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The second album from Amorphis is a considerable expansion of their epic and melodic style. At this point, the band's sound is no longer death metal in a true sense. Tales From the Thousand Lakes finds Amorphis incorporating Finnish folk music, a full-time keyboard player, ‘clean’ vocal parts, and progressive rock influences into a style of metal better described as atmospheric and melodic folk-influenced doom/death metal, with the growled vocals of Tomi Koivusaari remaining the only real link to death metal. Musically, there is very little association with death metal, as Amorphis have approached the album’s concept from a wider perspective of expression which works to provide the music with an aesthetic distinction and direct expression as a result of acute conceptual communication. Previous work from this band, particularly in terms of melody and dramatic composition, slightly hinted at the potential realized here, which has blossomed into a richer, more wide-ranging style that allows a broader exploration of themes.
Powerful and memorable riffs drive these songs, which most often find comfort in a steady, moderate pace and simplistic rhythmic constructions, in which the deep growling vocals blend as a shade of mood, while the drums maintain a fairly straightforward tempo without much in the way of stylistic variation, yet tastefully performed with an ear for rhythmic transition and timing, as each song discovers melodic harmony which carefully guides the way to resolution, either in the form of climactic punctuation, or gentle fade-out. The music transitions seamlessly, maintaining a gliding affect even when convergence occurs abruptly, attributable to the skillfully composed and executed riffs, which, while no longer truly speaking the language of death metal, remain firmly grounded in the spirit of metal, driving songs towards animated conclusions, with the sheen of melancholy common to Finnish metal, yet which is here more closely associated with the enlivened melancholy of Finnish folk music as expressed through the voice of classic metal.
"Waters of the sea
So much blood of mine
Fishes of the sea
So much flesh of mine"
Keyboards are now a significant feature in the music of Amorphis, functioning more than atmospheric layering through guitar shadowing, but as an instrument of illumination and occasional lead, as in the moog solo during "Black Winter Day", working in tandem with the soaring guitar melodies and solos, which, escalating the compositional dynamic through spectacular atmospheric effect, are often responsible for a song’s dramatic culmination. The captivating melodies and strong riffs sail over mostly uneventful, yet fluid and adequate, drumming, harmonizing in a unification of rhythm and tonality resulting in a solid, firm foundation upon which crystal clear melodies reach for the sky. The growling vocals rarely provide emotional dynamic, acting more as a shadow-tone expression in conjunction with the instruments, occasionally emerging with a well-placed and excitable growl to assist with an introduction to a new theme with added urgency, while the session ‘clean’ vocals, sounding perhaps like a less-masculine and less-skilled Bruce Dickinson, achieve a different shade of expression, and are generally well-placed, though a more talented vocalist would have given these sections more conviction and impact. Overall, the music, benefiting from a full, clear, organic sound courtesy of Sunlight Studios, has made quite a progression from the first album, both in range of expression and musical vision, having acquired a more graceful flow and clarity of articulation that was whispering through the debut, not yet ripe enough for proper realization; on this album, Amorphis have more effectively unified their ideas into a stronger sense of conceptual direction, with less hesitation to explore different ideas and with more confidence in their collective ability to realize those ideas.
The band have taken inspiration from ancient Finnish poetry and folklore, particularly based on the Finnish national pole book Kalevala, the themes of which center around the equilibrium of darkness and light, struggle and reward, sorrow and joy, a balance inherent to metal music, brought to life here in Amorphis’s distinct expression of foreboding gloom in the growling vocals and melancholic riffs, and life-affirming triumph in the ascending melodies and illuminating keyboards, and in the dynamic rhythmic and tonal character of the purposeful and terrifically enveloping music, which poetically flows like a cool autumn breeze and establishes an early-morning seashore atmosphere, clear like the bluest morning skies with a scope as vast as an ocean. Tales From the Thousand Lakes stands as a highly individual and mature album, a rare work of metal that manages to rise above stylistic expectations through a brave creative spirit, combining youthful ambition, brilliant imagination and musical intelligence, revealing Amorphis at the most creatively inspired and exciting moment of their artistic career.