06/19/2003 9:30p ET
Dw Dunphy - Reviewer
Metal is a tough musical genre to be in. On the one hand, you need to change your sound, expand and grow, or else you become a parody of yourself, irrelevant and rather goofy. Think of just about any hair metal band from the 80s; you can’t stay in mascara, big hair and spandex forever. On the other hand, there is hardly a fan base more loyal and more adverse to drastic change than that of metal. Succeeding means skating that hairline fracture between one extreme and the other.
Three bands have recently made bold strides away from their black metal roots. Ulver moved toward a trip-hop, ambient sound on “Perdition City”. Opeth fully embraced their prog rock side with the impressive “Damnation”. But the first band I can recall pulling away from this particular sub-genre is Amorphis, whose disc “Elegy” (1996) was based on the Finnish collection of tales and legends, The Kanteletar . While still firmly rooted in power rock, “Elegy” showed a side that few bands of the sort would dare. A sense of history beyond the doomy gloom of the genre’s forebears and a deft use of folk sounds in context made the recording a standout and an instant favorite.
2001’s “Am Universum” found the band integrating more synth and even several saxophone solos into the sound, still hard and driving but hardly typical. Cut to 2003 where the band is poised to reintroduce itself to America, separating from longtime distributors Relapse Records, with their latest, “Far From The Sun”. And what a reintroduction it is.
Gone is the sax, and that’s a shame, but there is a resurgence of folk-sounding instrumentation, a strong emphasis on melodies that wrap themselves around the mind like razor wire and, most important, this is all in the context of uncompromised, hard rock. You immediately get the gist of this from track one, “Day Of Your Beliefs”, sounding both foreign and instantly comfortable. While the lyrics betray an uneasy translation into English, some of the words sounding close enough but not quite ‘there’, it’s vocalist Pasi Koskinen (also the chief lyricist for the band) that pulls you through. His voice is clear but, at the same time, sharply defined. Rather than shouting at you, he sings it straight and manages to squeeze out the raw power most power singers can’t without torturing the larynx.
High points on the disc are the Floydian slip of “Mourning Soil”, with David Gilmour-like guitar playing and the sound of classic rock organ (courtesy of Santeri Kallio), the reggae strut rhythm of “Ethereal Solitude” transforming mid stride into a hard-rock epic in the vein of Guns And Roses’ “November Rain”, the boogie of “Killing Goodness” and the mournful closer “Smithereens”. Bucking the current trend of beating a note to death through Marshall amps and a thousand processors, Tomi Koivusaari and Esa Holopainen actually play the guitar, whether it’s the big chord or the intricate lead. The purported Nu-Metal guitar gods have much to fear should this one get a major distribution push: they might actually have to learn their instruments now.
As with any group that comes from the black metal hierarchy, there’s hints of the sacrilegious in the lyrics but it never gets so silly or (in the cheese-metal shriek) “eeevill!!” that it distracts from the music. The very best track here, the title track, falls into the category but does so with a sober-eyed clarity. Seeing as how, in the US, religion has been tarnished by unconscionable people given moral authority, lyrics like, “holding the wounds of the bleeding souls / you summon all the restless folk / to share the feast of anxiety…” is much more mature a statement than I’ve found myself making at the evening news.
I’m not sure if the mainstream is ready for Amorphis. In honesty, that which passes for metal these days is lunk-headed and lead-footed. It’s angst and instant adrenaline and not much else, so it’s a very good thing that this band is willing to take the risk and change. “Far From The Sun” is worth your time. Get ready for it and you will not be disappointed.
Copyright © 2002-2003 Matthew Rowe. All rights reserved.
Far From The Sun
Released: N/A 2003