Consistency is key in Amorphis’ career. The Finnish sextet has hardly released any subpar records and although the stylistic detours of the first half of their discography are in the past, you can always depend on the band to come up with a well-crafted record. ‘Under The Red Cloud’ is no exception. It doesn’t stray too far from the path the Finns have followed ever since their current singer Tomi Joutsen joined the band, but Amorphis is playing to their strengths rather than just getting too comfortable with their own style. The album has all the lush melodies and powerful riffing you can wish for.
Of course, if you’re looking for the subtle differences, you’ll find them. Jens Bogren’s bombastic production is significantly different than Peter Tägtgren’s rawer approach for the album’s predecessor ‘Circle’. Also, Joutsen seems to growl a little more than he has on any Amorphis album to date, which is surprising, given that the songs aren’t quite as heavy this time around. The band has taken a slightly more progressive route. While the songs are still highly accessible, lead guitarist Esa Holopainen and keyboard player Santeri Kallio – who composed the bulk of the songs – wrote a few slightly more daring middle sections to some of the songs.
Sometimes it’s up to question just how “Metal” Amorphis still is. Highly melodic songs like ‘Sacrifice’ have a distinct Hardrock vibe. And while that is no problem whatsoever with songs as well-written as these, Holopainen and fellow guitarist Tomi Koivusaari do seem to make sure that the songs are riff driven enough to push them into Metal territory. And that is where Amorphis succeeds: they combine the best aspects of progressive Rock, Metal and Folk – the melodies are remarkably folky on ‘Under The Red Cloud’ – into a cocktail that transcends either of the three genres.
While the album is of consistently high quality throughout, a few songs stand out. It’s amazing how ‘Dark Path’ combines one of the album’s most melodic choruses with the dissonant drama of the verses and the tranquillity of the middle section. ‘Death Of A King’ brings to mind my favorite song of the Finns (‘Better Unborn’) through its electic sitar melody and its supreme use of dynamics, ‘The Four Wise Ones’ is a surprisingly brutal track and the dark, brooding nature of ‘Enemy At The Gates’ is a breath of fresh air. I love the contrasts in ‘Bad Blood’ as well.
During a time when the contemporary Metal scene increasingly bores the living crap out of me, it’s good to have a band like Amorphis around. Their unique melodic approach and melancholic romanticism – which is more present than ever on ‘Under The Red Cloud’ – accounts for a very pleasant listening experience. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, Esa Holopainen is one of my favorite lead guitarists around, because his approach to melody (instead of speed) and tone is virtually unrivalled. ‘Under The Red Cloud’ is further evidence that Amorphis are still the masters of the sound they have created themselves.
Recommended tracks: ‘Bad Blood’, ‘Death Of A King’, ‘The Four Wise Ones’, ‘Enemy At The Gates’