It’s amazing to think that 24 years after ‘Tales From The Thousand Lakes’, here we are in 2018 and it feels like Amorphis haven’t lost a single step, having just dropped their brilliant 13th album, entitled ‘Queen Of Time’. With an array of synth pads & leads, from the exciting, shimmering arpeggios in ‘The Bee’ to the retro 80s synth pad & lead of ‘Grain Of Sand’ and of course Tomi’s silky lead vocals. Add to this a host of guest musicians, providing the depth, character and variety unique to their instrumentation and you really start to feel as though you own something very special. Oh, and let’s not forget the dramatic, signature rising key changes we come to expect from this band – there are plenty of those to be heard on this record.
There’s no mistaking the opener, since this track is the first promotional song picked from the album. ‘The Bee’ is instantly recognisable and utterly astounding. Everything about it has been thoroughly thought about and well-constructed, in particular the heavily synth-led intro, plenty of arpeggios and hooky guitar riffs. The vocals sit well into the framework, opting for harsh vocals during the verses and clean for the choruses. The addition of hypnotic, dream-like female vocals and guest laryngeal singer Albert Kuvezin adds an extra atmospheric layer too. For the final chorus we have an additional key change and a shift from clean to harsh vocals, providing added dramatic effect for the close.
‘Message In The Amber’ heavily features Folk melodies, the main motif becoming increasingly catchy with every listen, with the help of guest musician Chrigel Glanzmann of Eluveitie, who is once again lending his talents for Amorphis by providing pipes. Dynamically, the verses are rather subdued, with a heavier pre-chorus & chorus. Whilst not hugely progressive, this track is extremely catchy with it’s jaunty melodies and predictable yet sturdy verse/chorus structure, including a well-placed instrumental middle-8 part way through.
Changing direction again, next up is ‘Daughter Of Hate’ with its pipe organ intro and clean, yet brooding vocals during the verses. Occasionally there is a slightly darker tone to this song, emphasised by a heavier, vitriolic chorus complete with harsh vocals, but not without its uplifting moments to counteract the gloominess. This song also features another guest instrumentalist, as Jørgen Munkeby performs a sublime saxophone refrain that dances and flutters over the arrangement and whilst certain instruments have a tendency to crash & burn in the wrong setting & style, I’m pleased to say that nothing feels wrong about this at all, completely the opposite in fact, the sax compliments the piece beautifully. But it doesn’t end there, as we are introduced to a choir and for the first time, poetic lyricist Pekka Kainulainen, providing spoken word narration during the second instrumental break, which seems fitting given that his poetry has been directly translated from Finnish to English on previous albums, in particular ‘Silent Waters’ – one of my favourite releases to date.
The brief intro of ‘The Golden Elk’ is both mysterious & magical and with good reason, for this song directly references the “Queen of Time – The Mother of Time & Tide, the Shaper of Destinies”. Whilst it’s not the heaviest or most memorable track on the album, it has plenty of relevance to the story and the oriental melodic scales give it a West-Asian / Middle-Eastern flavour, particularly during the acoustic instrumental section, which features what I believe sounds like an Oud (unfortunately there aren’t any instrumentation notes on this song to confirm).
The second single of the album, ‘Wrong Direction’ stands out with its euphoric, uplifting melodies, fluttering arpeggios and soaring clean vocal refrains, which are far more prominent than the harsh vocals. The Folk melodies also return here, as does the further experimentation with vocal synthesis during a couple of the quieter moments. Another great choice for a promotional track – a challenging task when there are so many gems to choose from!
No one will forget the hooky riffs of ‘Heart Of The Giant’ in a hurry and what a tune it is too. If that isn’t enough, this track is topped off with some brilliantly effective syncopated rhythms and emotionally charged vocal delivery for good measure. That said, I’m ever so slightly put off by the synth solo during the final instrumental break, as it detracts from the heavy, powerful & dramatic arrangements that surround it, but otherwise this song is flawless and in all honesty it’s a very minor point based on personal taste rather than of quality.
Heading into the final third before the closing track, ‘We Accursed’ begins with a Celtic Folk intro, complete with a flanged guitar and followed shortly after by a magnificent, soaring guitar solo prior to the opening verse. The oldschool prog-like Draw Organ is a little jarring, although Amorphis have enjoyed using it across many of their albums in the past, so I guess by now we can accept this as part of their signature sound. Another great moment here is the duelling synth & guitar moment, with each instrument playing off against the other with their own solos, but what I find most interesting on this track is the amount of groove it has, which really sets it apart from other tracks and adds a lovely dynamic – a nice touch!
‘Grain Of Sand’ follows by kicking off with a rich 80s synth pad & lead before the harsh vocals roar into action for the opening verse, whilst the chorus opts for a mix of clean & harsh vocals and completely clean for the post-chorus bars. There are plenty more of those hooky riffs to keep the momentum going and yet again, as per the preceding track, more superb guitar & synth interplay during the instrumental break.
The penultimate track is the third promotional video to be released and is where things get very interesting, as the musical landscape shifts big time on ‘Amongst Stars’. For a start, the folky, enchanting melodies have an almost Nightwish-like flair along with a surprisingly prominent female vocal performance from none other than former The Gathering & current VUUR front-woman Anneke van Giersbergen, this has all the hallmarks of epic, grandiose Symphonic Metal in all its glory. Whilst the style has definitely switched, the song still manages to retain the core signature elements that make it unmistakably Amorphis at heart, albeit on a far grander scale than usual, for example the soaring guitar solo mid-way through, powerful shredding for good measure and Tomi’s vocals providing a supporting role. It’s a bold move that some purists may feel is possibly a step too far, but with such a talented and respected vocalist as Anneke taking the guest vocal spot and maintaining the core sound, I’m hoping this not to be the case and I’m firmly behind the band on this one.
So, to end the album we have ‘Pyres On The Coast’ and surprisingly it’s another stylistic swerve away from what has been on offer so far. This song is darker than the rest, with an almost funeral-like tone, complete with monotone, droning vocal passages to add further emphasis. It’s less melodic during the verses and the arrangements are rather sparse too, yet it’s beautifully balanced out by the more hopeful chorus with its dramatic chord progressions and a symphonic accompaniment during the middle-8. It may not be an explosive or particularly electrifying finish but it sure is a poignant one and completely fitting for the broad musical arc covered by the album as a complete body of work.
The big draw for me has been the diversity of character in each track and the heavy focus on storytelling, taking the listener on a journey throughout the album. This also feels like the band at their boldest, having chosen to work once again with Jens Bogren to produce the album – a guy who has really pushed Amorphis creatively and is really bonding with the band to the point that he may as well be their seventh member. It’s great when musicians and producers naturally click and I really do think this is evident from the material they have put together. Add to this the top-notch calibre of guest musicians involved in the project and you have the proverbial cherry on the top of an already superb album. By the time you’ve listened for yourself, you may believe this takes the crown as the greatest Amorphis album so far, but even if you feel it’s not taken the top spot, Queen Of Time is surely a worthy contender and I’m personally ranking it in at least their all-time top 5.
Amorphis – The Bee (Official Video)
Amorphis – Wrong Direction (Official Video)
Amorphis – Amongst Stars (Official Video)