Review Summary: Transitions in sound will either make you stronger or die trying.
Lets face it, when bands begin to tinker with new sounds and concepts to their already lustrous careers, they either manage to pull something off brilliantly or they fail miserably. There are countless bands that could be mentioned that could fit into either one of these categories (Ulver coming to mind for the brilliance and Darkthrone for the fail). But what about the bands that leave people scratching their heads about their highly experimental albums, unable to come up with some form of opinion about? Albums like this usually get shelved after one or two listens and quickly fade out of mind when the next big album is released. Tuonela
is one of these so called albums that places all the chips on the table but ends up splitting the pot with four other people, leaving Amorphis wondering who the hell took notice with their transition in sound.
The first thing the listener will notice is the complete back-turn on the death metal genre that gave them life in the first place. There are only hints of the melo-death era The Karelian Isthmus
or Tales from the Thousand Lakes
to be found on here. Instead, Amorphis have chosen to take a step into the big rock arena world with songs filled up on U2’s delay and flanging tinged guitar lines, Middle Eastern melodies, and huge leads that could come across as the next big thing in rock. Opening song ‘The Way’ utilizes all of these attributes productively, creating catchy melodies, a massive chorus and an equally explosive outro that finds the band touching on the word “epic”. ‘Nightfall’ is a great example of Amorphis spreading out their wings of creativity and showcasing how far they’ve come since their debut in 1992. Instead of guitar leads doing all of the work, a saxophonist takes precedence, intertwining between the imaginative guitar lines and creating some fantastic Middle Eastern melodies that really drive the song along. Fans of their old sound should not fear as they’ve retained some old folk traits in the song ‘Rusty Moon’, added through flute lines that will make the listener want to frolic through a sunlit meadow with a hobbit.
Unfortunately, as well received as these experimentations into Amorphis’ sound should be, they are bogged down by flat vocal delivery and a rather large amount of filler. Very few throaty death metal growls are to be found here. In place is a rather insipid vocal range that attempts to create more melody into the mix and instead sounds like a typical grunge vocalist from the early 90s. This simply does not work, coming across as more of a pathetic attempt to please the record label by introducing a digestible set of vocals to sell more records (strange thing to be said considering this is on Relapse Records). Further, the amount of filler on this album only makes the vocals that much more irritable. ‘Tuonela’ and ‘Shining’ are good examples of this as the band lets the instruments take a back seat to allow for the vocals to breathe more. In turn, this may make the listener skip these types of songs to hunt out the true gems contained on this disc.
The watered down approach Amorphis has taken borders on risk taking as well as mediocre radio rock. As much crap as there is on your everyday radio station, I wish stuff like this would be played. Tuonela
isn’t that far off from lets say “a radio hit” due to its typical song structures and vocals that sound like they could use some lessons. It’s the rather intriguing moments on this disc that will surely have anyone who is a fan of bands experimenting with their sound giving this a spin. Transitional records are a bitch, especially when a departure of sound announcement can alienate your true fan base. Amorphis just took the risk here. In return, they ended up with a mixed bag of results that can leave your loyal fanbase scratching their heads.