Amorphis is one of those bands that have never published a bad album but went through plenty of experimenting over the years before finding their definite sound - and indeed their definite voice. When vocalist Tomi Joutsen joined in late 2004, it appeared that the previously missing link had been found. Since then, the band´s line-up has been steady, its live act changed from a notoriously static affair to a display of pure energy, and the albums have been better than ever.
The latest release, "Skyforger", is the third to feature Joutsen on vocals and continues the positive trend. Its two predecessors drew on the same basic ingredients but were notably different in character - "Eclipse" easily won the listener over with its earthy warmth and in-your-face power, whereas "Silent Waters" was darker in nature and needed repeated spins to ultimately reveal its charming balance of fragility and assertiveness. "Skyforger" combines the best traits of both but at the same time reintroduces the sheer joy of melodic exploration that made me a fan of this band when they released "Elegy" back in 1996, and a well-dosed portion of the daring experimentalism found on the much-underrated 2001 album "Am Universum". All of these diverse elements are integrated into a seamless whole and delivered with instrumental and vocal prowess more than a few notches above any of these guys´ earlier work, making "Skyforger" beyond doubt the most mature and versatile Amorphis album so far.
The title implies the element of Air, as does the album´s lyrical framework. The music lives up to it, with lavishly applied delay, woodwind instruments and the characteristic Amorphis way of using acoustic guitars to fatten the texture. Arpeggiated chords are featured more prominently than before and enhance the airy feel. Likewise does the occasional ambiguity created by contrasting rhythmic figures such as the triplet pattern played over a 4/4 rhythm at the beginning of the guitar solo in "Sky is Mine"; another interesting case in point is the verse of "My Sun". The ability of sounding tight and transparent at the same time is one of the defining aspects of Amorphis, and with no audible compression applied on this album, their overall sound is more organic than ever. Complementing Tomi Joutsen´s impressive dynamic range, the rhythm section comprised of drummer Jan Rechberger, bassist Niclas Etelävuori and guitarist Tomi Koivusaari provides a close-knit but varied backdrop against which the flawless and passionate interplay of lead guitarist Esa Holopainen and keyboarder Santeri Kallio soars to new pinnacles of sublime beauty. However, while the album betrays a great love of musical detail in each song, the whole of it never sounds cluttered and every instrument has plenty of room to breathe.
To get an inkling of its emotional range, check out the brutal "Majestic Beast" and the tender "My Sun", but fact is that the constant high quality of "Skyforger" makes it nigh impossible to single out just one or two songs for recommendation. But while I couldn´t rank any of these ten tracks over the other, at least another formerly open question has been answered. It used to be difficult for me to name the best Amorphis album, but this is it.
Author: Tina Solda
PS: You can soon get an impression of the song materials´ quality yourself, Amorphis will be touring Europe with Amoral and Before The Dawn, check the tourdates