AMORPHIS: ELEGY (1996)
1) Better Unborn; 2) Against Widows; 3) The Orphan; 4) On Rich And Poor; 5) My Kantele; 6) Cares; 7) Song Of The Troubled One; 8) Weeper On The Shore; 9) Elegy; 10) Relief; 11) My Kantele (acoustic version).
More line-up changes. The old keyboard player is out, replaced by Kim Rantala (on piano and... accordion?); and a new «clean» vocalist, Pasi Koskinen, is admitted as a permanent member. Koivusaari's growling is not out, however; «romantic hero» and «Cookie Monster» type vocals are shared in a 50-50 ratio (and, frankly, I wouldn't be too hasty to claim that Pasi's epic vocalizing style is always and necessarily a relief after Tomi's growls).
It is not just the usual band member rotation, though, but the entire spirit that keeps evolving. If Tales was still essentially a «death metal» album with artsy/progressive inclinations, then Elegy is almost completely «prog-metal», with very few reminiscences (other than the growling) of how it once used to be. In fact, even the «metal» aspect is sometimes downplayed, with acoustic guitars, synthesizers, and unpredictable excursions into alien territory diversifying the playground.
No song embodies all the change better than 'Better Unborn', with its Eastern overtones and fake sitar bits setting the scene and then, a minute into the song, the album's hugest and most memorable riff taking over, as if the band wanted to create their equivalent of Led Zep's 'Kashmir'. The song rides a bombastic, but believable apocalyptic groove, within which even the growling, alternating with Pasi's «normal» vocals, has its proper place. You can grovel before its power, or you can just go down the road whistling out the tune — a notable rarity for prog-metal anthems.
Or, perhaps, the most memorable (if not so «huge») riff is, after all, to be found in the middle of 'On Rich And Poor' — the terrific melody that starts around 1:43 into the song, then gets double tracked and sticks in your head the same way a certain classical theme could do it (and there must have been lots of classical theme influences behind this album). Melodicity is also at the heart of 'My Kantele', on which old-fashioned Moog-ish synthesizers rule the day, and on 'Song Of The Troubled One', where the wall of sound thinly veils something like an old Celtic dance tune.
The riskiest track on the entire album is 'Cares'. Starting out innocently, in the fashion of a good old thrash number (but still embellished by keyboards), and proceeding through a couple signature changes, it suddenly breaks into what, by all accounts, sounds like several bars of Cossack dancing, accompanied by Hawaiian guitars (!) — then goes back to «normal» — then segues into another interlude, this time built on a hardcore techno beat, synth loops and all, and some pseudo-industrial-electronic scraping that may or may not be simulated on one of the guitars. The most bizarre thing about this crazyass synthesis is that, somehow, it does not feel like total kitsch — the first break is just too weird for the listener to determine whether it fits in or not, and the second one is gradually shifted from total techno to a bit of techno-funk and then back into the regular metallic fold, so that you don't really get the impression of a hostile radio station having just tuned in on you for a couple dozen seconds.
'Cares' is reason enough for the curious music lover to pay attention to Elegy, but, honestly, there is not a single bad track on here: if anything, the album could be lovingly dedicated to the great progressive rock heroes of the early 1970s — of course, it does not have nearly as many innovative or downright exciting ideas, but it's got the benefit of the «death metal experience», meaning these guys know how to get a big sound with plenty of crunch and edge. For the record, this time around most of the lyrical subjects and atmospheric inspiration are drawn from the Kanteletar, the chief Finnish competitor to Kalevala, but that certainly does not mean that anyone has to go through a crash course in the literary reinvention of Finnish mythology in order to gain a deeper, more spiritually adequate understanding of how Elegy works. Just pretend it's all about dungeons & dragons, even if that's not really true. Nothing is wrong with dungeons & dragons , anyway, if they are being personified with such an intelligent balance of melodicity and headbanging. Clearly a thumbs up here from all points of view.
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