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An Amorphis Fan’s Wet Dream - 97%

Razakel, October 22nd, 2010

In the eyes of many Amorphis fans, a live DVD is something that was long overdue, but truth be told, there could not have been a more opportune moment for this monster of a release to be revealed to the world. This four-disc package of brilliance marks the twentieth anniversary of the band and succeeds in portraying every angle of the complex entity that has always been Amorphis. Instead of continuing to read this review, I recommend you put your time to better use and start watching Youtube videos of Amorphis live, or you could keep reading and have me describe to you how buttfucking amazing they are. Take your pick.

Still with me? Let’s get started then. But where to start? How about with DVD 1. This disc contains a lengthy headlining show, shot in Oulu, Finland, and is the centerpiece of the lot. Before anything really happens you can already tell that the presentation is quality, and soon you’ll discover that the performance follows suit. After the recorded intro finishes, the band burst into Silver Bride, off the latest album, Skyforger. The sound quality is impeccable, with every instrument being sufficiently audible. Sampo is up next, and this is the first spine-chiller of the show. The diversity of the song shows the band weaving in and out of different styles and succeeds in giving the viewer a good example of what Amorphis is all about. This is also when Tomi Joutsen first showcases his immense vocals range; the chorus is sublime, while the crushingly heavy section is simply startling:

Into the blaze I shove them back,
To lose their forms to the hungry fire.
Again and yet again,
I start my work anew.
Again and again,
I start my work again.

Despite not being as instantly catchy as Silver Bride, I think this would have made for a better opener. The heaviness only increases with Towards and Against off 2007’s Silent Waters before the band bust out the old Tales From the Thousand Lakes classic, The Castaway. Joutsen breathes a lot of life into the doominess of the early material, while the timeless melodies still speak for themselves. Smithereens/The Smoke is the first of three medleys in the set, and proves to be a gorgeous melding of two powerful tracks. Still, it’s absolutely nothing compared to the Elegy medley, which appears a while later. This is my personal favourite moment of the entire package, as it truly displays the diversity that Amorphis are capable of. A lot of people seem to have problems with medleys, saying they’re a cheap way for a band to get through a bunch of material that doesn’t fit into the set otherwise. Sure, that might be the case much of the time, but this is how medleys should be done. Even though Elegy is Amorphis’ masterpiece, this outstanding assortment does complete justice to the album as a whole. It begins with the ragingly catchy opening of Against Widows, through the beautiful chorus, and carries on to the absolutely crushing verse during the breakdown:

The devil weds a widow,
The grave one twice wed.
A widow’s hand is rougher
Than a dry spruce bough
With which she strikes the playful,
Grabs the one who laughs.
A widow has had her games
And spent a marry evening.

Immediately following this, the composition seamlessly transitions into partway through Cares for a cleanly sung verse and then into the whirlwind of melody that is On Rich and Poor. After returning for the end of Against Widows, the piece concludes by teasing with a few notes of Better Unborn. I can only hope I get to see this performed live one day.

In between the heaviness, Amorphis aren’t afraid to whip out a ballad or show off their impressive progressive rock material. Midway through the set, we’re treated to several of the band’s softer pieces such as the timeless anthem, Alone, which is one of the best tracks from their mid-era, as well as the first Amorphis song I ever heard. Silent Waters is as beautifully melancholic live as it is on the album. The keyboards really stand out on this one and that chorus is just something else entirely. Divinity is the only song off the fantastic Tuonela, but holds its own nicely and is a fair deal heavier than on record.

A medley of Magic and Mayhem/Black Winter Day is what closes the main set, showcasing the band at their doomiest and gloomiest. It’s a treat to hear the beautiful riffs and melodies of these songs with such clarity and it’s a reminder of how classic a song like Black Winter Day is. It’s easy to see why this is the most well known song of their early albums. If you thought that was heavy, though, you’re in for a real shocker when Sign From the North Side kicks off the encore. This proves that Amorphis can still do death metal, and do a fine job of it at that. Still, this larger-than-life rendition brings to light the melodic nature of song writing that was present even on the band’s 1993 debut album, The Karelian Isthmus. In an utter contrast to this death metal devastation, House of Sleep boasts one of the band’s catchiest melodies and is one of their strongest ballads, especially with the crowd participation during the chorus in this version. Closing the set is, in my opinion, the greatest song of Amorphis’ career. My Kantele is another example of a song that shows all aspects of the wildly versatile spirit of Amorphis. Everything about the performance of this song is gorgeous and filled with such passion. The clean opening melody has been engrained in my mind ever since I first heard the song, and Joutsen’s vocal performance couldn’t be more perfect. He belts out the beautiful lyrics which concern the origin of music itself in a manner so effortless that I’m simply convinced that his destiny has always been to play in this band. Listening to him carry that fucking chorus should be enough to turn anyone and their grandmother into a raging Amorphis fan. To make this rendition of the song even more memorable, the band have included the serene instrumental present on the acoustic version of the song. I really can’t imagine a more satisfying conclusion.

I don’t feel the need to go into too much detail about specific members, because each one performs flawlessly and continuing to single out highlight after highlight would be redundant. Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari are a superb guitar duo who work excellently together on every track. I guess that’s the result of twenty years of playing together. Still, it’s hard not to admit that Tomi Joutsen steals the spotlight most of the time. And so he should, being the majestic beast of a front man. If you haven’t heard this man sing, please make a point of it. His death growls are almost unprecedented and his clean singing is enough to make a grown man weak in the knees. When the songs call for a diverse vocal performance, which is most of the time, he shines the brightest. Legend has it that he uses those crazy looking microphones because normal ones can’t handle his immense power. It’s also a pleasure watching him windmill those ass-length dreads.

Alright, on to DVD 2. This one contains a shorter festival show, every music video, a photo gallery, an old interview from 1996, an awesome acoustic performance of My Kantele from 1996, and an hour-long documentary which documents the history of the band.

The set from Summer Breeze is of superb quality, and is generally a bit rougher and heavy sounding than the Oulu show. The setlist only consists of two songs that weren’t already performed on the first disc, namely Leaves Scar and a full version of Magic and Mayhem, but these are both major highlights of the entire package. Magic and Mayhem is probably the heaviest, most insane performance of the lot with that crazy techno-like jam in the middle and Joutsen going absolutely nuts behind the mic. The crowd is also a bit louder for this show, perhaps because it’s at a giant open air festival, or simply because of the mixing.

The documentary is naturally the most interesting part of this release for the die-hard Amorphis fan, such as myself. Similar to the documentary on Dark Tranquility’s Where Death is Most Alive DVD, it follows the band’s history chronologically from its beginnings to the present day. It’s basically divided into chapters in which each album is brought up and discussed by not only current members, but also various past members. In addition to discussion about the albums, the band also share amusing anecdotes and explain being fucked over by Relapse records. Apparently up to and including their mid-era, they were hardly making jack-shit from their music, all the while reading in metal magazines about how many thousands of copies Tales From the Thousand Lakes had sold. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, former vocalist Pasi Koskinen is not interviewed in the documentary, which leaves a bit of a gap as far as a thorough documentation goes, although he is shown in some old clips that are used.

So there you have it. This is basically every Amorphis fan’s wet dream, or at least should be. Releases like this really set a new standard for live DVDs and put to shame bands that churn out live recordings with no thoughtful extra content. Although it might seem strange for a live DVD to be your first purchase of a band’s work, this would actually make a great introduction to Amorphis for the newcomer. The Oulu show presents material from all nine of Amorphis’ albums and shows the band in all their glory. If you already happen to be a fan of the band, then this is a release that you should definitely add to your collection.

Thank you for this gift, Amorphis, and here's to many more years of music for the soul.