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I'm not the keenest fan when it comes to bands re-recording past material, especially if I'm very fond of that original work. Amorphis' Tales From The Thousand Lakes and Elegy are two albums that go way back in terms of my metal listening years, thereafter becoming very personal bodies of work. I dug the production and style of those days as the band attempted to find themselves while constantly changing forms. Magic & Mayhem is a compilation of songs from these eras and earlier, branded by the more solid form of Amorphis existing today. I can say I enjoy these songs as being faithful, satisfying, contemporary renditions of the original songs I still hold dear.
Production is reminiscent of any other full-length Amorphis as of late: rich, bulky, blooming, and well-mixed. It doesn't have that cruder feel of the old albums like Tales From The Thousand Lakes' mysterious tone and the cleaner sound of Elegy. For more death metal type songs like the Abhorrence cover and "The Exile Of The Sons Of Uisliu" it's more fitting. Hearing the crunch of the guitars in those songs and Joutsen's walloping, thick grunts certainly reminds you that this band started out playing this rawer, damning kind of music and that they wouldn't be far off from sounding like that again. There was still elegance to it with Esa's folky leads and the proggy keys (not factoring in The Karelian Isthmus), but Koivusaari's chomping riffs, Olli-Pekka's thumping bass, and Rechberger's pouncing drumming were also the signatures of the older eras. "The Sign From The North Side" is another that harks back to that sound of old, with catchy death metal riffing and that ominous atmosphere still in effect.
Amorphis' ability to translate that old sound through new filters is commendable. With the more straightforward death metal songs, that's comparatively easy. I personally would have wanted to hear more from Koivusaari and his relaxed growls. I only remember hearing them in "Drowned Maid" and "Vulgar Necrolatry". Even if they don't have the deafening power of Joutsen's growls, I would have preferred Koivusaari on a 20th anniversary release. The rest of the band's performance is tight and top-notch as they do what they can to capture the essence of those early songs. That's three different production jobs, three dissimilar writing styles, and three interesting combinations to reproduce and re-adapt onto one release. Generally the flow is fine and the choice of songs isn't bad, but I would have personally chosen some others like "Black Embrace," "In The Beginning," "Elegy," and "Better Unborn" to replace other songs like "Exile Of The Sons Of Uisliu," "Against Widows" and "Drowned Maid".
Choice cuts for me would have to be "Magic And Mayhem" and "My Kantele," a couple favorites from their original albums. The production job really helped bring these two into the modern era and the band did well in making sure they didn't end up sounding too cheesy or awkward. Joutsen's cleans carry very well with the luscious acoustics and melodies in the latter while the doomy atmosphere and crushing riffs (not to mention that ebullient keyboard / electronic break) in the former are a cherishing component that the band never lost. Kallio has lots of duties to fulfill in these two songs and he didn't do a lazy job. Amorphis is a band that kept treading new ground before getting comfortable with Joutsen. To hear the band go back and summon that old fervor was a nice old that I felt was genuine. Taking the time to use their skills and employ their current style wasn't wasted. For fans, I'd generally say just to listen to the older albums since they're impossible to recapture completely, but this studio release is pretty good for hearing how these songs are in this day and age.
When dealing with albums of re-recordings, I think the first thing to consider is the motive behind such a venture. I think most Amorphis fans would agree, myself included, that there`s nothing especially wrong with the early material, so why bother? Thankfully, founding member Esa Holopainen has included such a justification in the album sleeve. He explains that when the time came to discuss 20th anniversary plans (apparently that amazing DVD wasn’t enough), the obvious idea of a compilation album started getting tossed around. Instead, the band decided it would be more interesting to revisit their first three albums with their current line-up. Hey, even if you’re against re-recordings on principal, I’m sure you’d agree with that point. The most interesting thing Esa has to say, and in surprisingly broken English, is as follows: “The songs on this album are not made to replace any of the original album versions. The sound-world of our three first album is far too organic to even try to copy that. Magic And Mayhem presents Amorphis sound at 2010. It has slightly different arrangements but still catches the original mood and brutality”. So there you have it; this isn’t a band who’s ashamed of their past, but rather one who looks back to their roots as a source of inspiration. Quite handily, the latter sentence of the quote effectively sums up exactly what I’m attempting to get across in this review.
Let’s dive into the music, shall we? Just looking at the track listing should be enough to make most fans of the band all tickly inside. A nice selection of songs from The Karelian Isthmus, Tales from the Thousand Lakes, and Elegy, and even Vulgar Necrolatry, a song from Tomi Koivusaari’s first band, Abhorrence. Shit’s legit. Magic and Mayhem, which first appeared as the closer on Tales… appears here as the title track and opener, and a fine one at that. Yes, the gloomy atmosphere of the original album is completely stripped away, but what’s the point of recreating songs if you’re not going to at least try to breathe new life into them? The doomy intro is every bit as crushing as it was in 1994, and newest member Tomi Joutsen adds a great deal of heaviness with his ultra-deep, relentless growls. While on the subject of Tales from the Thousand Lakes, it’s worth mentioning that it is the most widely represented album here, with a total of five songs appearing. They’re all quite well done, aside from Black Winter Day which, despite probably being their most recognizable early song, simply sounds bizarre without the intrinsic gloomy production of its original form. The keyboards sound more hollow than they ought to, and the chorus has more of a stadium sing-along quality about it, rather than the strange, castle-dwelling aura of the original. Although I don’t really like the fact that Into Hiding is slightly sped up, Joutsen miraculously saves the day with his awesome vocal performance:
He whirled out of doors as snow,
Arrives as smoke in the yard
To flee from bad deeds.
There, he had to become someone else,
He must change his shape,
As an eagle he swept up.
Although some of the charm is lost in translation, I'm definitely still reminded why the original is one of my favourite Amorphis songs. Drowned Maid is also sped up, but I really like how the production brings the melodies to the forefront, and Joutsen and Koivusaari’s trade-off growls are a true delight. The Karelian Isthmus tracks sound great for being penned before the members could shave. The epic nature of Exile of the Sons of Uisliu is given a larger depth; especially that beautiful, sorrowful melody beginning around 1:45, while Sign from the North Side is second only to Vulgar Necrolatry as far as ferocious brutality goes.
The Elegy material is what sounds best in this new setting. The ragingly catchy opening melodies of On Rich and Poor and Against Widows sound absolutely spectacular, and Joutsen handles the diverse vocal requirements of both songs with seamless ease. Song of the Troubled One reminds me why I hardly even think of Elegy as a metal album; despite the death growls, the mood of the track is so laid back with some of the most memorable moments the band has ever put forth. My Kantele is the climax and absolute highlight of the lot. I could gush over this for paragraphs, but instead I’ll just implore to you to listen to it for yourself. Even if you have a passing interest in the band, please listen to this glorious piece of music. The song’s so awesome that this is the third version the band has recorded, its original and acoustic version both appearing on Elegy. This version is a mixture of both; a tranquil acoustic guitar brightly opens up the piece, leading into a thunderous explosion of heavenly eloquence. The chorus is simply otherworldly, and the proggy outro is such a sublime way to close the album. Unfortunately the bonus track, a cover of The Doors’ Light My Fire, is basically a waste of space. While it’s evidently tongue-in-cheek, their time would have been much better spent re-recording another one of their own songs. Despite the generous offerings they’ve already provided, I can still think of plenty more I would have liked to see re-recorded (Better Unborn, In the Beginning, Elegy, Weeper on the Shore, Moon and Sun, etc.). Still, I can’t bring myself to care that much about a bonus track.
This release is a great present for fans of the band, but for newcomers looking to explore Amorphis’ past, I would still recommend you begin with the early albums themselves, and then check this out to understand the evolution of the band. No matter how you look at it though, Magic & Mayhem – Tales from the Early Years, is a very welcome addition to Amorphis’ shining discography.
A band re-recording an old album or even just some of its classic songs is an issue that seems to divide many music fans. Most purists think that the original version of a song is the definitive version, and in most cases that tends to be true. Nevertheless, from time-to-time metal bands release these re-recordings whether it be a way of fulfilling a contractual obligation, improving upon the original production quality, or just doing it for the hell of it. Amorphis has recently joined the ranks of these bands with the release of Magic and Mayhem: Tales From the Early Years. The band has re-recorded tracks from its first three albums in celebration of its twenty year anniversary as a group. The necessity of re-recording these classics could be debated. (Perhaps re-recording is the only way Nuclear Blast could use studio versions of these songs to make a sort of "greatest hits" collection since the original versions were released by Relapse?) Whatever the case, let's take a look at what Magic and Mayhem has to offer.
Magic and Mayhem presents the listener with a decent overview of Amorphis' early days and covers most of the band's well-known concert favorites along with a few deeper album cuts. One of the oldest tracks, "Vulgar Necrolatry" originally dates back to the demo of the pre-Amorphis band, Abhorrence. The song then appeared later on an Amorphis seven inch and eventually as a bonus track on The Karelian Isthmus. Two other Karelian Isthmus tracks also get the update treatment ("Sign From The North Side" and "The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu"). The Tales From The Thousand Lakes era receives the most attention with a whopping six songs. Amorphis has chosen to re-record half of the Tales album for Magic and Mayhem, plus a cover song from this era of its career as a bonus track. Unfortunately this cover is of The Doors' "Light My Fire" which originally appeared on Amorphis' Black Winter Day EP. It was a bad idea in 1995, and it's still a bad idea today. Elegy, perhaps the album that is least in need of a sonic makeover, is represented by four tracks including the classics "Against Widows" and "My Kantele."
Unfortunately, there's not much use for any of the Magic and Mayhem re-recordings because they just aren't that different from the original versions. The sound is very full and thick, but the original production on all three original albums was already pretty solid. The main draw is hearing "new" vocalist Tomi Joutsen use his great set of pipes on these classic tunes, but most of us have already heard him sing the bulk of these songs live. Fanboys like myself will enjoy listening for the subtle differences in each song (a new keyboard sound here, a slight change in an arrangement there) and maybe some newbies will be able to benefit from Magic and Mayhem as a sort of introductory disc to Amorphis. Nevertheless, the old fans should really just stick with the original albums, and people who are new to early Amorphis should just buy Elegy and then work their way backward through the catalog. If you've seen or heard Amorphis live in recent years, you already know what Magic and Mayhem is going to sound like. There are subtle changes to the songs, and there is a newer vocalist out front, but that's about it. Well, at least it will make for a good Amorphis compilation when I go on road trips.
Originally written for http://www.metalpsalter.com
Review published at http://www.teethofthedivine.com
If you are only recently getting into Amorphis and their somewhat resurgent last three albums, (Eclipse, Silent Waters and Skyforger), you must grab this 20th anniversary retrospective album, to see just how really fucking good Amorphis were on their first three albums. Coinciding with the recently released Forging the Land of a 1000 Lakes DVD/CD, Tales From the Early Years sees Amorphis rearranging and rerecording some of the best tracks from their seminal first three efforts, before the band took somewhat of a mid-career, non-metal tangent (Tuonela, Ad Universum, Far From the Sun).
You only need to listen to these songs to appreciate just how good the band were early on, and though this CD basically glosses the already definitive tracks with some of the band’s more recent proggy textures and of course the new line up, specifically vocalist Tomi Joutsen, the new lick of paint is still a nice touch.
From 1992’s debut album, The Karelian Isthmus, you get the cover of Abhorrence’s brutal “Vulgar Necrolatry”, “Exile of the Sons of Uisliu” and the earthy “The Sign from the North Side” and these three tracks are the ones that benefit the most from the new sheen and synths, seeing as the band were basically a Stockholm styled death metal band for the debut. In particular, hearing “Exile of the Sons of Uisliu” (my first introduction to the band from 1992s Death… Is just the Beginning II compilation) is pretty nostalgic and the new version is pretty darn impressive also. “The Sign From the North” and “Vulgar Necrolatry” are just nice to hear because is shows Amorphis at their most brutal and down-tuned, even with the cleaner hues.
1994′s classic Tales From the 1000 Lakes is heavily represented by “Magic and Mayhem”, “Into Hiding”, Black Winter Day”, “The Castaway”, “Drowned Maid”. All of which sound as brilliant as they did 15 years ago. Though Joutsen’s clean vocals aren’t quite as impressive (notably on the otherwise still breathtaking “Black Winter Day”), they aid with adding a little more modern character to the already classic tracks. Still, one can’t help shudder with nostalgic glee, (how can you forget the first time you heard the start of “Into Hiding”?) as even with the slightly more proggy window dressing, the tracks all stay true to their original versions. My only personal gripe is that my very favorite track from the album, “In the Beginning” wasn’t included in the re-recording treatment.
The tracks from 1996′s more progressive masterpiece, Elegy (“My Kantele”, “On Rich and Poor”, “Song of the Troubled One” and “Against Widows”) initially seem a bit redundant, because that album saw the bands turn into more 70′s/prog pastures anyway, so the new polish doesn’t seem as immediately noticeable. But I can’t deny just hearing the brilliance of “My Kantele” (where Joutsen’s voice works much better) with just a couple of new nuances. Where is “Elegy” though? As a bonus, you get Amorphis’s redo of the bands cover of The Doors‘ “Light My Fire” — one of the better, most fitting covers ever done by a death metal band in the mid 90s.
In all, Magic & Mayhem – Tales From the Early Years isn’t really a must have purchase if you already own the band’s early discography, but even die hards might be curious to hear some of the classic tracks with a spiffy new delivery. New fans should grab this as it essentially serves as a ‘Best of…” of one of metal’s most influential acts and contains some of the best metal ever laid down in the 90s.
Diving back into the glory years of your band's discography using current personnel and the advances of modern studio software seems to be all the rage these days, but not always a welcome one. Poor examples of the gesture include the recent, pathetic Exodus collection with Rob Dukes singing the classics of the Zetro/Baloff eras, and the more obscure re-release of Bethlehem's S.U.I.Z.I.D. with Niklas Kvarforth's vocals, completely unnecessary and awful. Alas, it appears our beloved Amorphis have now stepped on this train. A genuine celebration of their rich past? A cheap ploy to fetch some coin and foist another package into the marketplace? I'll leave you and the band to come to that decision while I comb over the contents with bemused nostalgia and a gas mask to guard me from the stench of discontent.
There are eleven original cuts hailing from the band's first three records, The Karelian Isthmus, Tales from the Thousand Lakes, and Elegy, in addition to the band's classic cover of the fellow Finnish brutes Abhorrence's "Vulgar Necrolatry", and a last minute cover of The Doors' "Light My Fire". Now, Elegy in particular is one of my favorite metal recordings in history, easily making it onto a 'desert isle' list and in my opinion grossly underestimated despite the praise many of us have hoisted upon its shoulders, but the first two albums follow close behind, as remarkable examples of their era that stood tall above the great metallic hibernation of the 90s. The band have not only re-recorded the songs using their newest front man Tomi Joutsen, but arranged some of the earlier material to jive better with the albums they've been releasing in the past few years, namely Skyforger and Silent Waters. Thus, the further back you go (I'm looking at you, The Karelian Isthmus), the more likely the material is to be altered.
Amorphis are a band that have had a history of strong vocalists, and Joutsen is no exception. He possesses the adequate cleans and growls to fill in for his predecessor Pasi, and with him the band have had a resurgence of late, producing some of their best material since the Elegy days. But one can't help but feel that even he is overstretching it on a few of the songs here, and combined with the band's tweaking behind him, there is honestly not a single track found on Magic & Mayhem that can trump its original. They are not difficult on the ear, and in fact this is a far better stab at re-inventing the past than so many other bands have flopped through, but the individual tones and atmospheres of the band's first three albums are lost here as they are merged into some new creative whole subsisting on THIS track order, THIS recording, THIS entity borne from a womb of ages to the iTunes store. Considering that most of the band's back catalog is still readily available, it pains me to think that some deers and does, transfixed to the nearest headlights will snap this album up as dogma, robbing themselves of those finer, early recordings.
At any rate, these were all good songs when they originally poked their craniums through the uterine lining, and they remain good songs, even with a few new cards in the deck. From The Karelian Isthmus, we are given "Exile of the Sons of Uisliu" and "The Sign from the North Side", so it's arguably under-represented, and that is a pity. In all honesty, these tracks needed the most 'updating' to meet the band's 21st century material, so one wonder why they didn't just perform this autopsy on all of that 1992 album and leave the rest alone. I say this because, while tweaked, the tracks from Tales from the Thousand Lakes and Elegy don't sound different enough to warrant their metamorphosis from blissful chrysalis to angelic risks. From the first of those albums, the band has included quite a number of excavations: "Into Hiding", "Black Winter Day", "Drowned Maid", "The Castaway" and of course the compilation's title track "Magic and Mayhem".
All of these pieces still sound fairly tasteful, their primary differences coming in the added layers of ambiance that Santeri Kaillo's keys lend to the guitar lines, and Joutsen's broader vocals. The problem is that the original had such a cryptal darkness it channeled through its compositions that meshed so well with its struggling but hopeful production standards, that these cannot properly represent its initial charms. Imagine going to your local coffee hole and requesting a particular blend of dark coffee, then being told their machines are down except the one that can make you a triple-nut frothing marshmallow malt-accino? You take the new drink, suck it down and gain at least a dozen pounds, but your buds still long for the dark, smooth texture that you walked through that door to arrive at. This is the ultimate downfall of the Magic and Mayhem compilation. It's shiny and well produced, loaded with whipped cream and nutty, enticing flavors, but there is simply no reason to spin it when you can spin the genuine article and revel in the morbid tales of myth and drowned hope.
In the case of the Elegy entries "On Rich and Poor", "Against Widows", "Song of the Troubled One" and "My Kantele", the differences are so minimal between the originals and the newer versions that they merely sound like slightly shuffled live adaptations. In fact, had this album actually been a live double record with Joutsen fronting the older material, it might have been more understandable and welcome. These four tracks are all quite perfect in their original incarnations, "My Kantele" struggling behind the rest by a fraction of a fraction, and nothing Joutsen or the band has done here propels them beyond the originals with Koskinen and Koivusaari handling the vocals. On the other hand, I really did not mind the updated cover of "Vulgar Necrolatry" whatsoever. It too lacks the dark morbidity of the earlier release on the Privilege of Evil EP, but it sounds wonderful to have such an obscure Finnish gem brought into this new world of lights and sound. "Light My Fire" sounds pretty campy, more so than the original, with growls replacing Jim Morrison's brilliant lines and an attempt at creating a more haunted atmosphere during the verse, as if this were more about a haunted house than an invitation to some cutie pie to unzip and do the nasty.
To sum this up: Magic & Mayhem, Tales from the Early Years is not necessarily a poorly contrived compilation, though contrived it is. There is no impetus to hearken upon these well trodden paths any more than there exists a compulsion to ford the rivers of time and break out the timeless, flawless tones of the original Elegy, or the nearly perfect Tales from the Thousand Lakes, or the exceptional debut album The Karelian Isthmus. These are legend. They are manifest, and they forever shine from the shadows of the overarching genre's structural rubble, the 90s. Their consumption is vastly more recommended than a spin at Magic & Mayhem, but otherwise I do not have anything to complain about. This is not the case of a band soiling their past themselves as Bay Area thrashers Exodus did with Rob Dukes on Let There Be Blood. Tomi Joutsen is a good singer for this band, and he covers the older material well enough. The effort here is consistent, at least, and the worst that could be said is that it would be like choosing Arbor Mist over some early 20th century vintage: tasty enough for the ladies, probably tasty enough for the men if they'd get over themselves, but lacking the definition.