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When most death metal bands released their debut album in the early ‘90s, it usually sounded like a Morbid Angel or Obituary copy, but not for these Finnish teens. The Karelian Isthmus is the debut album from the, now legendary, Amorphis. With this album, Amorphis offered a slower, melodic, and more epic approach to death metal than the American scene or their fellow Scandinavian kin at the time (Unleashed, Entombed). Despite the members’ young age, the sound is already mature and established; planting firm roots for future evolution.
Amorphis elegantly open with a Celtic sounding acoustic intro, before the slow paced, towering riff of The Gathering. From listening to the melodious, yet crushing riffs, it becomes clear that Amorphis expanded upon the music of this album for their 1994 groundbreaker, Tales From The Thousand Lakes. From here on, the songs vary in pace with a few up-tempo moments (Misery Path), but mostly a doomy, mid pace. Consistency remains throughout the album, but some songs manage to shine more than others such as the epic instrumentation of The Lost Name of God, or the ominous, heavy-ass-hell closer, A Sign From The North Side. However each song has something of value, which Amorphis would expand upon later while developing their sound.
One aspect that Amorphis have always excelled in is creating simple, yet catchy and diverse riffs. This album is simply full of them. There’s also some great melodies such as the instrumental break midway through The Pilgrimage. These melodies would become a bigger focus on later Amorphis albums, but are still used soundly here. The vocals are, more or less, your standard Scandinavian death metal grunt, but something about the production really appeals to me. They sound more effortless and guttural than what is common. The drums showcase great diversity, changing speed along with the rest of the music, and I especially love the light blasts that compliment the cheesy keyboards in The Pilgrimage. Just great. The music isn’t the only epic feature on The Karelian Isthmus. The lyrics also deal with grand battles and Celtic and Finnish mythology. Keep in mind that this is 1993, before folk metal bands were literally around every corner. My point is, it was original.
This album is a great foundation for Amorphis’ long and bold career. Listening to this is interesting because you can notice pieces of the music that the band never abandoned, only worked on. If you’re craving some old school, epic death metal and, for some reason, are not already familiar with this monster, make a point of checking it out.