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Amorphis are one of those Death Metal bands from the early 90s who seemed to get fed up with the style not too long after, changing into a more progressive and mellow style. This, their debut, was their only Death Metal album, featuring a focus on heavy riffs and a generally mystical, evil atmosphere.
Even back in their early days, Amorphis were classy. You get this really white-collared, uppity, pretentious sort of air from this music, like they were afraid to really get their hands dirty and go full out intense and visceral. It doesn't affect the quality therein, however, as The Karelian Isthmus is still a fine album in its own right. The main feature here is the guitar, which churns out a multitude of chunky, melodic and hypnotic riffage that definitely leans toward Death Metal of a rather epic, mystical variety - certainly a surprise for those expecting something like what the band is producing now, I think. The vocals are a deep, ominous grunt that doesn't really add to the music, but is certainly not bad at all. Most all of these songs are midpaced and heavy on atmosphere, and they usually blend together in a homogeneous manner. The leads are fairly laid back and epic, never really jumping up to kick ass, but always entertaining at the very least.
I still don't know if I like this the way some others do, as it is still just a little too complacent for my taste, but it is definitely the best album of the first three Amorphis ones by a lot. With songs like "The Gathering," the bleak journey of "Warrior's Trail" and the heavy "Sign from the North Side," this is definitely a pretty damn worthwhile album, although I do find that it becomes boring at times. Worthy if you're a fan of midpaced, lightweight Death Metal.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com