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Bring life to the empty halls! - 94%

andreipianoman, January 23rd, 2019

"Queen of Time" was regarded by many as the best album released in 2018. And I have to admit I was quite skeptical about that for some time. This band really isn't my thing. It's just a bit too easy and uses quite a lot of formula oriented songwriting. I've been living under the impression that they're just another one of those very appreciated bands that I just won't get into. However, as the praise for this album kept flowing from multiple directions, I decided to give it a chance and soon learned that I couldn't have been more wrong about them!

From the very beginning this album draws you in with the mighty chanting and glorious melodies of "The Bee". This is not only the first song I heard from this album but from the band altogether. And it's a force of nature! As the very promising first track sets the bar really high, the band then goes to develop that epic atmosphere with slightly straightforward yet very interesting and unusual songwriting that strikes a surprising amount of diversity and elevates a good idea to massive proportions, giving it a very unique DNA that will set their personality apart from everyone else! I am getting a lot of the epic and Nordic style that I'd normally associate to bands like Wintersun and Insomnium, but with a lot more accent on melody than aggression and technicality, and a lot less darker atmosphere. They just have this amazingly uplifting drive that gets you up from your seat and sends a surge of energy up your spine. Everything they express seems to be pointing upwards and soar ever higher! All their songs feel like anthems! And a great deal of this effect is the result of Tomi Joutsen's invincible voice coming in waves of deep growls with softer sections of amazing clean singing, sometimes creating an up and down effect between verses of singing and choruses of growls or the other way around alternating between the two as if there are two people singing. And he's backed by a truly amazing soundscape. All the instruments play in sublime harmony as if they are one mighty entity, forming a wall of multiple layers. While I'm not particularly impressed with each band member on his own, they did a more than excellent job at putting the pieces together and still giving some moments for each one to shine on his own.

The keyboard melodies in "The Bee" as well as a few beautiful clean piano sections and some very well placed solos focusing on melody instead of speed bring justice to Santeri Kallio. The guitars compose most of the melodies that make the album so easy to enjoy and are also a very powerful driving force when needed. The guitar solos are also a good feature. As for the bass and drums, while staying mostly in the background, it is impossible for them to go unnoticed thanks to the very good mix that brings a lot of the album's depth forward without overpowering the melody, keys, vocals or various backing elements.

Upon all that fabulous execution, the band then sprinkled a frenzy of details, additional elements and guest performances that make each song stand out on its own and I feel I have to give all those a shout-out. The choir and orchestra are obviously a key to their glorious sound, resounding on most of the songs and pushing Tomi Joutsen's amazing power even further. The same can be said about Noa Gruman's backing vocals on Message in the Amber, The Golden Elk and especially on The Bee, where she actually opens the album and embodies a slightly eerie and mystical energy over which the band starts building the layers. I've actually become familiar with this singer quite recently and was very pleasantly surprised to find that she was on this album. Then there's different other guest performances and fill-ins like different folk elements, wind instruments, a saxophone solo and a verse of Finnish spoken word on Daughter of Hate and a vocoder effect on Message in the Amber.

But by far my favorite guest performance and probably the cherry on the top that got me completely sold on Queen of Time was Anneke van Giersbergen's vocals on Amongst Stars. As if this wasn't enough of an enjoyable and uplifting song, she comes and transforms it into a real gem. Between Tomi Joutsen's dynamic of clean and harsh and her unique and crystalline voice there's so much vocal diversity stuffed in five minutes that you don't even know when the song goes by.

However, my nerdy, prog-addicted, messed up self still prevents me from agreeing to this being album of the year for 2018. It is an amazing album, many might say a masterpiece, but for me the verse-chorus structures and the formula based on hooks is still a bit of a downer. This is one of those situations where I can say "It's not you. It's me". There is no real problem with the album and the ingenuity and creativity that enveloped that formula makes it one of the best (if not THE best) album of "easy music" that I've ever heard. But hearing one full hour of this music still gets a little redundant for me until the end and for that reason, Amorphis will have to live with a slightly stained yet humble and honest praise from me. I'm impressed and I think on some level pretty much anyone will be so I strongly urge you to spin this album more than once and I'm thoroughly confident that regardless of your musical taste, you will find something to enjoy here!