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Inspired drunk - 93%

gasmask_colostomy, November 8th, 2016

Having discovered Sentenced with the irresistible Down and slowly plundered most of the treasures from their gothic metal years, I eventually got around to listening to the whole of Amok, which I had previously heard only a few songs from. I had known it would be significantly different (a new singer, a new style, new themes - though really I mean old since this precedes Down), but what continues to surprise me as I listen again and again is that it really is different. I mean, what other metal band was playing like this in 1995? And has anyone else returned to the sound since? Amok remains a celebrated fluke, a majestic one-off.

So how is it different? That's a really hard question to answer, because a lot of the material here could be connected to other sounds, like the soaring melodic fire that Miika Tenkula douses everything with, which is oh-so-close to early melodeath, or the epic grandeur that swells up in the intro to 'Forever Lost', which would fit both power metal and Iron Maiden, or even the cheeky 'Funeral Spring', which is just pure rock guitar heroism. People seem to want to connect this to the Gothenburg sound, but there's really no pretext on which one can, since Amok rarely sounds like a death metal album, playing much more with classic, power, and even epic doom riffs, while shirking most of the heaviness that Sentenced wielded on previous album North from Here. Sometimes too, the descent from metal into less intense rock music is noticeable, such as during the softer chugging riffs of 'Dance on the Graves (Lil' Siztah')' or the classic distorted lick in 'Funeral Spring' or even the blues rock (maybe rock and roll) keys at the conclusion of 'Forever Lost', including the sweep of the keyboard to end.

Purely as description, that must all sound like a total mess and - on paper at least - it is. However, what makes Amok work is the way that those elements are combined, which says a lot for the chemistry and skill of the bandmembers. Either these songs have been rehearsed the fuck out of and embellished during those rehearsals or someone is an absolute genious, because the tightness of the four-piece while flitting from movement to movement is outstanding, as well as all those disparate elements being fully integrated. The masterstroke is clearly Miika Tenkula, whose lead guitar is just everywhere and never disappoints, floating melodies across every song with a clear, ringing tone that frequently elevates the songs into epic territory at an instant's notice. His six-string partner Sami Lopakka has plenty of moments too, not exactly going for broke with riffs (though there are enough to satisfy) but providing atmospheric backing at reasonably slow pace in songs like 'Moon Magick' and some great acoustics that never outstay their welcome. Both guitarists are also credited with keyboards, layering them into songs subtly for the most part, except for that blues spaz in 'Forever Lost'. Vesa Ranta keeps his hand in too, ensuring that the more relaxed sections maintain some power and thundering through when the band charges forwards, plus Taneli Jarva has as much joy with bass (his intro to 'Forever Lost' is gloriously warm) as vocals. The vocals themselves are the cherry on the cake; much looser than the music and emotional too, using a rather ragged semi-harsh voice as well as some cleaner tones to good effect.

Barring the instrumental 'The Golden Stream of Lapland', every song has lyrics that you can wail along to (Sentenced would like you to sing while very drunk on vodka - see story of '0132' being named after the barcode on the bottle), but especially the climactic chorus of 'Phenix', the melody of which is also going to give you shivers as it rises overhead in a shimmer of flame. 'The War Ain't Over!' is also a great opener: deceivingly simple in its aggression, there's actually a lot of nuance hidden in its length, my favourite part going to the muted power metal picking shuddering along under the chorus. Everything is good though, and the only times I get sceptical are when 'Dance on the Graves' gets that distorted whispered vocal thrown in and the otherwise wistful 'The Golden Stream of Lapland' receives a sample from Full Metal Jacket, which is humorous but completely out of context. If you're in favour of anything with guitar melodies and searing emotion, you'll be wanting to run straight to the record store and get Amok.