Melodic heavy music owes a lot to Amorphis. For decades, the Finnish band has had a firmer grasp on the sound than most of their peers. As they have shifted toward a more progressive sound and amped up their melodic presence with cleaner vocals over the years, they’ve never forgotten where they came from. That’s meant both metaphorically and literally, as a lot of their songs tell tall folktales steeped in their Scandinavian roots. I guess when you’re from somewhere as fascinatingly beautiful as Finland, it’s hard to not sing its praises from time to time. With Queen of Time, Amorphis keep moving the bar further heavenward for melodic death metal and out-performing themselves, a feat thought to be unattainable given their outstanding recent output. Jake and I teamed up yet again to offer our two cents before the album drops on May 18.
Let me just say this to start: this album is Amorphis doing the most without falling into overindulgent trappings or becoming a parody of themselves. Everything expected of their modern work is here: savagely growled vocals, melody-focused guitars, progressive arrangements and folk injections that liven the mood with magic. It’s how, and what, they build with these tools that’s so amazing.
For as great of a command as Amorphis have over metal, it’s their folkish leanings that ensnare me the most. A lovely sitar passage marks the intro of “Grain of Sand”, and the melodies produced by guitars here and on “The Golden Elk” are similarly folk-enhanced. When pushed even further, the band is very capable of weaving experimentation into a flawless victory that complements their sound immensely. Look no further than the twisting saxophone line on “Daughter of Hate” or the suspenseful synth intro of “The Bee”. Just like the thematic basis of the band’s lead single, the smallest element, even the size of a bee, can produce great results.
The band has also been honing their use of hooks even further than they had on Under the Red Cloud. The choruses are vocally as grand as mountains, opting for a mix of growled and clean singing provided by Tomi Joutsen throughout the album. No matter the avenue by which these hooks are delivered, they are always catchy and beckon to be screamed along to like an ancestral healing hymn. His growls are more menacing than ever, and give tracks like “Heart of a Giant” some girth and weight while acting as a foil to the angelic choir heard early on in the track.
Much like Enslaved did with their phenomenal album E last year, Amorphis made Queen of Time a love letter to existence, the majesty of nature, and the often mysterious ways of the world that sustain us as a people. The beauty of the Scandinavian fjords is heard in the captivating voice of guest vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen on “Amongst Stars”. The flute flourishes from “Message in the Amber” evoke a mighty wind rustling the flora of rolling green hills. Masses of earth can be felt in the gritty and crushing riffs on “Grain of Sand”. If Amorphis wowed me on Under the Red Cloud – and they did – then Queen of Time has floored me completely.
This album is truly monolithic, a worthy testament to the overwhelming excellence of the world we live in. They are on a creative streak that I struggle to find a comparison to. Amorphis at their weakest is some bands at their strongest, proving again that they tend to be head and should above their peers. Long live Queen of Time. Long live Amorphis. I may not be speechless when it comes to this album, but I am nevertheless in awe.
Personal Score: 9/10
Amorphis are one of those bands that have two distinct fan bases. This is due to the two distinct eras that the band has. Ever the fence straddler, I find myself with a foot in each camp. I like the classic bleakness of songs like “Black Winter Day” and the folk-tinged melodicism of “Tree Of Ages”. While the shifting styles of this band isn’t the topic of the review, it is important to remember. Amorphis, despite the flux of influences, have always leaned into the folkier side of things and have always spotlighted melody in their compositions. They have never been afraid to evolve but have never done so in ways that uproot them completely. Queen Of Time is another lateral move for this band.
My first taste of the new record was probably the same as everyone else’s: “The Bee”. That rolling synth intro had me concerned initially. While I’m not sure that there’s a melodic death metal band from Finland that doesn’t employ keys, leading off a song (and record, it’s track #1) with it is kind of brave. After multiple listens, this approach grew on me more and more, especially since I enjoyed the rest of the song so much. Tomi Jousten’s vocals are among my favorite in heavy music, and he sounds great immediately. When I went back and compared his performances from 2015’s Under The Red Cloud, I found his voice on the new material to be deeper and more confident.
Amorphis have always incorporated a diversity of instruments into their records and Queen Of Time is no exception. On “Daughter Of Hate”, we get an organ kicking off the song and the saxophone gets a few featured moments. This song is one of the better on the album for me and not only because of that sweet sax solo. Guitars are pushed up to the front a little more, and Tomi’s vocals are at his most throat shredding so far. There’s also some swelling choral moments and some eastern-tinged melodies that remind me of “Death Of A King” from their last record. It does get ever-so-slightly cheesy with the spoken word moments. Even through they are in Finnish, the effect is the same. But when you come to the house of folk metal, you should expect to be served some cheese.
After several listens to Queen Of Time, I began to notice that I was getting a little tired by the end of it. Of the ten tracks present, five of them are hovering right around six-and-a-half minutes. The rest vary here and there, but mostly are around five minutes each. While I’m not a stranger to long songs and lengthy records, I think this is just a little bloated. This is simply a matter of personal taste, not an objective criticism.
The latter half of the record is filled with some incredible melodic moments. “Heart Of The Giant” is one of the more uptempo tracks to be found on Queen Of Time. “Amongst Stars” features returning collaborator Anneke van Giersbergen (VUUR, The Gathering) bringing her unique vocal approach to the track. The greatest moments of the record are on the final track “Pyres On The Coast”. Tomi’s growls are grittier than. Simultaneously, the multitude of timing changes and inclusion of orchestration and a massive church organ really send the album off in a grandiose fashion.
Queen Of Time is probably the Amorphis’ most ambitious record to date. While I don’t think all of it worked perfectly, it’s a massive album and worth your time.
Personal Score: 8/10
Overall Score: 8.5/10
Notable Tracks: “Amongst Stars”; “Heart of the Giant”; “Daughter of Hate”; “Grain of Sand”
FFO: Kalmah, Wintersun, Enslaved