Title: Under the Red Cloud
Genre: Progressive Metal
Release Date: 4th September 2015
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Hails to almighty AMORPHIS and congratulations on their twelfth opus, ‘Under the Red Cloud’! Once again they made “Album of the Month” in the Metal Hammer (for the sixth time by now) and have been praised in the press as well as by fans all over the world ever since the release of ‘Under the Red Cloud’ this September – deservedly so. There have been high expectations and much anticipation after the previous record ‘Circle’ and, lucky us, the prog metallers' latest achievement has proven to be another masterpiece of great hymns.
Obviously, AMORPHIS are one of the many metal acts from Finland that actually don't need introduction. However, in case you've been living under a rock, allow me to introduce these Suomi song smiths: originally, a death metal band founded by Jan “Snoopy” Rechberger, Tomi Koivusaari, and Esa Holopainen; a band celebrating their silver jubilee this year; a band that will enthral you, particularly, if you're into melodic death metal with progressive elements of the folk and oriental kind. At Fascination Street Studios, AMORPHIS brought ‘Under the Red Cloud’ to life and immortalized it on a disc together with the Swedish producer and mixer Jens Bogren (MOONSPELL, OPETH, KATATONIA, SOILWORK, KREATOR, DARK TRANQUILLITY, PARADISE LOST). According to keyboardist Kallio, he was “just the right person” for the job and, as vocalist Joutsen says, “in a way a dream come true” to work with him. Brace yourselves for touchingly melancholic tunes within ten gripping bang-your-head tracks.
‘Under the Red Cloud’ follows the previous ‘Circle’ by increasing the dose of hard and heaviness, in addition, the tempos are lifted up, more harsh vocals are added, and moreover, AMORPHIS bring their characteristically unique sound, that is already diverse in nature, to perfection. Thus, even though the new record sounds like typical AMORPHIS, namely rich in variety, when listening to it neither the impression of dull repetition nor that they annoyingly overdo it comes up. Besides, there are absolutely no filler songs, orchestrations and production are outstanding, and several guest musicians make a great contribution to the sound of ‘Under the Red Cloud’.
The opening and title track sets in with a calm melodic piano intro; a subtle electric guitar and the strumming of acoustic guitar in the background join in followed by growing drums as the song leads to the first catchy and forceful chorus. Towards the end it presents a rapid-flowing keyboard and guitar solo before it closes with Joutsen's masterful growling of the album title. The following track, ‘The Four Wise Ones’, kicks right off with growls and displays Joutsen's impressive vocal acrobatics: We know that he can effortlessly vary between beautiful, clear vocals and harsh growls, but the harshly sung chorus of this track also features a switch over to higher pitched screaming in Black Metal style that we haven't heard before. An interlude of a calmer part with slightly distorted female vocals by Aleah Stanbridge (ALEAH, TREES OF ETERNITY) on top of the sounds of some tranquil flute and organ that is taken over by Joutsen's growls as the speed is picked up once again and a guitar solo builds up before the final repetition of the chorus, all make up an exciting structure of a very vigorous and heavy second song.
With its impelling killer riff, ‘Bad Blood’ is a true neck-breaker. There are growls in the verse alternating with a melodic chorus sung in clear vocals. It's easy to imagine how ‘Bad Blood’ played live would make the crowd go berserk. ‘The Skull’ follows a similar approach: growls in verse and clear vocals in another powerful chorus. In addition, you can hear more jazzy sounding organs played by the master of keys, Kallio, during a beautifully relaxing middle section and towards the end of the song. An electric sitar and percussions (played by Martin Lopez known from SOEN, OPETH, and AMON AMARTH) as well as high-pitched flutes (played by Chrigel Glanzmann of ELUVEITIE) contribute to the eastern vibes on the first single, ‘Death of King’. “Kebab Metal” songs like this, as the band calls their tunes inspired by Middle Eastern folk, are reminiscent of previous albums, such as, ‘Elegy’ when AMORPHIS' oriental influences used to be more prominent. Being the most proggy tune on the record this is one of my personal highlights; it's a sonic treat indeed with its diversity and passion for details, an epic chorus, and its driving force.
It's no surprise that the upbeat ‘Sacrifice’ has been chosen as the second single to be played on the radio. Showing AMORPHIS' softer side it's the only song that doesn't feature any growls; it presents a simple structure and a distinctive, catchy chorus. The riff in the intro slightly reminds me of the popular ‘House of Sleep’ from the ‘Eclipse’ album. Joutsen's animalistic ROOAARRR on top of the pure piano and acoustic guitar intro in ‘Dark Path’ promises another head-banger. As Joutsen says in an interview keeping a straight face and making band mate Holopainen laugh: “Yeah, I'm a heavy dude.” Similar to ‘The Four Wise Ones’, there are again the higher-pitched harsh Death Metal vocals, this time in the verses, and clear vocals in the epic chorus making this song one of the hardest ones without losing the melodic, epic feel – clearly another highlight on the album. A dramatic pause, crunching guitars and another scream give way to the second verse that leads on to an amazingly dynamic and dark bridge that is enriched by doomy organs in the background. Then the intro's sweet piano with acoustic guitar tune lifts the heavy gloom of this sinister passage on the “dark path” and AMORPHIS celebrate for the last time the chorus with all their vocal and instrumental power.
Two heavy folk metal tunes, ‘Enemy At The Gates’ and ‘Tree Of Ages’, follow. The former features flutes, guitars, and keys that sound like from the Arabian Nights while the latter presents Celtic folk influences. During both it's impossible to just sit still. The soulful ‘White Night’ is excitingly different, and therefore, an expressive closing track. A duet between Stanbridge's soft and angelic vocals next to otherworldly melodies, on the one side, and Joutsen's growling to prominent guitars, on the other, make it a beautifully melancholic and yet heavy track at once. This “amorphous” song shows the unique union of moody harmonies and pure heaviness with which AMORPHIS tend to sweep us off our feet.
On the whole, I can only say this: The Fins are back, and they're growing stronger and stronger after a history of a quarter-century offering Melodic Metal craft at its best – an alchemic blend of heavy, death, prog, and folk including some oriental spices. With ‘Under the Red Cloud’ AMORPHIS show that they know how to whip up enthusiasm in their listeners as they take us on an atmospheric and at the same time truly dynamic sonic journey. I cannot wait to hear them present their new material live on the upcoming tour with their compatriots NIGHTWISH in November/ December and highly recommend to join in their following headliner club shows, that are always quite energetic, before the end of the year. Until then, I will be walking under the red cloud enjoying the ear worms stuck in my head.
01. Under The Red Cloud
02. The Four Wise Ones
03. Bad Blood
04. The Skull
05. Death Of A King
07. Dark Path
08. Enemy At The Gates
09. Tree Of Ages
10. White Night
Tomi Joutsen – Vocals
Esa Holopainen – Lead Guitar
Tomi Koivusaari – Rhythm Guitar
Niclas Etelävuori – Bass, live backing vocals
Santeri Kallio – Keys
Jan Rechberger – Drums
http://amorphis.net / https://www.facebook.com/amorphis
Total: 9.5 / 10