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Before becoming among the more infamous bands to come out of Finland for taking on Idols winner Ari Koivunen as a new lead vocalist, Amoral played something akin to melodic death metal, albeit with a very strongly technical edge to it. Given the ambiguity of the generic melodeath tag given the wide array of bands that have fallen under it, they tend to be of the more thrash happy, percussive, and heavy variety that is not necessary hung up on emulating Iron Maiden’s minimalist formula of melodic riffing. But they are a bit more modern and closer to the general Swedish sound than American counterparts Arsis, and definitely know when to give the leads a break and concentrate on a good, straightforward riff to knock the listener senseless with.
“Reptile Ride” can be seem as something of a departure from their roots in that a larger array of older heavy metal elements are incorporated, all but foreshadowing the changeover to power metal that would be finally solidified by taking on a clean singer. A strong helping of light guitar effects and atmospheric manipulation combined with a somewhat less frenzied formula definitely could invite some comparisons to “Clayman” era In Flames, though vocally Niko Kalliojärvi is far more competent than Anders Fridén at bringing out that deep, dark, yet still human sounding bark that was common to death metal in the early 90s before Lord Worm began the style’s transmogrification. In some respects this album could also be treated as progressive given how technical displays will occasionally spill over into elaborate yet organized lead patterns similar to what is heard out of later Dream Theater.
While definitely an ambitious offering, this is the sort of album that comes off as a little schizophrenic in terms of style. It doesn’t simply merge two unlikely styles the way Cynic did about 15 years prior on “Focus”, but sort of bounces around differing styles in a grab bag approach similar to To-Mera’s debut. “Mute” has some riff work that is reminiscent of late 80s Fates Warning and occasionally Queensryche, and sounds catchy enough to rival most of the more radio-friendly Gothenburg offerings. By contrast, “D-Drop Bopo” is all over the place with a series of frenzied thrash riffs while the melodic content sounds almost metalcore-like. But the area where the band comes together is on the opener “Leave Your Dead”, which goes through a series of intricate sectional changes and elaborate lead guitar breaks while maintaining a nasty, upper mid-tempo drive with a thick, chunky thud to the riff work and Niko all but scream out his lower intestines through his throat.
While perhaps a little atypical for the standard Gothenburg fans that is pretty much what this album is cut out for. It’s not chock full of tremolo riffs and overt Iron Maiden clichés the way In Flames was during the genre’s golden era, but this is essentially a slightly better version of them with about twice the technical chops and a better grunter at the helm. “Wound Creations” was pretty much this band’s zenith, but those who are particularly interested in a band that can balance the dark, cold aesthetic of Scandinavian melodeath and the technical brilliance of Arsis, “Reptile Ride” is a solid album with a handful of pleasant, albeit sometimes jarring surprises.
This album was recommended to me some time back, and as usual, I took my time to get around to listening to it. Mistake. It deserved much better. For those not in the know, Amoral are a bunch of skilled Finns who combine all sorts of heavy music to make what you could call melodicdeathpowerthrash metal, if you don't mind sounding like an ass. If you're in need of a quick description, think fast, aggressive, and just a bit mercurial, while maintaining drop-dead precision all the while.
For this, their third outing, they've gone for a slightly different approach, their melodic sensibilities pushing to the forefront a lot more often than usual. I don't mean clean vocals, though they do have those buried in the background now and then. It's more in places on most of the songs where space opens up, letting a clear guitar line lock in with power chord slams instead of nonstop crazy riffage. And in stark contrast, a lot of times the solos are working over frantic riffs fighting for as much attention - check out 'Nervasion' and 'Few and Far Between' for evidence. It's clear that they're trying some things out, best evident in 'Mute', the guitars booting you straight back into the 80s a lot of the time with their great cheesy harmonies. It's not a total success, since the hoarse vocals fit in these segments as comfortably as a cow in a beartrap. Or a bear, for that matter. Still, it's interesting listening. And there's the long instrumental 'Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Fun', providing plenty of spacey portions that occasionally brings to mind synth-era Rush. I'm telling you.
However, when all cylinders are firing, they take off like a cat with its ass on fire. The riffs are insane - trying to follow most of them is like trying to hang on to this charging bull - it just throws you through loop after loop, and you love it. Except the inevitable trampling and goring, that's got to suck. And the solos are both seriously chop-heavy and intelligently slotted at the same time - very little mindless shredding to be found here.It may sound phony, but trust me, it works. 'Snake Skin Saddle' even has a cycling guitar lick that sounds enough like a fiddle to lend the whole thing a demented hillbilly air.
This direction may incur the wrath of some old-time fans, but if you like guitar wizardry in your metal, and don't mind it spanning all the way across from catchy to extreme, this here is definitely something you may want to blare at full volume. Listening to this reminds of me of one of the reasons I like music so much - getting that excited feeling when you listen to something you're not entirely familiar with yet, but are confident that you're going to spin a lot more times till you are.