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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.