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From what I can tell, in the past 15 or so years, Amorphis has become some sort of Nuclear Blast-funded experiment into just how far away from metallic qualities or, you know, heaviness a band that’ll still find itself in any record shop’s metal section can go. I’ve gathered that they’re pretty successful, too; nothing on a Hanoi Rocks scale as far as Finnish bands go - but plenty of international tours and acclaimed albums. Tales From the Thousand Lakes is the first full-length in this new style; a bit more progressive, more obviously melodic and it’s catchy, too. But also as a sort of “transitional” album you’ll get a bit more of their old style thrown in: heavier riffs, with better harsh vocals than the dread-locked fellow and altogether it’s a bit more convincing as a metal album.
Still, I begin to think that Amorphis be much better off if they dropped the whole metal sound and went ahead as a prog rock band. From what I gleam they did such a thing in the late 90s, but it didn’t turn out too popular with the fans… oh well, never mind. Maybe they went back to prog later on? I’m no expert, really, nor do I want to be. It’s one of the more unique “death metal band has personality crisis” albums I’ve heard what with its pretentious, vaguely folky, slow melodic death metal. Most of the album’s death metal remnants are played out through generic token-Eastern sounding moments (not counting the lead guitar, which sounds like Ritchie Blackmore after several handfuls of sleeping pills). Thing is, while Tales From the Thousand Lakes must have been offering something new to an extent back in 1994, most of the riffs seem pasted from elsewhere. There’s the shallow Eastern sounding parts (because Finland shares its borders with China, right?), other death metal riffs watered down and played slower and even the odd Master of Puppets era Metallica homage. And hey presto, add some fluffy keyboards, tone down the aggression and you’ve got yourself a fresh sound. Just wonderful.
Since this is a transitional album you’ll have to suffer through the same shit you’d find on later Amorphis albums, expect this time it feels a little more out-of-place. It’s those Mike Patton-esque vocals that have my teeth grinding, mainly. I mean, I think Faith No More are a crime against humanity that should have been punishable in some grand, Nuremberg-esque trial - hanging all those responsible but this manages to be even more irritating. It’s probably something to do with the fact that the rest of the music isn’t nearly as bad as any Mike Patton project I’ve heard, and as such those vocals just stand out that little bit more. Honestly, though, if you ever needed an album to warm someone to the idea of harsh vocals, this might be a good one; after all that nasal whining one can’t help but rejoice when those parts are over. The harsh vocals and heavy riffs are just there to provide token metalisms but after those vocals they seem golden. As it turns out contrast is key to Amorphis’s success.
Still, at times, Tales From the Thousand Lakes despite its annoying and overbearing traits is as it least pretty memorable in the songwriting stakes. Even if for me, it’s for all the wrong reasons - and I will take that into account in my rating - but I can’t really deny that some of the songs have a “Look mother, salmon and trees!” quality about them. Worth something, I must admit. Still, it’s far from being “my thing” but I’m sure if I were to explore more slow melodic death metal (forget what you heard there’s not much in the way of death/doom here, it’s just a little bit too jolly for that).
I can recommend this to fans of later Enslaved, Opeth and maybe Katatonia’s shite albums. All things considered, they’d probably have a great time. Those wanting something with a bit more bite to it, something to sink your teeth into… well, look elsewhere. I mean it’s not the worst, post-death metal “growing pains” album I’ve ever heard (Carcass’s Whitesnake albums, anyone?) but far from enjoyable. The mix is a peculiar one; unappealing ingredients coming together in a way that’s, well, not as bad as you might’ve imagined. Colour me impressed!