AMORPHIS: AM UNIVERSUM (2001)
1) Alone; 2) Goddess (Of The Sad Man); 3) The Night Is Over; 4) Shatters Within; 5) Crimson Wave; 6) Drifting Memories; 7) Forever More; 8) Veil Of Sin; 9) Captured State; 10) Grieve Stricken Heart.
Not only is this no longer «death metal», it is no longer «metal» at all, period. The new sound developed on Tuonela stuck, and Am Universum adopts it for almost all of its tunes. Gone completely are the death metal vocals, along with those deep hewn, pitch black riffs that could sometimes challenge Tony Iommi, replaced throughout with Koskinen's sharp-edged singing and riffage that mixes New Wave-style echo-based phrasing with the alt-rock drone. And that's how it is, song after song after song.
Two things save Am Universum from sucking. First, although the guitar tones are extremely similar, the band varies the arrangements by bringing in saxophones (contributed by Sakari Kukko on about half of the tracks), diverse types of keyboards (the keyboardist spot is once again occupied by a new arrival, Santeri Kallio), and even a musical saw on one of the songs. Repeated listens bring out these nuances fair well enough.
Second, the progressive melodies are still okay. Somehow, almost without noticing, as the band progressed from growling to singing, they became quite good at writing catchy vocal parts. Try to deconstruct the sonic layers of 'Alone', and behind all the roar lies a fairly decent prog-pop song with dark overtones (well, the day Amorphis start writing songs with light overtones is probably the day they start growing bananas in Finland). So it may begin a bit too uncomfortably close to Pink Floyd's 'Run Like Hell', but then it meets up with the heavy guitars and with the power chorus and with the psychedelic guitar solo and... well, it's not really as dull as the first paragraph of this review could possibly hint.
I am also a big fan of 'The Night Is Over', where it is not even clear which of the two is more responsible for the song's deadly snarl — the overdriven wah-wah guitars or the apocalyptic organ. The heart-crushing shifts between the more «romantic» middle eights, replete with dreamy slide guitars and stuff, and the crashing power chords of the main verse/chorus melody have a charming retro spirit to them, as in several guys getting together and deciding to simply put out a good old art-rock song in the old, time-tested way. Cute!
Now that I keep relistening to bits and pieces of this for the sake of nurturing extra ideas, I keep liking the songs more and more, almost to my amazement, considering how much I normally detest generic alt-rock lashing, of which there is so much on this album. It's just that every song has tons of layers in it. So I never paid any attention to 'Captured State' first or second time around — just seemed like a so-so mid-tempo piece of rock ballast to me. But in reality, even at its most deafening, the song has at least one or two extra melodic lead parts tucked away in the speakers. And the keyboard accompaniment is a Hammond organ (or something), so far removed from the usual cold-blooded synthesizers. And it is still easily the weakest, or one of the weakest, contributions on the entire album.
I just like this groove the band has developed — it does not work wonders for catchy melodies, but it's perfectly adequate, and the album grows and grows in stature with each new listen. Oh, and its subject themes? Uh, lost love, loved loss, failed memories, memorized failures, whatever. It's dark, but too melodic and dynamic to be significantly depressing. Angry, wrathful, epic, romantic, but never foolish enough to pester you with its overbearingly fake emotions. Good stuff — a step down from Tuonela, perhaps, but with so much experience and success behind their backs, Amorphis could allow themselves plenty of steps down before hitting dirt.
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