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Looking back, nothing but a great career - 90%

MaDTransilvanian, June 8th, 2010

Amorphis are one of those bands who refuse to stay put. Thus, a thorough knowledge of all their albums is necessary to understand the finer details of their complex evolution. Additionally, one of the most useful tools for anyone wishing to comprehend the band’s first decade of existence, corresponding to their early and mid-era albums, is this compilation, simply entitled Story – 10th Anniversary.

First of all, a cursory look at the track listing will reveal this compilation’s main strength: it gives an essentially equal share to all four Amorphis albums released before it. Out of 16 tracks, three are from the debut, The Karelian Isthmus, three from Tales from the Thousand Lakes, five from Elegy, four from Tuonela and an additional song from the My Kantele EP. Wisely enough, those who chose the track listing avoided making an absolute best of from the first ten years of Amorphis, focusing instead on a mix between that and a selection favouring a good overview of what the band sounded like at each stage.

Lines notes reveal the hopes for the band’s future and the critical recognition of their work up until then, and most of those opinions are rather accurate. Amorphis has kept making quality music since then, but those first ten years are perhaps the most interesting portion of the band’s career. That’s because at least 75% of the sound mutation occurred then, as is perfectly demonstrated with this compilation. Beginning with an atmospheric but very traditional death metal sound on The Karelian Isthmus, the band proceeded to add various progressive elements to the music, including folk sounds, several kinds of clean vocals and new song structures, resulting in mid-era Amorphis. The contrast is highly visible when one listens to a pure death metal song like Grail’s Mysteries, only to be surprised by the eclectic nature of a newer song such as The Castaway, which, originating from the sophomore Tales from the Thousand Lakes album, is perhaps the best demonstration of a still-present death metal basis yet accompanied by an increasingly considerable amount of new elements designed to enhance the music’s atmosphere and make a unique name for the band. These elements have a tendency to render the music catchier and more memorable, although in my experience none of the post-The Karelian Isthmus tracks can rival that album in terms of sheer dark atmosphere.

A similar, but a bit more subtle, trend can be seen with the band’s less evident doom metal heritage. The atmosphere on The Karelian Isthmus has a healthy dose of doom in it, completing the death metal feel of it all, and this influence has remained with the band, albeit in a constantly deceasing way, until the present day with albums like Skyforger, where that atmosphere is all but indiscernible yet surfaces subtly in a couple of tracks. The evolution is most prominent here, with songs like Tuonela and Divinity demonstrating both the band’s heritage and their moving on up to new horizons. After many spins and a good amount of thinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best balance between all these elements is to be found in and around the Elegy period, despite a few weaker individual moments such as the forgettable Brother-Slayer from the contemporaneous My Kantele EP. However, the songs from the Elegy album itself, most notably My Kantele, Against Widows, On Rich and Poor and The Orphan showcase the band’s unrivalled ability to meld brilliantly catchy riffs with a beautifully mellow and melancholic atmosphere. By contrast, their subsequent evolution led them to a higher dose of catchiness with the songs on Tuonela. Such is especially the case with the instantly memorable rock anthem-like songs like The Way and Divinity, both highlights here as well as on their album.

The unique Amorphis charm is very successfully captured on this compilation. Story – 10th Anniversary is an excellent way for potential Amorphis fans to get to understand the band’s music and its evolution over their first decade of activity without having to buy all the albums involved, although that might very well be the final and highly desirable outcome for many of those new fans. This release is a very good example on how to construct a solid career analysis compilation, and both Amorphis and Nuclear Blast records deserve credit for a job well done.