AMORPHIS — Elegy (review)

AMORPHIS — Elegy album cover Album · 1996 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Vim Fuego
Is that a sitar? On a death metal album?

It’s an electric sitar, yes, but this isn’t really a death metal album. It’s a close relative to one though.

Before “Elegy”, Amorphis was a bit of a death metal icon. The band’s first album “The Karelian Isthmus” released in 1992 was much revered for it’s brutality and heaviness, with guitarist Tomi Koivusaari’s guttural vocals carving the band a unique spot in the death metal pantheon. And to follow that up you go even more brutal, right? Of course you fucking don’t. That’s how you paint yourself into a corner. No, you do what Amorphis did and innovate.

So, along came 1994’s “Tales From The Thousand Lakes”, and metal fans were in awe of Amorphis again. The album was still brutal and deathly, but this time it had clean vocals, courtesy of singer Pasi Koskinen. Sure, this wasn’t completely unknown, as Fear Factory had been doing it for a few years, but Amorphis did it differently, with a dose of melody, but without compromising on the metal content.

And so to 1996 and “Elegy” and the sitar. There’s also tambourines, accordions, keyboards and acoustic guitars, and it’s obvious Amorphis isn’t a death metal band any more. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s more than OK. No, the growls aren’t gone completely – they provide a stark contrast on most tracks, but Koivusaari enunciates far more clearly than most death metal vocals. The guitars are no longer distorted chainsaws, but they are far from completely clean. Amorphis was never a blast-after-blast style death metal band, more the mid-pace groove style. Their groove never really relied on chug-a-chug riffs much either, so the evolution to fluid melodic, veering on psychedelic riffs isn’t too jarring for most Amorphis fans. In fact, it all seems completely logical.

This sounds like a full-on mainstream sell-out, with a band seemingly turning it’s back on their dark, primitive roots. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As an album, “Elegy” is heavy as hell, and totally uncompromising. It’s just that it’s not traditional death metal-style heavy, and there’s no overt attempt to aim for a commercial market. This is a band well and truly expanding their horizons. Look at a track like “The Orphan”. It’s basically ambient metal, with vocals and swirling keyboards fleshing it out, and then without the listener realising it, there’s a chunky great riff playing under an ethereal choir. There’s even twin lead guitar melodies. This is the layered, textured songwriting style throughout the album.

Lyrically, the band have taken great inspiration from Finnish mythology. “Elegy” is based on the Kanteletar, a collection of almost 700 poems and ballads, and a companion work to the Kalevala, which “Tales of the Thousand Lakes” was based on. These folk tales of everyday life and philosophy seemed to have also inspired the band to folk music melodies, but still only a stone’s throw from full on metal song construction. There are so many damn good catchy riffs and melodies it’s hard to pick any in particular as the best example. There’s the mid-section of “Song of the Troubled One”, but then compare it to the introduction to “Against Widows”, or the outro to “On Rich and Poor”, and it’s impossible to say “yes, this one is the best” simply because these passages of music just keep coming.

“Elegy’ is often called a transitional album, between Amorphis’ death metal roots and their progressive metal destination, and often such transitional albums get overlooked because the albums either side are purer examples of the different genres. No band ever sets out to record an album thinking it’s going to be transitional though, and are simply making the music they feel inspired to create at that time. “Elegy” is not a transition, but an evolution, a triumph, and a masterpiece.
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adg211288 wrote:
19 days ago
Great review. I spun this one the other day myself (probably for only the second time). They are probably a band I could come to like more with time. The only other releases I have from them are the Black Winter Day EP and the Chapters compilation.

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