I write reviews for musical albums. My main genre is metal, but I will probably do some hard rock as well. Any reviews other than the two most recent are shown on the right hand side under the "Blog Archive" tab. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Amorphis- The Karelian Isthmus

Source: Wikipedia
Band:  Amorphis

Album:  The Karelian Isthmus

Year:  1992

Score: 9.6/10

“Fantastic Death Metal”

“The Karelian Isthmus” is a bit different from the rest of Amorphis’s discography, as it’s not nearly as progressive as anything that would follow.  Instead, it is a gritty and hypnotic piece of old-school Finnish death metal.  Bleak, atmospheric, and riff-heavy, “The Karelian Isthmus” rivals “Elegy” as the second-best work from Amorphis.  It’s an incredible listen, but the listener’s enjoyment of the album will likely stem from how tolerant of death metal they are.

The sound of the album is pretty unique.  It’s firmly rooted in old-school death metal, but there is a fair amount of melody to be found in the songs.  There’s also a strong doom metal influence in the songs, similar to the album that came afterwards.  This is mainly evident in the fact that there are some slower portions thrown about, and also in the general mid-tempo nature of the songs.  This stands in contrast to other death metal bands of the time, such as Carcass or Death, who derived more speed from thrash metal.  

Nevertheless there are some fast moments presented throughout “The Karelian Isthmus”, further adding to the uniqueness of the album.  There’s also a small progressive element to the album that is showcased in the song structures, as well as in the leads.  The album is quite melodic, though not in the sense of melodic death metal bands like In Flames or Dark Tranquillity.  This is much darker and far more enthralling than the familiar style of Gothenburg melodic death metal, which is why that title does not suit this at all.  The album is also surprisingly atmospheric.  While the atmosphere is not quite as vivid as on “Tales from the Thousand Lakes”, it is still fantastic.  The album conjures up visions of bleak battlefields and desolate landscapes (silly sounding, I know).   The songs themselves are not very catchy, and it sometimes takes a few listens to really absorb everything that is going on.  But it’s quite a worthwhile experience.

In terms of instrumentation, there is not anything too complex going on.  However, the songs do have challenging structures and are hardly ever straightforward.  Despite not being technically complex, the guitars are more than perfect.   They have a very warm and fuzzy tone (almost like a grunge album…), and every riff on the album is perfectly constructed.  In fact, the whole sound of the album is built on the guitar riffs.  When I say that the riffs are perfectly constructed, I am not exaggerating.  The opening riffs to “The Gathering” and “Misery Path” are incredibly memorable while the riffing in the middle of “Exile of the Sons of Uisliu” is delicately atmospheric, yet still quite sinister.  There are catchy riffs, doomy riffs, incredible leads, and tremolo picked riffs.  The album has everything, except for abundant guitar solos- but they are hardly missed.  Other than the guitar, the instrumentation is still rather good.  The drums are good, presenting an excellent variety of beats and tempo changes.  There are some memorable drum pieces found amongst the songs.  The bass is audible, but it does not show off very much.  There are not any fun little bass solos, but it’s steady throughout the course of the album.  The vocals are actually great.  I have always been a fan of the original Amorphis vocalist; he has a good tone to his growls.  They complement the songs presented here very well, and end up being very enjoyable.

In terms of the individual songs, they are all rather good.  My favorite is probably “The Gathering”, for its interesting intro riff and doomy pace.  “Grail’s Mysteries” is also a masterpiece with several changes in riffing style presented throughout the song.  The centerpiece of the album “Exile of the Sons of Uisliu”   is another favorite, with an incredible atmospheric part in the middle of the song.  I love the contrast between slower and faster riffs in this particular song.  “Warrior’s Trial” has a very doomy opening riff.  In fact this song has some of the most memorable riffing on the entire album, as well as a cool part with some choir sounding stuff in the background (probably provided by a synthesizer).  “Misery Path” has another great opening riff, as well as some great tempo changes.  It’s certainly another favorite.  “Black Embrace” is another cool song with an odd part in the middle that is always worth listening to.  “The Sign from the North Side” is an incredible closer.  It’s got a fair share of melodic leads and hefty riffs.  Initially, this song was my favorite but I have since found that I prefer a few of the other songs.  Also notable is the beautiful acoustic intro, entitled “Karelia”.

“The Karelian Isthmus” is easily one of the greatest Amorphis albums.  While “Tales from the Thousand Lakes” will always be my favorite, this ties with “Elegy” as my second favorite.  The riffs are brilliant and the songs are crafted beautifully.  The atmosphere is bleak and foreboding, nearly as intense as the atmosphere on “Tales from the Thousand Lakes”.  I have probably said too much about the high quality and longevity of the guitar riffs, but this cannot be stressed enough.  The riffs alone are worth the price of the album.  Death metal fans with a tolerance for intriguing melodies should really enjoy this one; most Amorphis fans should like it too, but those who are expecting “Skyforger” or “Tuonela” should listen to this before buying.  It’s very far removed from their later work.

Thanks for reading, be sure to leave a comment!  (By the way, I've changed my rating scale to /10 instead of /100 as I think it's a more common formula and possibly easier to gauge the score of an album by.)

My review of "Elegy" also by Amorphis.
My review of "Black Winter Day" also by Amorphis.

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