or New York Times’ bestseller would go; back then we didn’t question the author’s psyche or try to alter the details of an existent work by projecting our tastes on it. Either we honestly enjoyed something or we didn’t, and either way it was fine because it was just a story.
While listening to Circle, you will recognize chugging patterns. You might be aware of how blatantly edited the drums are. Of how the bass is barely noticeable most of the time with the exception of during “Hopeless Days”. Of how repetitive the vocal patterns and melodies are. Of how the tonal changes can be very obvious. Whether it will stop you from appreciating the album or not, I can’t tell.
It didn’t stop me. Why?
Because when I listen to “Narrowpath”, I think of the things I enjoyed about metal when I got into the genre, or rather, the umbrella term for a thousand subgenres. Because Into The Abyss brings me back to when I could listen to Eternal Tears of Sorrow’s Chaotic Beauty and simply not care about how there were bands in the same genre playing faster and harder or with more complex arrangements and three time signature changes before you could figure where they were going next.
This album is not masturbation.
Amorphis’ new album is not particularly outstanding, but it’s not underwhelming in any way. It’s not a life-changer, but it’s enjoyable regardless of how technical it is and that’s more than I can say about half of the albums I listen to every day. As hard as it might be, this is an album to be taken for what it is, even if the whole “music is not a competition” thing sounds like another lie we tell ourselves too.
Less is “less”, and pretending it’s “more” is a disservice to everyone involved, be them the content producer or the consumer. It doesn’t mean it’s intrinsically bad, because there can be exaggerations on both ends of the spectrum. It doesn’t make for a statement on whether formulas are good or not, whether raw or produced make for a better presentation. Things don't have to be frilly to be good.
This release might be too simple for the industry’s standards, too close to reality; it might be more appealing to some if they are led to believe an infinitude of layered leads that would require three times the amount of guitarists to perform live equals quality. It doesn’t, and on the other hand, it doesn’t stop it from being good either. It’s not what something is in concept, but how the execution is ultimately performed. Things really don’t need to be the week’s “best thing ever” to be enjoyable.
Basically it’s the album of a band, and they’re playing music in it. You can sit down and listen for a bit, and if you enjoy it, that’s great. If you don’t, it’s okay too. Despite its flaws, I can enjoy it because while everything in it seems to be standard, it works. It just works. No ups and downs like many of their previous albums, no trying too hard to be the most amazing thing on the planet. Devin Townsend said it better than I ever could on "Earth Day":
“So just shut your face and take a seat
Because after all, you're just talking meat
Well, it's just entertainment, folks.”