August 15, 2017

Amorphis - Tales from the Thousand Lakes

By Nate Garrett. On their second full-length album Tales from the Thousand Lakes, Finnish band Amorphis crafted an ambitious concept album based on Kalevala, the national epic of their home country. Twenty-three years after its release, it remains a staple of forward-thinking death metal.
By Nate Garrett.

Cover art by Sjlvain Bellemare.

On their second full-length album Tales from the Thousand Lakes, Finnish band Amorphis crafted an ambitious concept album based on Kalevala, the national epic of their home country. Twenty-three years after its release, it remains a staple of forward-thinking death metal.

Opening track "Thousand Lakes" is an instrumental written and performed by then-newest member of the band, keyboardist Kasper Mårtenson. Tales From The Thousand Lakes’ cover painting is a transportive piece of art that evokes a frigid, haunting atmosphere, and this piano-driven intro is the sonic realization of that vibe. Furthermore, the epic poem on which the album is based begins with a creation myth, and when a chorus of bells enters to signal the end of the introduction and beginning of the album itself, it indeed feels as though this is the genesis of something awe-inspiring.

The song "Into Hiding" immediately showcases the band’s utilization of emotive single-note melodies. Throughout the album, these leads soar above the chord progressions of the rhythm section and elevate each song to a level of archetypal familiarity. In more recent years, this approach to lead guitar in songwriting has been used to great effect by fellow Finns Hooded Menace (more atonal, less melodic), and contemporary neighbors Kvelertak (more rock n roll, less traditional folk). Another element introduced by this song is the addition of clean singing. The clean vocals are introduced gradually and are an acquired taste, but once the initial shock has subsided they do enhance the album. Two tracks in, the band has already implemented piano, synth, and operatic vocals, things that were either nonexistent or used sparingly on previous releases. It’s already clear that Amorphis are intent on traversing new territory on this record.

Amorphis 2015. Photos by Dvergir

"The Castaway" features more memorable leads, this time being played in unison by guitar and synth. The verse riff is among the catchiest on the album, and the chorus is as majestic and beautiful as the constraints of death metal will allow. On this tune, Amorphis dip their toes into some elements of doom metal, but they don’t fully dive in until the next song, aptly titled "First Doom". This track is among the album’s heaviest, and one of only two songs that features original lyrics (the rest are traditional, taken from the aforementioned Kalevala). Next is "Black Winter Day", which features more prominent synth and operatic singing. The tone of the album has been firmly established at this point, so the return of the keys and clean vocals is welcome and no longer jarring.

The rest of the album continues upon this course. Guitar and synth leads intertwine above powerful, familiar chord progressions. Savage death metal vocals dominate, but occasionally give way to dramatic singing. The entire affair unfolds and echoes with a dark, chilling quality. Amorphis begin to take even more chances toward the last couple of songs. This culminates in a couple of left-field passages in closing track "Magic and Mayhem", that reside somewhere between industrial, techno, and dance music. If I had to pinpoint a weak point in the album, I suppose this would be it. However, as out of place as it may be, I still enjoy it.

Any band that takes chances in order to evolve and remain fresh will inevitably face criticism for it. Metallica were called sellouts as early as the introduction of acoustic guitar on Ride the Lightning. Fortunately, great bands will always take risks. In all likelihood, Amorphis knew they would alienate death metal purists by making an album like Tales from the Thousand Lakes. Fortunately they didn’t let that stop them from recording a thrilling, one-of-a-kind masterpiece that the rest of us can still enjoy over two decades later.


Nate plays in Spirit Adrift and Gatecreeper.
Tagged with 1994, Amorphis, death metal, doom metal, Dvergir, Nate Garrett, progressive metal, Relapse Records
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