When you think about a well-respected, oft-cited yet under-selling acts in modern metal, Amorphis are usually right there at the top. In their 25 years of history, they have morphed from a compelling addition to the early Scandinavian extreme metal scene into an act far more rooted in prog-rock and traditional heavy metal; all the while, despite being met with fairly consistent critical acclaim, they’ve been somewhat overlooked commercially. Since I’m just as guilty of generally overlooking huge swathes of their releases in my pursuit of more immediate and available auditory stimuli, when Under the Red Cloud showed up in our list of available promos, I figured it was high-time that I give the band a real shot.
Anybody who has read some of my previous reviews knows of my fondness for the traditional metal renaissance that has been happening over the last for years; with Under the Red Cloud, I can’t help but see Amorphis as being a bit of kindred spirits to a lot of those heftier acts in that modern traditional metal scene. None of this is to say that Amorphis is now part of the new wave of traditional metal though; on the contrary, despite this apparent fondness for traditional sounds, they seem to have gone back and picked up some of their melo-death sensibilities.
A problem that often occurs in bands that make use of both guttural and clean singing styles is that the singer will have these maddening, incredible growls and/or screams, but that then his clean vocals will lose all of the intensity. The effect has always been jarring to me and I have, in many cases, been completely turned off by singers who can’t maintain the intensity when shifting between styles. This is certainly not the case with Tomi Joutsen, whose throaty growls mix beautifully with his full-chested bellows. As spectacular as all of the performances in this record are, his vocals are simply awe-inspiring.
Is the album perfect? No. There are several songs that sound pretty similar to each other and that, I swear, use the exact same vocal melody in the chorus. This is made more obvious by the fact that two of these incredibly similar songs are back to back on the album: “Sacrifice” and “Dark Path”. Although they are actually two of the best songs on the album, the fact that at first I was convinced that I was listening to the same song was very odd. The album also suffers slightly from a lack of real peaks, with few specific “wow” sort of moments for the listener to latch on to. Having said all of this, these are very small issues, especially considering how the general quality of the music is so high.
Overall, I now have a better grasp of all the critical hype that has surrounded this band. The skill for both songcrafting and musicianship on display is frankly incredible, and there is always something that will draw the listener in to each specific song. Under the Red Cloud is definitely worth checking out for just about anyone into heavy music.
Now excuse me while I go work my way back through the band’s discography.