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Even if this third album of Amorphis is one of my less favourite ones of the band, it's still a highly interesting and unique record that one must see as a transitional album between the early works in the vein of experimental and atmospheric death metal and the later progressive and melodic metal trend. Let's underline that every album Amorphis made got at least an eighty percent rating from me which isn't the case for any other band I know. This speaks for a high quality and brilliant constance over two decades.
On this album, one hears a lot of unsual instruments a long time before the so called folk metal genre truly gained popularity. There are electric sitars, accordions and tambourines mixed with mystic lyrics about traditional tales. But one can't reduce this record as a simple folk metal album as there is a strong and absorbing progressive and sometimes even psychedelic touch in each song. The origins of atmospheric death metal have only remained in fragments and clean vocals now domiante the songs but those heavier passages are welcome changes in style to wake you up from those hypnotizing voodoo incantations.
"Better unborn" is already a courageous opener and something completely usual that unites almost everything Amorphis does on the entire record. Asian folklore and psychedelic passages are interrupted by angry growls and hypnotizing clean vocals. If you like this opener, you will easily adore the entire record.
Out of this structure, there are still some more experiments to find on this record. "Cares" mixes hard rock guitar solos with electronical passages and technoid influences and could be the official follow up of the brilliant "Magic and mayhem" from the previous masterpiece. "Song of the troubled one" includes decent but epic orchestra passages a long time before neoclassical power metal and symphonic metal emerged and the band proves that they are once again very visionary. The complexe title track "Elegy" introduces some really smooth and soft notes and surprises with a dreamy piano introduction. "Relief" is dominated by amazing keyboard effects and a truly inspiring and deeply relaxing instrumental track. The true highlight of the album and its catchiest tune comes along in the end and that's the acoustic reprise of "My Kantele" where the instrument of the same name and chilling acoustic guitars create a magic atmosphere that is underlined by an amazing and hypnotizing vocal performance. Both versions of the song are completely different and show the high range of technical skills Amorphis can use.
This album has a very unique style and approach but presents many enjoyable little experiments within a constantly equal song and style structure that is presented in the first couple of songs. The further the album gets, the more absorbing, detailed and courageous it turns out to be. The only true reason why I gave this album is a lower rating is the brilliance of the entire Amorphis back catalogue and the fact that the songs in here request multiple tries and are not as catchy and easy to digest as the songs on the previous record and not yet as absorbing and profound as they would be on the two upcoming albums. Sometimes, there is an overflow and it's difficult then to open up your mind for such an album that demands a lot of concentration. Nevertheless, this record should without the glimpse of a doubt be in the collection of any open minded metal fan.
Another album, another sound, another cast member, and all of it work. I can remember a time when I wasn’t a huge fan of this because of the awkward instruments and trance-inducing resonance assaulting me upon my first few listens. It was a time when the drama of the day was making through a hard day with a bunch of morons in my way… much like now. I was already introduced and hooked on early Amorphis with The Karelian Isthmus and Tales From The Thousand Lakes, but this album required a shift in my outlook on Amorphis and metal in order to enjoy (easier done than said, actually). No big transformation was required on my part, but Amorphis took the bet and gambled their career on this album. In the end, everything more or less worked out in their favor, and Elegy leaves a special mark on Amorphis’ career that kept the band fresh and gave me a couple favorite songs to cherish.
Koivusaari, my favorite member of the band to this day, takes a backing role for most of the album to give the (at the time) new singer, Pasi Koskinen, the forefront. Koivusaari gets in his awesome, calm growls on practically all the songs on the album (exclusions being “The Orphan”, “Relief”, and the acoustic version of “My Kantele”). Koivusaari’s exhaled growling style has just enough bite to them while their abundance on Elegy is always arranged in perfect places to match with the main riff or melody. There are some trades between Koivusaari and Koskinen, but ultimately Koivusaari’s doing his bit while Koskinen wails with his lurid cleans that may put some people off at first. He sounded like some teenager trying to do his best to overcome his accent while speaking English, but having warmed up to them over the months when I first heard them, they add to the charm of this elaborate album. While the album doesn’t do away with Koivusaari’s contributions on vocals, at heart the transition and compositions favor Koskinen’s capabilities (some of them harsher than usual).
Wish-washy guitars, hulking bass, a keyboard overhaul, dual vocalists, exotic instruments, and a mystifying atmosphere take the band into a totally different realm. The riffs behind the vocals pack more or less the same punch as before, but priority lies in the melody and vocals. Every song has a driving riff or bit that’s instantly recognizable, yet it remains varied and guided to bring out the most in every instrument. Both versions of “My Kantele” distinguish themselves with classy folk and Middle Eastern fervor, while “On Rich And Poor” and the instrumental “Relief” (among others) are the heavier tracks that burst without holding anything back. The variation isn’t bogged down by confusion, a lackluster approach, or poor transitions, as one might assume with such a list of diverse tracks. The techniques by the band members and the core group’s writing style maintain the objectives of Elegy. Constantly present and worthy of praise is the nautical / spacey leads by Holopainen, which interweaves and soars above and beyond the coarse tones of Koivusaari’s riffs. Holopainen is usually backed by Rantala’s effervescent keyboard lines; don’t mistake this for a keyboard-driven album, though.
I’d recommend this any second of any day of any week of any month of the year to someone getting into Amorphis. By the time I heard of Amorphis, Koskinen was still barely in the band, so hearing this hit home a little more than being another album by one of the first metal bands I got heavily into. The twisted mood, precise drumming, murky bass and so do their part in helping make this album a keeper. Two tracks that stick with me as favorite from Elegy are the two build-up monsters, “Better Unborn” and the title track, which both kill in melody, riffs, and vocals that display this album’s unmatched uniqueness and unusual nature. This was just the beginning in Amorphis’ evolution, representative of the band’s name and personality, into the entity they are today.
After transforming the surly roots of The Karelian Isthmus into the dreary, downtrodden mystique of Tales from the Thousand Lakes, one had to ponder just what Amorphis would do to top themselves. It hardly seemed possible, and yet in 1996, they produced one of the most impressive offerings I have ever heard within the loose confines that comprise the metal genre... transcending that genre, in fact, into a myriad of possibilities that marks one of the most fascinating metamorphoses I have heard from a musical entity. Clearly the band had a deep love for not only the folklore of their nation, but a wealth of older musical influences from afar...a passion betrayed by the use of the moog on the previous album. But this is taken to new heights with Elegy...a masterwork of inescapable, diverse songwriting upon which every song is un fucking real, timeless and memorable, and strangely uplifting, though the echoes of the bands doomed past still poke their ugly, haunting noses through the mix.
Elegy is flawless, beautiful, and more complex than you might expect. Even my least favorite track on the album (which, coincidentally, would become its 'single' EP namesake) is brilliant. You could randomly select a dozen other, stagnant death metal bands from the mid 90s and pick their brains for weeks and they would not come up with something this impressive. And it all starts with the acquisition of Pasi Koskinen, whose nasal but infectious tones work in both clean and aggressive growling formats, married well to both reference Koivusaari's previous work and direct the band towards a new direction. Yes, the purists got all their panties in a bunch when this album arrived, because the clean vocals were no longer the simple curiosity they explored on Tales of the Thousand Lakes, but a crucial factor in this record's effectiveness. While Kim Rantala replaced Kasper Mårtenson here on the keys, organs and accordion, he too manages to streamline the transition.
"Better Unborn" may seem a subtle indoctrination into the moments that await, but in fact it makes for the perfect setting of the stage. The organ-driven tones suddenly sprout a mystic guitar rhythm, and we are treated to a full range of Pasi's vocal stylings, impressive in their clarity and brutal potential. The wah-wah of the guitars creates a folk-funk paradise over the scintillating synthesizers, as the bass steadily climbs towards each chorus crash. And then, the elfin dance that is "Against Widows" begins, humppa-like bass lines flogging each graceful step before the track explodes into a glorious surge of melody and grunting, followed with an insanely awesome verse. The heights to which this track ascends are barely containable within the human heart, as it simultaneously pulls at the strings of joy and sorrow. "The Orphan" offers you a breather, as a proggish synth rings out over the flanged, soothing acoustics, and Pasi turns in the best clean vocal performance of his career, as he belts out the gorgeous narrative of birds: 'The dove's heart is cold as it pecks the village rick/But I'm colder still as I drink the icy water'. When the track hits the 2:40 mark, it creates a percussive low end below the writhing guitar melody and sweltering choir synth, before the bluesy conclusion of the bridge.
As if to apologize for the sultry nature of the previous track, "On Rich and Poor" simply explodes directly onto the map, with a series of leaden melodies so fucking brilliant that they send shivers up my spine. If you cannot feel that melody after :20, then I really question whether your ears work, because it's one of the most stunning guitar lines I've ever heard, a powerful charge that seamlessly bears the weight of the growling vocal. Speaking of stunning, the way the dual bridge melody at 2:00 transforms back into that original tour de force will steal your breath away. "My Kantele" follows, and you likely all know this one, an electric ballad with enough swagger to tap your mug, horn, or lady once, twice, thrice until sodden or spent. I prefer this heavier version of the song, but if somehow can't stand the grunting on this track, you will be taken care of later. "Cares" is another scorcher, with a slamming chug rhythm that undercuts its looping, amazing melody in a way reminiscent of late 80s King Diamond. Alas, the synths are once again an escalating, incredible presence, and the rhythm created alongside the growling at :50 is another of those spine-chillers. The song takes some very interesting turns, with glimmering, astral polka and even surviving a brief techno fill as it soars to its mountainous summit and searing, funky lead.
'Drag my cares away, carry off my griefs
For no horse can draw, no iron-shod jerk
Without the shaft-bow shaking off
The cares of this skinny one, the sorrows of this black bird'
Lyrics and music do not often work together this well, do they? Again, Amorphis are able to transform an ancient script into a series of relevant diatribes that conjure not only history, but scenery and emotion that almost any listenere can relate to. "Song of the Troubled One" allows Rantals some room to work his various synth sounds into another tribute to majesty, as the funky guitars return behind a burning lead, and the band once again crafts one of the greatest melodies in the history of metal music after 2:00. Yeah. I don't even believe in angels, but I have to admit shit like this could only be written by such divine agents, because it is just that pretty. "Weeper on the Shore" is another folksy, flowing ballad, complete with growling, circular swinging synth lines, and a fucking killer melody shared between synth and axe at 1:00. "Elegy" itself is the dopest creation this side of the galaxy, with a mesmerizing piano pattern that gracefully ascends to its climactic, doomed mid-section, well worth the 7+ minutes of the composition. Now when I say doom, I mean 3:15 of "Elegy" is what DOOM should fucking sound like. Eternal, crushing like the weight of a thousand suns as they lower you into your casket with careful, burning hands. This is excellence on par with the best of anything Candlemass or Paradise Lost have ever written.
This is actually the climax of the album, but Amorphis still have a few goodies in mind for you, beginning with the Hawkwind-like space-folk psychedelics of the instrumental "Relief", and then the acoustic vocal version of "My Kantele". It goes without saying that both are extremely sound, and while I myself might favor the heavier vocals with "My Kantele", I am sure there are a great many in the audience that prefer its mellow counterpart. And thus, we have arrived at the end of nearly an hour of balanced, unflinching, unforgettable songwriting. It must be time to press repeat!
Elegy is like a vortex where psychedelia, history and melodic death metal were fused into an expression so natural that you wonder how its components were ever separate to begin with. Every note is so carefully gathered into its overarching rhythm, that with a fine-tooth I could not comb over this album and find a single awkward selection. Certainly this is not the type of album we had grown accustomed to by the year of 1996, and while it's not the only career defining masterpiece of this year (Samael's pendulous, cosmic, drum machined masterpiece Passage is comparable), its originality, grace and grasp of superb, memorable craftsmanship has given me 15 straight years of enjoyment with no signs of ever ending. Yes, I still shiver when I think of how much impact this album had on me as I entered the third decade of my life, and I still blush when sharing it with someone new for the first time. It's like taking someone's virginity...they have heard music before, but not quite like this, and you need to ease them in to. Unless you like it rough, then just blast "On Rich and Poor" in their face until they relent their bad taste.
Highlights: In the 60s, man landed on the Moon. In the 70s...um, disco?! In the 80s, The Wall came down. In the 90s, Amorphis listened to disco, then wrote Elegy, and then even the Moon was worshipping it. Buy a copy for yourself, and every person you know.
In 1996 Amorphis decided to ditch their dark death Metal roots and explore new territory, pulling out the very interesting Elegy. While the death/doom influences are still present, they are mixed with a new exploration of progressive, melodic rock and folk territories - with mixed success. The music on Elegy has a great melodic sensibility and light feel; the massive presence of the Moog synth, a permanent clean vocalist and use of unconventional (for a Metal band) instruments (electric sitar, classical piano, accordion) all contribute to this. Due to the progressive influences the songwriting is very complex for the band, with each song lacking an obvious verse/chorus structure and many alternating passages.
Many of the emotions present on Elegy dwell in the familiar darkness of their early works, but an equal amount are a lot brighter. The album’s name can be interpreted as relevant to the dark aspect of the album, but there is a feeling of re-awakening (not necessarily hope) prevalent – as the death of someone close has made you realise the truth about your relationship with that person (good or bad). The song that captures this mix of emotion and atmosphere best is the phenomenal ‘My Kantele’; the lyrics detail how music exists purely to express sorrow (the classic Finnish instrument, the kantele’s ‘strings gathered from torments and its pegs from other ills’) yet the music has a positive, almost uplifting feel, like the joy of one confiding in the sheer beauty of music itself. The lines ‘so it will not play, will not rejoice at all/music will not play to please’ are very powerful, making it clear Amorphis consider music as an expression of the artist’s personal emotion and not made for the specific enjoyment of an audience. There is also quite a religious feel throughout the album (the serious nature of the riffing, the organ backing it and inexorable lyrics),
giving it an obvious epic overtone.
The songwriting on this album is greatly diverse and interesting, but so much so it borders on directionless and confusion throughout parts of the record. The aforementioned songs’ lack of structure leads to brilliance as the acoustic reprise of ‘My Kantele’ seemingly evolves as it goes along, making the songwriting feel incredibly natural and subsequently, memorable. Unfortunately opener ‘Better Unborn’, despite its amazing intro/build-up, is six minutes of dreary repetition which becomes hard to listen to. Amorphis’ main strength as songwriters has always been the mellifluous guitar (and often keyboard) melodies they write. This album contains the largest amount of these melodies they’ve done on a single album, resulting in two things: tons of awesome, catchy melodies (‘Song Of The Troubled One’ is prime melodic Death); oversaturation of these melodies. The key changes (the same melody being played slightly differently), while sounding cool at first eventually become tiresome in ‘On Rich And Poor’ and ‘Against Widows’. The diversity of the songs itself is once again hit and miss; ‘The Orphan’ is a melodic and relaxing tune yet has a crushing doom section giving the listener a pleasant surprise, while the disco break in ‘Cares’ is too out of field, even with the song’s genius folk instrumentation and synth against the crushing heaviness.
It’s clear Tomi Koivusaari was losing his voice at the point of recording this – his growls on Elegy lack the rough Death Metal growl edge they should have, and have a weird layering effect on them making them sound less powerful. All is not lost however; they are still brutal and deliver the necessary dark atmosphere. His impassioned performance on the title track is something to behold; conjuring all the brutality and pain his voice can muster, the screams of ‘Long evenings full of longing...and all times the bitterest’ are moving and epic. Pasi Koskinen’s clean vocals are simply very hit and miss. At times his singing is okay but the vocal melody written sounds awkward (see ‘Against Widows’) and other times his voice sounds bland and not melodic enough to carry a song (‘On Rich And Poor’/’Weeper On The Shore’). He does show he has potential to be a good vocalist; his performances on ‘My Kantele’ and ‘The Orphan’ (the latter featuring just him) are fantastic with his fitting vocal style and strong deliverance of melody.
Individual instruments do little to shine here as Amorphis plays as a collective unit, but each band member plays well to achieve what the songwriting demands of them. Esa Holopainen’s lead guitar playing, handling most of the melodies, is done with great feel and he shows his versatility with the electric sitar in ‘Better Unborn’ and a dissonant solo in ‘Song Of The Troubled One’. Tomi Koivusaari’s rhythm guitar pumps out the necessary heaviness and is largely responsible for the doom parts of the album, yet he can also do some skilful leads shown in the orgasmic harmonies in the finale of ‘My Kantele’. The synth does a fantastic job of creating atmosphere as well as leading tracks – the sombre piano in the title track is an example of this. The rhythm section is handled solidly – despite a few overly busy fills the drummer maintains a unique groove throughout and the bass plays independent bass lines which help drive the tracks along with the abundance of guitar and keyboard harmonisation around it.
Overall Elegy is a mixed bag. Tracks such as ‘My Kantele’, ‘The Orphan’ and ‘Elegy’ show why Amorphis are so influential, writing some of the best Metal out there, and the album is an incredibly unique listen. Sadly lots of the album is weighed down by a lack of direction, inconsistent vocals and a few bad songwriting ideas. As a nice meeting point between two eras of Amorphis (progressive rock and death/doom) this comes recommended.
I tried to like this one, I really did. So many people have told me how great Elegy is, but I'm just not really feeling it. Amorphis' third effort is, yet again, another transitional effort in a career of transitional efforts, and mostly it just makes me want to turn it off. Amorphis never really seemed to want to be a metal band anyway, with only the very early material being out-and-out metal at all, so it comes as no surprise after the watery Tales from the Thousand Lakes that they decided to strip even more of the metallic elements from their sound. That isn't a bad thing in itself, but it is when you consider the fact that there aren't really any good songs on this album at all, only decent ones.
The basic sound is lightweight, fluffy melodic rock with annoying synthesizers and horrible grunge vocals. Seriously, who thought hiring this guy was a good idea? He doesn't even play any other instruments, he had just been hired to sing and nothing else. His voice is dry, reedy and limited, and it isn't good at all for the style of music these guys are shooting for. The riffs here are really quite bland and dry themselves, leaving most of the focus to the keyboard melodies, which are, quite frankly, annoying. I'm sorry, I just don't like these melodies at all. They're well played, but they don't do anything for me, being both too saccharine and too grating for my tastes. Maybe I'd like this better if I was a fan of stuff like Pink Floyd, but even then I doubt it, because Floyd usually managed better material than this.
I guess if I had to pick standouts, they'd be the seven minute title track or the half-ballad "The Orphan," but even those songs are not superb by any means, merely being "listenable." I just can't get that excited about this one. Elegy is not a terrible album, and it isn't even really bad, but when you get down to it, all this is is a merely competent album bogged down by annoying, overly sweet melodies and bad, bad vocals, and I can't recommend it.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
At this point in Amorphis’ career, it’s safe to leave the term ‘death metal’ behind when describing them, and start pondering upon what the hell genre they’re playing. Actually, the best way to listen to Amorphis is to not even consider genre; clearly something they don’t take into consideration, as they’ve never been confined to one style for too long. It seems that this band just aim to create original and solid music, which is more or less, what they’ve always done.
Before recording Elegy, Amorphis made a very intelligent decision; recruiting sixth full-time member, Pasi Koskinen, to handle the duty of clean vocals, which are much more prominent on this release than past ones. In fact, Pasi and Tomi (harsh vocals) share the duties at about an even rate. Pasi was just what Amorphis needed to take the quantum leap from their death metal roots to their progressive future. In this sense, Elegy is a transition of sorts, but certainly its own entity.
The songs are not based on guitar riffs like its predecessors, or even the guitar-driven Tuonela after it, but are made entirely of melody. These melodies constantly vary, from the catchy eastern-sounding opener, Better Unborn, to the sheer beauty of My Kantele, to the excellent acoustic strumming of Weeper on the Shore, the musicianship is topnotch. Don’t worry, if you were in love with riffs from Tales From the Thousand Lakes, there’s still a potent atmosphere to be discovered here. Amorphis didn’t forget their old tricks, which is apparent to listening to a song like My Kantele. This truly is a masterpiece. The clean intro will mesmerize you in a matter of seconds, leading you into a catchy verse and then throwing in a clean chorus to make this a true classic. Just to milk this song for everything it’s worth, Amorphis have also included an acoustic version at the end of the album. Thanks! Other than this, Amorphis pull out new tricks such as the seven-plus minute progressive endeavour that is the title track. All of the instruments come together beautifully on this track, and Pasi’s singing is a great highlight.
Although this album is more easy to get into than Tales From The Thousand Lakes, I see Elegy as an album built up of stand-out songs, rather than a single, flowing essence. It’s not that Elegy doesn’t have adequate flow, it’s just that the atmosphere conveyed throughout the album is not quite as captivating as its forerunner. Other than this, there’s not much room for improvement here. One aspect that I usually try to ignore is the utterly bizarre techno interlude in Cares. The song breaks off from metal to branch into a dance section reminiscent of a boss battle in an old arcade game. It’s not that I don’t love retro video game music, it’s just that when placed in the middle of an Amorphis album, it comes off as quite awkward.
It truly amazes me that Amorphis can so drastically change their sound with each release, but always be successful in what they do. Another surprising aspect about this album, is the fact that the cover art was done by the famed Necrolord, the only Amorphis album he has provided art for. I highly recommend this album for anyone looking for a diverse, and consistently enjoyable listen.
What are you going to do after you release one of the most monumental death metal albums of the 90’s and achieve worldwide recognition and fame? Well, if you’re Amorphis, one thing you’re NOT going to do is rest on your laurels.
“Tales of a Thousand Lakes” was released to much fanfare in 1994, and the whole world saw that Amorphis are on cutting edge of death metal. But in 1996, Amorphis have shocked many when they released “Elegy” – an album that strays pretty far from death metal (as if “Tales…” didn’t already) and ventures into folk and progressive depths where very few brutal death metallers have been before. On this album, they are influenced by Yes, Genesis and Gentle Giant, along with death metal. The resulting mix is hard to believe.
The first and most visible change is, of course, the addition of permanent “clean” vocalist Pasi Koskinen. On most of the songs, Tomi growls and Pasi sings, creating an incredible duet. In fact, Tomi’s growls are pretty much the only thing left of original death metal Amorphis! The music is simply breathtaking. Call it folk, atmospheric, progressive rock, the result will stay the same – Amorphis grew in leaps and bounds on this album both as composers and musicians. The atmosphere is sad… moody… depressing…. and then in a sudden invisible change the music becomes uplifting and joyous. Such is the first masterpiece song on this album – “The Orphan”. Plodding along, the song paints a gloomy picture that is an incredible listen, especially if your mood wasn’t great to begin with. But then the metal guitars join in and the music slowly gains tempo, and ends in a heartening, inspiring crescendo that brings hope to the completely depressed listener. This is not death metal, this is not even strictly heavy metal – it’s way beyond the firm borders of the genre and into the stratosphere of incredible genius.
“On Rich and Poor” adds to the complete blur of the genres, as it easily changes tempo and goes from fast and heavy rhythms and deathly growls to quirky folk melodies. “My Kantele” is a first epic number, a folk song presented here in two versions: acoustic and electric. Acoustic features singing by Pasi and electric growling by Tomi. To my metal heart, electric version is much more original and interesting, but many people prefer the first one.
Just when you thought you couldn’t be surprised any more, “Cares” throws this notion out of the window as it introduces a quick probe into another genre of music, that wasn’t even hinted at in previous songs. I’ll leave it up to the reader to find out what am I talking about when you do buy the album, but the song had me giggling in joy after I heard it for the first time.
“Weeper on the Shore” starts out as an fully acoustic folk song, with only Pasi singing, but Tomi and the heaviness quickly joins in with an ugly, brutal death metal in the refrain. The song sounds like a fight between the two forces, with an incredible guitar solo caught in between.
But Amorphis have saved the greatest for last. The title track, “Elegy”, transcends all the notions on this album, takes all the influences, throws them into a boiling pot, and serves us the most delicious dish in the world. Starting out as a folk dirge, with Pasi mourning the death of his beloved, the song morphs into a full-fledged progressive anthem of doom and despair. Tomi conjures the deepest growls and rasps out of his throat, as the song’s character descends deeper into abyss of misery, accompanied by the flying, screaming guitars playing an awesome solo – a fitting masterpiece to end this album.
Highs: Every single song!
Final Verdict: I could rant for hours and hours how amazing this album is, and I hope I accomplished my goal of making you buy this album with this short review. “Elegy” is completely flawless, genre-breaking masterwork.