AMORPHIS: TUONELA (1999)
1) The Way; 2) Morning Star; 3) Nightfall; 4) Tuonela; 5) Greed; 6) Divinity; 7) Shining; 8) Withered; 9) Rusty Moon; 10) Summer's End.
Once again, no regular keyboard player here, although guest musician Santeri Kallio does contribute a limited amount of synths and what-not. This indicates another change of style, but the band definitely does not plan upon returning to its death metal past. Only one song ('Greed') still employs growling vocals, and, as an exception in a particularly evil-tinged composition, they feel very much in place. And the music moves closer to noise- and stoner-metal this time, with carefully carved out riffs often replaced by oceans of metallic jangle.
Which indicates that they really wanted to make Tuonela a «mood» album. The word itself is the Finnish equivalent of the Underworld, literally «death place» — and Finnish ideas on that place do not differ that much from Germanic-Scandinavian representations (in fact, the very word tuoni 'death' is ultimately of Scandinavian origin) — and that begs for one hell of a grim mood, which the band tries to conjure with the power of multiple overdubs and droning guitar melodies. The latter aren't particularly original, but they do yield the proper atmosphere.
Nothing better than 'The Way', though. Quite unexpectedly, it starts off in bursts of New Wave-style funky licks that bring to mind King Crimson or U2 rather than any metal or old-school prog band — then, although a metallic rhythm track is added for crunch, eventually delves into classic rock mode, adding ecstatic 1970s-style solos, while Koskinen seems to sing with increased confidence: he is now loud, proud, epic, but has that acid-angry strain in his voice whose presence always separates cool-sounding metal dudes from dorky-sounding ones (think someone like Ronnie James Dio, even though Koskinen has nowhere near the sonic power). The lyrics are corny — "since the stars have shone, the devil has shown me way" is just a tad too obvious — but that's the only thing that prevents 'The Way' from becoming a total musical masterpiece; I find no other complaints about any other part of the song. They even bring in scorching wah-wah guitars to kick the flames ever higher. That's right — what sort of an album about Hell could do without a well-placed wah-wah growl from time to time?
I cannot say that any individual tracks after that one rope me in with as much security, but I really like the overall sound the guys got here. Second track, 'Morning Star', comes across as basic stoner noise upon first listen, but after a while, its melodic groove sets in firmly, and then there's also simple respect for how masterfully the aural effect has been set up — with all these overdubs, subtle tension build-ups, and an inspired, teeth-clenched drive to the very end, it all sounds damn serious. The only great, Sabbath-worthy riff is on 'Greed', but the record is not really about riffage. It wants to bury you under it, which is reasonable considering it's all about a journey to Hades, and I can at least vouch for myself that I did spend some time climbing from under it.
It could become a tad too monotonous, eventually, despite only running for 46 minutes, but the band does not forget about little diversifying touches — the Mid-Eastern motives in 'Nightfall', the sax and piano coda in the title track, the electric organ solo on 'Divinity', the odd garage-like stop-and-start structure of 'Shining', the flute (!) arrangements on 'Rusty Moon'... hmm, until now I never realized myself there were so many of these flourishes on the record. But there they are. So it's not their best «metal» album, and far from their best «progressive» outfit (certainly not as daring as Elegy), but it serves its purpose. Welcome to our local branch of the Underworld — you don't have to buy anything if you don't want to, but a thumbs up would be nice.
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