AMORPHIS: THE KARELIAN ISTHMUS (1992)
1) Karelia; 2) The Gathering; 3) Grail's Mysteries; 4) Warriors Trial; 5) Black Embrace; 6) The Exile Of The Sons Of Uisliu; 7) The Lost Name Of God; 8) The Pilgrimage; 9) Misery Path; 10) Sign From The North Side; 11*) Vulgar Necrolatry.
Let us get this out of the way first: I do not «get» the appeal of death metal vocals at all. I admire people who are capable of firing up their larynxes that way without having to be rushed to the hospital fifteen minutes into one of their shows or recording sessions, and I even admit that an occasional usage — in particularly appropriate spots, like on 'Boris The Spider' — of the death metal growl may be warranted. But, for all I know, death metal vocalists growl the entire way through their LPs simply out of sheer embarrassment that someone might, like, actually make out the lyrics — because, let us admit it, if there is one thing in death metal that may easily compete with the silliness of the ubiquitous chorus of "HHHRRRWWWAAAARRRGHH", it can only be the texts that go along with it.
Of course, Amorphis must be given some leeway in the matter, considering that they come from Finland, where the snow falls heavy and the language belongs to a different family (not that Norwegian death metal poems are any better, though, and Norwegians have no linguistic excuse). At the heart of the band is rhythm guitarist/vocalist Tomi Koivusaari, who also writes much of the music, and lead guitarist Esa Holopainen, who writes the rest of the music and bears primary responsibility for the lyrics. Then there's a rhythm section that will remain nameless — and, at this time in their life, there is no keyboard player in the band.
Which, basically, ensures that The Karelian Isthmus is as generic a death metal record as they come. Fourty-five seconds of medieval acoustic intro, followed by ten virtually indistinguishable slabs of metallic doom. (By «virtually» I mean that pretty much every song begins with the same type of crushing power chord — experienced fans, later on, will obviously pick out the differences). The band's style relies primarily on riffage: solo passages are scarce and brief compared to meticulously calculated rhythmic figures, which always come under one of two sauces — «brutal low» and «melodic high», with each song usually sharing at least one sub-section of each. The other typical convention of death metal — alternating between slow/ominous and fast/apocalyptic — is also well respected throughout.
The album frequently provokes opinion battles: regular death metal fans may swear by it as Amorphis' finest moment, angry at the band for an early betrayal of the strict form, whereas prog-metal admirers tend to think of it as little other than an early initiation ritual, upon the performance of which Koivusaari and Holopainen were free to expand their vision. All I can say here is that death metal, ridiculous vocals and teen fantasy lyrics aside, is a fairly difficult thing to master, and it is somewhat of a dim pleasure to watch the band wind its way through the complex mazes of their riffage regardless of any other considerations. But, for one thing, it's impossible to convey or justify this pleasure in a simple, hastily slapped together review; for another, I wouldn't feel like doing it even if I could do it.
Oh yes, if you are really interested, this is also one Amorphis album that deals slightly less with the band's cherished Finnish legacy and slightly more with Celtic and Germanic motives (which may explain the more conventional whiff of their music-making as well; and don't expect me to quote any of the lyrics). And it also gets a thumbs down — respect for the riffage notwithstanding, I think I'll still be going along with the prog-metalheads on this one. Generic death metal just ain't my cup of tea — and, for that matter, it is rather Lady Gaga that is the officially anointed prophet of the Apocalypse, than any death metal band in existence.
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