REVIEW: AMORPHIS – “Queen of Time”
Consistency is a term that is given to many bands these days, but one which perhaps categorizes a band like Amorphis the best, as there are few other bands have delivered well constructed albums for almost three decades. You might be forgiven for thinking that following the release of their last album, the critically well received ‘Under the Red Cloud’ that a band like Amorphis might have decided to rest on their laurels. Enter their upcoming 13th album ‘Queen of Time’, in album that once again proves that the band isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, and that they aren’t afraid of embracing new and creative elements into their music.
Opening track “The Bee” sets a very strong precedent for the album. The opening key harmony begins with an almost Gregorian chant sounding section over the top of it that continues to build as the guitars, drums and bass are all introduced. It is a slow build, but one that works so well for such a big track and definitely creates a very vivid impression of the album as a whole right out of the gates. “Message in the Amber” follows next and sees a stronger prevalence of the bands folksier side, sporting a choral riff that would seamlessly slot into any folk metal track. However the bold contrast between the verses and chorus are what really provide the strength in this track. Much like “The Bee” proceeding it, the slower verses enhance each chorus by giving them that bit more of an extra punch when the heaviness comes around, and when fused with the accompaniment of a choir to complete a bridge you are given a starkly beautiful track which is one of the shining beacons on the album.
“Daughter of Hate” is a standard Amorphis track, complete with a bombastically catchy riff and standard melodic faire – so much so that it seemed like the band might have been reverting to their usual ways and playing it safe from there on out, but then the band follows that up with “The Golden Elk”, a mystifying atmospheric tonal track that is a beautiful curve ball which showcases the band lifting their game to the maximum. While the dichotomy between the clean and harsh singing is again on display in such a refined manner, it’s the use of real string instruments in this song that works beautifully and creates an enthralling wall of sound effect. This coupled with the almost middle-eastern sounding acoustic solo, which is beautifully led into and used in such a way that it adds character to an already exuberant song, make this a stand out song on the album.
From this point, the album sets into a tier of consistency with “Wrong Direction”, “Heart of the Giant” and “We Accursed”. These songs embody everything you have come to expect from Amorphis, but are structured in such a way that they keep everything sounding fresh and inspired, rather than reverting to past influences. While there might not be anything overly identifiable from them as opposed to the other tracks, each song bears its own distinct mark on the story of ‘Queen of Time’ as a whole.
“Grain of Sand” follows this trio and seems to be a bit at odds with itself. On one hand you have a sonically happy sounding track with that offers listeners a feeling of joy and elation, while on the other hand the harsh delivery and sorrowful nature of the lyrics seem to completely contradict this happier undertone. It’s a different song, and one in which the sound varies largely from the overall tone of the album making it one that listeners will either love or hate, but it has its redeeming moments.
The album closes out with “Amongst Stars” and “Pyres on the Coast”. “Amongst Stars” almost seems like a fitting enough song to be the album closer, featuring a beautiful guest vocal appearance by Anneke van Giersbergen that is a surprising, yet welcomed addition to the overall flow of the album. “Pyres on the Coast” however, takes all the lessons learnt from every preceding song to create a thunderous cacophony of a track that puts every strength of the band on display. Whether they intended on it or not, the band has seemingly ‘saved the best for last’, giving the album a closing two songs that act as a wonderful contrast to each other and work to truly encapsulate the spirit of the album.
The production value on this album is second to none, but and being that the band has opted again to work with Jens Bogren for a second time, that’s not really that surprising. The use of real string instruments and other elements not normally utilised by the band – a suggestion made by Bogren – helps accentuate the individual sounds present in each song and provides a very transformative and progressive side to the band’s music, one which will hopefully translate well into a live setting.
Will ‘Queen of Time’ make it to end of 2018 ‘Top 10 lists’? Only time will tell. But the Finns can rest comfortably in the fact that they have created another album that is going to be in the thoughts of those making those lists. While this album won’t be for everyone, anybody that has any sort of adoration or love of the melodic death, progressive or folk metal genres will find something to enjoy at separate times on this album, and that makes it worth checking out purely on its own.
Many thought it would be difficult for Amorphis to top ‘Under the Red Cloud’, yet the band has seemingly taken every aspect of that album that the fans loved, amped it to the max, and then recorded ‘Queen of Time’. At a time where it is imperative that bands adapt to the ever changing musical landscape, Amorphis has introduced new elements to their music and has reinvigorated their sound in the process, proving that almost 30 years into their career that they have no intentions of slowing down.