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Tales From the Thousand Lakes is Amorphis’ 1994 second full length release, and is widely considered a definitive album of the melodic death metal scene. There is no denying that this is a wildly ambitious album, and whether or not you agree with the hype surrounding it, its legacy is written in stone.
Instead of sticking to the already original formula of their debut, The Karelian Isthmus, Amorphis go further with their sound to create even more captivating and memorable music. This time around, Amorphis increase the melodic side of the compositions, without compromising their death metal roots. After the entrancing piano intro, Into Hiding kicks things off with one of the many outstanding, slow paced, doom riffs you will find on the album. We also hear something brand new to Amorphis’ sound in this song, and this is clean vocals. This aspect of the album is controversial. Many people say that the clean singing is amateur and fails to fit with the production, while others (myself included) feel that they heighten the ominous mood that this record creates. Like them or not, clean vocals would go on to appear in every Amorphis release after this point. With that said, the vast majority of the vocals here are excellent throaty growls; essentially identical to the debut album, with a rough production to accompany them.
Although synth was used mildly on The Karelian Isthmus, keyboards play a large part of the overall sound on this album. Don’t let this scare you away. They are not used like Children of Bodom use keyboards, but instead used to push the dark atmosphere even further. Just listen to the first ten seconds of Black Winter Day and you should understand my point. As with all Amorphis albums though, it’s the guitar that makes me fall so deeply in love with the songs. Tales contains many of Amorphis’ finest riffs; whether it’s the doomy Into Hiding, the epic Castaway, or the melodious Drowned Maid, the song writing would go on to influence countless bands ins the melodic death metal scene.
As I said earlier, this is a remarkably ambitious album for a band such as Amorphis to produce. Using extensive keyboards, clean vocals, and lyrics based entirely on the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, was certainly not common practice among the majority of death metal bands in the early ‘90s. The song writing itself crossed boundaries into strange, unexplored paths. For example, the jazzy interlude in The Castaway is certainly something that wasn’t practical at this time.
I have no problem with admitting that when I first gave this album a listen, I didn’t appreciate it the way I do now. It wasn’t until I took it on walks during black winter days until I uncovered the true beauty hidden beneath these ten mournful, yet glorious tunes. I believe that the appeal to this album is not simply in the songs themselves, but rather in the atmosphere the music so effortlessly conveys. Although the songs on Tales From the Thousand Lakes may not necessarily be the finest Amorphis have ever written, the gloomy atmosphere presented is something that can never be recreated. I honestly cannot recommend this album any higher. I ask that you give it a chance, and try not to judge it on the first listen. I only hope it will grow on you in the same way it did for me.