On the day before Tuska, Nuclear Blast invited a bunch of journalists to the picturesque island fortress of Suomenlinna for an exclusive pre-listening of the new Amorphis album, Under The Red Cloud, due out on September 4. The album has been produced, recorded and mixed by Jens Bogren, who was also present at the listening session. The previous Amorphis album Circle, produced by Peter Tägtgren, had been a mixed affair that didnīt altogether live up to its potential, therefore the different approach had been welcome news. To further raise expectations, one new song was played on the radio just before we left home that afternoon, and my first association had been the classic Elegy album.
However, the crappy compressed radio sound had been almost an insult compared to the stunning sound system at Suomenlinna Studio, and the opening bars of "Under The Red Cloud" felt like a revelation. Not just because of the heavenly acoustics, though.
1. Under The Red Cloud
Far from the in-your-face opening of the previous album, the title track starts with a soft piano intro, interspersed with subtle guitar lines and building up without any haste. Yet by the time the vocals set in, much has already happened. The organic development continues, with Tomiīs voice at first taking a secondary role to the guitars before gradually assuming domination. The stellar keyboard/guitar solo confirms that Amorphis are again at the top of their game: while this first impression reminds me in many ways of the best stuff on Skyforger (my favorite Amorphis album so far), it is heavier and far more diversified.
2. The Four Wise Ones
The second song starts with a forceful guitar intro, then lowers the pace slightly and surprises with one of Tomi Joutsenīs most astonishing performances to date: an incredible "duetto" of death metal growls and black metal screeches that I very much hope to witness live in concert later this year. Itīs actually hard to believe both voices come from the same throat. The flute-and-organ middle part adds some softness to the balance, not for the first time in the bandīs history but done in a fresh and different way.
3. Bad Blood
The synthesizer intro of this song gives way to a galloping main riff rather untypical of Amorphis and not easy to sit still through. The clean vocal part has a particularly lovely melody, not that the rest of the album lacks in such. The guitar work, too, is amazing throughout, and not least so in this piece. Even the modulation in the latter half of the song makes perfect sense in the given context, and Iīm glad to say that this much-overused device has been employed with far more restraint on this album than previously.
4. The Skull
Songwriting duties on this album were evenly distributed between Santeri Kallio and Esa Holopainen, the only exception being "The Skull", which was written by Tomi Koivusaari. His contributions over the years have been sparse but immensely appealing, which is true for this one as well. The strong opening with its phrygian feel immediately grabs the listener, and the vocal melodies are hauntingly beautiful. I need more spins to recall what the chorus reminds me of, possibly some folk or pirate song from my childhood. Something timeless at any rate.
5. Death Of A King
This was the "Elegy song" already mentioned above, and what makes the association particularly strong is the prominent electric sitar used for the "eastern" melody. And yes, it does sound so much better played over top-rate studio gear. Iīm no hi-fi fetishist, but if I had the money to afford it, I could see myself becoming one...
Listening to the song, I find myself surprised that it wasnīt this one that had been chosen for radio play. "Sacrifice" appears to be the most obvious choice for a single, closer to the typical Amorphis radio song than anything else on this album. I do find it much better than "Wanderer" from Circle, but a bit too predictable compared to the surrounding grandeur.
7. Dark Path
If the last song offered a bit of respite, "Dark Path" switches right back to brutal, although it also features a softer, piano-dominated middle part. To draw another comparison to Circle, this one continues on the track laid out by that albumīs highlight, "Nightbirdīs Song", but on first hearing seems to be even better.
8. Enemy At The Gates
Another tune with an oriental touch to it, but rather than offering repetition, especially the part where Joutsenīs vocals are doubled by Holopainenīs lead guitar sounds like nothing Amorphis has ever done before. The middle part bears some resemblance to "Sign", the bonus track on Silent Waters, but the flute-guitar break followed by a keyboard solo takes it again to a different direction.
9. Tree Of Life
Said flute, played by Chrigel of Eluveitie, is particularly prominent on "Tree Of Life", the folkiest song on the album. Beautiful but heavy at the same time, it is not only more impressive than the "folky" tracks on Circle but also at least on par with my favorite Amorphis song of this type, "Song Of The Sage" from Beginning Of Times.
10. White Night
Again something quite different, this time tender female vocals (provided by Aleah Stanbridge). The irregular rythm creates a tension which is released by the entry of Joutsenīs harsh growls, although most of his singing on this song is clean. The almost orgasmic ending provides a perfect climax to this album and makes me eagerly look forward to hearing the whole thing again at the end of this summer.
Bottom line: Amorphis have done it again. All of their albums are good and the majority is excellent, but few are just about perfect. Under The Red Cloud is one of them.