11 September 2015

Amorphis - Under the Red Cloud

Amorphis - what do we know about them?  Well, they are from Helsinki, Finland and formed in 1990; they started off as a melodic death metal act and over the years they have added folk and progressive metal elements to their overall sound.  According to the information on that 'trustworthy' site Wikipedia, they have also used the Kalevala as a source of inspiration (the Kalevala is the epic poem of Finland) which formed the bases of the first album I heard from Amorphis 'Skyforger'.  Now it turns out again I am playing cover roulette with their latest album.  Let me explain, as people who read this blog regularly will know I like to pick albums by artists I do not know based on the cover alone.  I picked this one and was wondering why they name seemed familiar to me, it was not until I was doing the research for the act that I realised I had heard them before, I actually remember the night I listened to 'Skyforger' and that I found it to be beautiful; this album has a cover that resembles a serpent leaving the water and lightning another serpent from the sky.  It is very symmetrical, it is looks fantastic and now it is time to look into the album itself.

Starting the album is the title track "Under the Red Cloud", it has a progressive edge which was more in the background to when I first heard them; as openings go, this is aiming for the epic and achieving.  It is from a humble piano riff (well I say humble, it sounds complicated as hell) and it builds up a head of steam very quickly and the vocals of Tomi Jousten are just spot on, it is neither too high and screeching; when their is a need for a growl it is done with ease and style.  It does have a traditional element to the sound which I have not heard outside of the Scandinavian metal world and it is beautiful to hear again. "The Four Wises Ones" starts with an urgency that is refreshing, it is not a manic riff by any stretch of the imagination but it is an intense riff; the verse sections are slower and in the bridge has vocals supplied by Aleah Stanbridge as well, they feel slightly disjointed from the chorus and opening riff but not enough to make anything fall out of place with the song.  It is the contrast which helps the song and whilst it is not as immediate as "Under the Red Cloud", it still holds your attentions.  "Bad Blood" is the third track and starts with a guitar fading in as if it is coming through a thick fog, it is a brooding piece of metal on offer here.  Vocals go from clear to growling with ease and the performance of the band is equally as smooth; again the progressive metal element of the band is in the driving seat once more which shows how they can change at a moments notice.  Every now and then, a traditional metal riff with be released and then maybe a clash of orchestral strings just to add flavour; it is all mixed together to create another epic sounding song for this album.

"The Skull" is the fourth song of the album which has a middle-eastern theme to the riff, if this is on purpose of not is a difficult to say; but it definitely feels like it has had some influence from the so-called Holy land.  It is also has some atmospheric sections which slow the mood down a little and whilst it is well played and the solo towards the end of the number is one of the best of the album, it just does not quite mix as well as other numbers on this album for me - a standard number that does not reach its goals I am afraid.  With a sound of pipes and adventure, "Death of a King" is the next song on this album and from the first note it is an improvement to these ears.  The riff sounds like it has been created by the Gods to sooth the battle-harden sound who has seen too much blood, it takes the listener on a journey that does not lessen with repeated plays.  The right balance of progressive metal and folk metal in used on this song and the ending is really intense and sends shivers up and down my spine - song of the album, hands down.  "Sacrifice" is another song which hits all the right spots from the opening moments, it is a classic European metal song which sounds timeless without being old hat.  It is a song with a modern feel that could also have been a trail blazer in years gone by, a difficult act to achieve but they have done just that.  It is over in just under four minutes and could have actually been stretched out for me; but at least it does not out stay its welcome and that is something that be said for all the songs on this album.  

"Dark Path" keeps up the theme of epic metal that has been the goal of this album from the very first note; it is an aggressive number that is heavy on the keyboards and the string arrangements.  It is something that will have the faithful up in arms and rejoicing that this new song exists, it is also a song that should have fans of classic metal in rapture as well due to its stunning riff, powerful drumming and rumbling bass that come together to make another highlight of this album.  "Enemy At The Gates" is the eighth track of the album and it starts off with a sense of tension from the beginning; you feel as if you are awaiting an attack with the calm music of the verse and bridges acting as the tranquil period before the battle, a battle which is ongoing and will last until none are left; fanciful language I know, but basically it is the sound of a song which is high on drama and played with precision.  The penultimate track of the main part of the album is called "Tree of Ages" and it starts with pipes and mistral guitars that give way to another folk metal anthem for the future.  With a helping of growling vocals, the band tell the tale about the Tree of Ages (obviously from the title); it is a decent number but without the flair of other songs on the record.  As with "The Skull" it is performed as well as any other number on the album, it just does not work for me.  With the sound of clear guitars "White Night" Amorphis start the final song of the album with a number constructed with light and shade, black and white; the band go between the two sides of the song as simple as a clock goes from one second to another.  Additional vocals are once again supplied by Aleah Stanbridge in places, another mixture of clean vocals and screams that sounds like demons coming down;  it ends the album perfectly, a combination of all the styles of the album which shows all the positives that Amorphis have to offer.  There is another two bonus tracks - "Come The Spring" and "Winter's Sleep" - which are both fine song, just wondering why they were labelled as bonus tracks?  Surely they should have been just normal songs?  Anyway, they are both really good song that compliment the rest of the album.

I am at a loss for what to say here in a way; I think it is fair to say that I am more than a little impressed with this record, no song (even the few which were not for me) out stay their welcome and that is something that is hard for some band to achieve.  It is a great record that has made me wonder why I have not investigated more of their work over the years; it could be a cross over in terms of metal as it has appeals to more than one audience in the mix, but that might make some people a bit uneasy and wary of the album - it might try to please to many people.  If you fall into this camp, you are of course, crazy.  This album is just an out and out classic release that will go down in the ages as one of the best metal releases of 2015, cover roulette has won once more.

8.5 out of ten -  Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - Death of a King

You can purchase Under The Red Cloud from Amazon here

You can visit the Amorphis website here

You can follow the activities of Amorphis on Facebook here

You can stream the album on Spotify here

You can stream the album on Deezer here

You can stream the album on Tidal here

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