Album of the Week 18-2013: Amorphis – Circle

Though it’s been over a decade and a half since their magnum opus ‘Elegy’, Amorphis has consistently released good albums since. In fact, attracting current lead singer Tomi Joutsen in 2005 was the starting signal for the band’s strongest lineup yet. The lineup has remained unchanged and the band released a number of stellar albums, with ‘Silent Waters’ arguably being the best until recently. Until recently, because the brand new ‘Circle’ may be the new highlight in the band’s carreer. The album brings together some of the Finns’ most inspired songwriting with one of Peter Tägtgren’s most lively productions so far.

Initially, the sonic quality of the album was what drew me in. The guitars of Esa Holopainen – a master of melodies and as such, one of the world’s most underrated lead guitarists – and Tomi Koivusaari have something of an extra punch when compared to the album’s predecessors. Jan Rechbecher’s drums sound nice and bombastic as well. It’s what makes parts like the monstrous opening riff to ‘Hopeless Days’ or the intro to opening track ‘Shades Of Grey’ leave such a great first impression.

When the initial bombast wears off, the brilliant song material does the rest. ‘Circle’ is quite likely Amorphis’ most dynamic album. The band uses contrasts between strong melodies, somewhat aggressive riffing and more tranquil passages to great effect. Something that especially the album’s first two singles ‘Nightbird’s Song’ and the brilliant ‘Hopeless Days’ profit from greatly. Another instant highlight to yours truly was ‘Mission’. This atmospheric tune, sung completely clean by Joutsen and containing some great harmonies, doesn’t really sound like anything Amorphis has ever done before, but I’d happily invite them to do it more. Closing track ‘A New Day’ has something of a psychedelic atmosphere, ‘The Wanderer’ has a very strong melody and one of the album’s most enjoyable tracks is – ironically – bonus track ‘Dead Man’s Dream’, with its Thrash Metal main riff, killer guitar solo and strong chorus.

Every musician involved is at their very best here. Holopainen is always amazing, but bassist Niclas Etelävuori definitely puts down his best performance (and sound) ever. Joutsen’s vocals are better than ever, with his deep baritone being as good as always and his grunts are more versatile than ever. My guess would be that Tägtgren had a direct influence on that, as Joutsen attemps a few of the higher screams not unlike Tägtgren does in Hypocrisy. Always good to have a Metal album that actually has a lot of effort done on the vocals.

With ‘Circle’, Amorphis once again proves themselves as one of the most unique bands in today’s Metal landscape. No one quite sounds like their mixture of Death Metal, Prog Rock and Finnish folklore. And not many Finnish bands can reach this level of musicianship, composition and production. In fact, not many Metal bands overall can. And if you get the limited edition, the bonus DVD shows the band recording the album. Especially keyboard player Santeri Kallio recording church organ is interesting. Interesting bonus footage, it’s a rarity. ‘Circle’ is a new highlight in Amorphis’ career, one I just might be playing just as much as I play ‘Elegy’, ‘Tuonela’ and ‘Silent Waters’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Mission’, ‘Hopeless Days’, ‘Nightbird’s Song’, ‘Dead Man’s Dream’

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