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Greetings to you all! November is now upon us and autumn continues to embrace us from all sides, colouring the world in bright crimson and orange. As the seasons change, it’s time for another installment of the Bizarre Blog! This time, I’ve decided to bring you another band-focused entry about one of my favourite bands of all time and what I believe is one of the most phenomenal acts in all of metal. We will journey through cold lands and mystical worlds to witness thousands of stories, entwined into one. Coming straight from the heart, I present to you, the Bards of Finland – Amorphis!
What I love so much about Amorphis is how well their name befits them. Meaning “shapeless” in Greek, it perfectly described the incredible variety of sound that this act have been bringing for over 30 years now. Through constant and continuous evolution, the mighty Finns have developed a sound unlike anything else out there, while still holding on to a solid core that is definitively theirs. Their lyrics are heavily based on Finnish folklore and mythology, in particular the work known as the Kalevala, an epic poem collecting many Finnish folk tales into one cohesive story. Through this mythical lens, Amorphis tell stories as varied as their sound – love and war, life and death, joy and sorrow. All of this and more live within their songs. So come join me as we dive into an incredible discography that is in and of itself a story as amazing as the ones within the band’s lyrics.
Jumping right into our history section, Amorphis were founded around 1990 in the melting pot of the Finnish death metal scene of the time. Lead guitarist Esa Holopainen, rhythm guitarist/vocalist Tomi Koivusaari and drummer Jan Rechberger would form the core of the band that remains intact to this day. Olli-Pekka Laine would also join them on bass. With this lineup, the young band sought to make a name for themselves amongst the rising stars of local death metal. They would release a bunch of demos and EPs, all later collected together as the Privilege of Evil EP, before finally releasing their first full length studio album in 1992, the war anthem known as The Karelian Isthmus. This and the EPs before it are very straightforward death metal and are very different from the sound the band would become known for later. Nonetheless, the riffs are disgustingly catchy and the songs are amazing, so if you enjoy Finnish death metal, this album and its little brothers are great representations of the genre in its formative years.
Soon after that though, Amorphis would strike gold with their sophomore release, one of the most iconic metal albums of all time. None other than 1994’s Tales from the Thousand Lakes. The band decided to obtain a keyboard player and lean into a slower, very melancholic doom metal sound, permeated with death metal heaviness. The result is a dark, cold and sorrowful record that perfectly encapsulates the somber beauty of the landscapes of Finland, countless lakes and swamps buried beneath ice and snow, cut apart only by hot springs. Holopainen and Koivusaari would prove an incredible guitar duo, with the crushing rhythm guitar contrasted beautifully by the emotive lead melodies, both complimented beautifully by bountiful piano and keyboard melodies. Black Winter Day should just become the new anthem of Finland if you ask me, because it captures the essence of this land so well. It must be really sad for death/doom metal fans, because Amorphis released one of the best albums that genre has ever seen and then never made another record that sounds like this ever again.
Soon after, Amorphis would shapeshift again and start to develop the sound that would become their trademark. The next record, Elegy in 1996, would be the first one that can be considered progressive metal. While the death and even doom metal elements could still be felt, songs became more melodic and less dark, keyboard going for jovial folky melodies instead of somber arpeggios. New singer Pasi Koskinen would be brought in and him and Koivusaari would share vocal duties, shifting between clean, almost spoken word vocals and harsh growls. While a bit of a middle ground album, Elegy is the missing link between the death metal Amorphis of the 90s and the catchy proggy Amorphis of today. Still an awesome listen to this day!
As time went on though, the band would favour their new progressive direction more and more. Incorporating various styles together, songs would become more complex and diverse and the death metal sound would slowly be phased out, Koskinen coming to the forefront as the true lead vocalist. Gratuitous keyboards, especially Hammond organ, would permiate the songs, obviously inspired by 60s and 70s rock icons like Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Uriah Heep. Miscellaneous instruments such as theremin, flute, tin whistle, saxophone and more would appear in all sorts of places, something the band loves to do to this day, giving them a spot amongst the realm of folk metal too. 1999’s Tuonela is a very focused record, blending many styles, with the tracks going from rocky and bombastic bangers to dark and melancholic tunes that sound like a journey into the underworld that gave the record it’s name. 2001’s Am Universum would be even proggier, keyboards and saxophone solos galore, favouring a groovy and almost whimsical fairy tale-esque vibe. Holopainen’s guitar solos would be fittingly varied, sounding uplifting or sorrowful, whatever the specific song requires. In the latter record, the band would also make one of their most important acquisitions – keyboardist Santeri Kallio, who would become one of the primary songwriters and use his classical training to bring an even more varied sound and additional air of sophistication to the music.
So on and so forth, the Finns continued to evolve. However, one of the downsides of being shapeless by your very name is that sometimes you can forget who you truly are and what makes you unique. This seemed to be the case as during the 2000s, Amorphis seemed to have a bit of an identity crisis. Their next record in 2003, Far From the Sun, is by no means a bad record, but it is quite distinct from all albums before and after it. It leans more towards rock than metal and sounds at times more comparable to something like Queens of the Stone Age than Amorphis themselves. It was no flop, but it was clear that a new direction was needed, the shapeless thing would need to change again but into something else.
That very important change would happen a few years later. Amorphis would regroup and restructure, Pasi Koskinen departing from the lineup. The defining moment would come with the arrival of one of the greatest vocalists of the modern age – Tomi Joutsen. A much more versatile singer than Koskinen, his approach would prove to be the missing link for Amorphis to finally bloom like a magnificent flower and unleash their true potential. Blending his beautiful, melodic, low-baritone clean singing with his beastly guttural death growls, Joutsen would help the band reintroduce death metal back into their sound, regaining the edge they lost, while also retaining the insane variety and free-form progressiveness of their previous albums. This would all culminate in 2006’s Eclipse, the record that symbolized a new dawn for Amorphis and truly put them into the greater map of metal. They were back and better than ever!
This new found drive would be encapsulated in the band’s next releases – Silent Waters in 2007, Skyforger in 2009 and The Beginning of Times in 2011, aka the Swan album, the Tree album and the Egg album. While each record has its own palette of sounds and stories, they are mostly one continuous evolution of the now definitive Amorphis sound, that would be cemented during this era. Mystical, engaging, progressive, yet approachable, these records are teeming with life and variety. Amorphis are one of the few metal bands that make what I can undoubtedly describe as truly beautiful music. A lot of this is owed to the refined guitar duel of Holopainen and Koivusaari, but especially to the godly keyboard work of maestro Santeri Kallio. I have also noticed that a huge number of my favourite tracks are the brainchildren of Kallio himself. You wouldn't think that piano would work well as a leading instrument in metal, but it fits oh so well, creating a spectacle that is melodic and artistic without ever compromising on heaviness and uplifting power. With catchy choruses and a wide range of influences, from death metal to progressive rock, from jazz to folk, Amorphis are a phenomenon unlike any other. What other progressive metal bands need 12-25 minutes to showcase, Amorphis can pack into fairly standard 4-6 minute songs. No other prog band is this approachable without compromising on the profoundness of their music.
The next record, Circle in 2013, gets a little bit of flak from the fanbase, mostly for its slightly dodgy sound quality, but I don’t think that’s anything to worry about. Yes, Peter Tägtgren is a legend on many fronts, but his rough wall-of-sound production style doesn’t mesh too well with Amorphis’ typical sound. However, the sound is more than serviceable, and beyond that, this is undoubtedly the best songwriting the band has had to date. From epic death metal massacres to melodic and playful anthems to folk metal gems that would make their countrymen from Ensiferum blush, this record just has so many facets to it and all of them are done to perfection. Also, I am a little biased since this record holds a special place in my heart – for it is where I discovered this band, that would change my life forever.
After this though, Amorphis would absolutely find their stride and enter what can only be described as their Golden Age. A different Swedish producer, Jens Bogren, proved to be the perfect man for the job. All their most recent albums have been these godly masterpieces that leave nothing to be desired. Brimming with variety, full of pure emotion and meaning and yet unbelievably catchy, these record just keep knocking it out of the park. Under the Red Cloud in 2015, Queen of Time in 2018 and Halo in 2022 are all masterpieces in their own right and I cannot for the life of me put one before the others. Amazing riffs, beautiful solos, gorgeous piano melodies, sublime folk passages courtesy of Chrigel Glanzmann from Swiss folk titans Eluveitie, majestic operatic soprano flourishes from Anneke van Giersbergen there is an unending cascade of different shapes the band can take, while always sounding definitively like only they can. We are truly blessed to be witnessing a band like this in their prime.
During all their years, Amorphis even took some time from recording God-tier records to make some equally impressive live albums too. All have amazing value to them, but in my humble opinion, An Evening with Friends in Huvila is the best one, partially because of the phenomenal sound fidelity of the recording itself, but also because of the unique arrangements to a lot of the songs.
Guitarist Esa Holopainen even found some time to release Silver Lake, a fantastic proggy metal album featuring a ton of legendary vocalists. Clearly cut from a similar cloth as Amorphis, but very unique in its own right.
And so, the shapeless ones continue to evolve into new and grander forms. It’s truly amazing how much variety can be packed into only one discography. A majestic beast of beauty and brutality. I am also amazed how well the band manage to balance their progressive sound with an accessible approach to songwriting. It’s no surprise why these titans have become one of the most successful bands of the current era and are an emblem of Finnish music. I hope my blog inspired you to check them out and I urge you to explore their works in full. I’m sure you will be impressed. As always, the playlist is below for you to check out. Kiitos!