What we have here is, unabashedly, my favorite metal record of 2013. It’s far more even than just this. If you don’t believe me, just give it a few spins and read my detailed descriptions while you do so.
For quite a few years now, Amorphis has become my favorite band. I simply adore the epic, yet addicting mixture of genres that the band employs. I have observed with much interest its evolution from a progressive death metal band with traditional folk hints (as in the amazingly innovative Tales From The Thousand Lakes) over experimental progressive rock and metal outputs with jazzy parts (such as the absolutely stunning Am Universum), to the more recent stuff in form of the powerful mixture of catchy melodies, well thought out folk lyrics, epic grace, stunning vocals, and a solid dose of energy seen on Eclipse. With the arrival of singer Tomi Joutsen, the band finally got some stability and has found its very own style. The last four studio outputs have many strong points in common: including catchy hit singles, a few darker and harsher tracks, and many epic melodic metal hymns with progressive folk passages. Eclipse was definitely the hit album with many short and catchy tracks, Silent Waters was a grippingly atmospheric record with a darker and more desperate tone,Skyforger had more of an epic and melodic concept, and The Beginning Of Times featured more folk elements, more thought out and mature song structures, and a few surprises in the form of a few female vocals (for example). Now, what about Circle?
Just when I thought that I had seen and heard it all and thought I’d be seeing the band struggle to achieve a few much-needed fresh changes, they once again prove their high quality and deliver another truly outstanding record in form of Circle. With their fifth record in seven years, the band surprises once again. Amorphis has kept all the catchy and uniquely identifying trademarks of the last four releases, while adding something new to it. The fresh and edgy production by Peter Tägtgren of Hypocrisy and Pain fame definitely works well, and rewards the band for its courageous choice to change a few things to keep on evolving.
The band offers some of its most brutal and pitiless songs since the first two recordings. The apocalyptic opener “Shades Of Gray” mixes powerful death metal vocals with dark and heavy riffing, and comes as quite a surprise that might please many old school Amorphis fans. The few symphonic elements are well integrated and definitely not too overwhelming. The energizing chorus then features clean vocals that won’t get out of your mind once you’ve heard them. This opener defines everything Amorphis is and has always been about, and combies all qualities in one single track. “Shades Of Gray” is an instant masterpiece that makes me want to fall to my knees. The epic melodies, the unchained energy, and the heavenly vocals by Tomi Joutsen put a big smile on my face, make me bang along with enthusiasm, and put tears in my eyes during the more emotional moments. No other band is able to touch me as much these days. Later on, “Enchanted By The Moon” hits the same nerve, but it’s a little bit less brutal and more atmospheric. I would even say this is the most atmospheric track, not only on this release, but maybe the best atmospheric track Amorphis has ever written.
And this is only the beginning. The band doesn’t only go back to its death metal roots for a few songs, they also add a few black metal touches in a couple of tracks that completely surprised me. The aforementioned atmospheric masterpiece “Enchanted By The Moon”, and especially “Nightbird’s Song” should be mentioned. The latter starts with appeasing folk melodies, and what happens then is simply incredible. We get incredibly performed black metal vocals that slowly switch to more grounded death metal growls, before getting hit with a chorus loaded with melodic cleans. Yes, all of this is performed by the same person. The progressive folk passages in the middle add another unexpected touch, and give you a generous break before the madness starts all over again. Normally, this would be the song of the album and the year. You will soon read why this masterpiece isn’t even the standout song of the record.
To spend more time on the vocals, it’s simply incredible how Joutsen performs on this release. He sings calm and mystic parts, almost pop oriented hooks, powerful melodic metal vocal lines, unchained death metal growls, and now even bleak black metal shrieks in short and well-employed doses. There isn’t a style this man isn’t able to perform to perfection, it seems. I have always admired his style, but this record is his very own magnum opus. To my taste, there is no better vocalist alive.
The band also adds a newfound soft side to their sound in form of enchanting and dreamy folk elements that might please the power metal community. The band had already experimented with folk sounds before, of course, but they have now reached out for a new level of involvement. Just listen to the introduction and appeasing melodies of “Mission” that might appeal to those who liked the Pasi Koskinen era. The faster and even more accessible “The Wanderer” has been chosen as the album’s second single for a very good reason, and hits the same passionate vein without sounding too similar. The vocals and the outstanding guitar solo once again drive me crazy in a very positive sense. The heavier “Narrow Path” is the most energizing folky track on the record, and definitely worth your attention as well. The atmospheric introduction and the middle section with pianos, flutes,and another excellent guitar solo rings as pure metal perfection to my ears. It’s definitely the best folk-inspired track Amorphis has ever written. “Into The Abyss” has an epic feeling, sounds like a mixture of the tone from Tuonela and Skyforger, and would have been a stand out song on any of those two prior releases. The closing “A New Day” ends the record on a very atmospheric, epic, and almost cinematic note, with with both jazz and folk elements dominating the closing moments of one of, if not the best, album wrap-up that the band has ever written.
The folk elements throughout the album can in fact be described as a sort of “guiding line” for the record, as they appear in some way in nearly all tracks. Some songs also mix both the new dominant folk elements and the black metal tones. This mixture is awe-inspiring.
There is then one final track that I need to point out, which is the first single “Hopeless Days”. This song is easily among the ten best songs I have ever listened to in my life. Along with “Alone” and “Sky is Mine” (as well as the new “Nightbird’s Song” and also “Narrow Path”), it’s among my favorite Amorphis songs, although the band has written a large number of incredible tracks and delivers an absolute stand out record with Circle. It’s hard to describe, but in my opinion “Hopeless Days” has something more to offer than “Nightbird’s Song” and “Narrow Path” – the perfect catchiness. The mixture of heavy and dark riffs and the highly emotional and melodic clean vocals already works in an excellent manner, the simplistic but efficient piano that guides the track, the vivid and pumping rhythm section, and the multiple vocal parts are important steps on the ladder to musical perfection. Finally comes the chorus. Good God, this is so epic and passionate that it gives me instant goose bumps each time I listen to it. And it’s incredibly catchy without sounding too simple. It’s one of the catchiest tracks the band has ever written and the best choice for a single that could have been made. The balance of harsh and soft parts is outstanding.
This album only includes killer tracks. You may think I exaggerate, but I simply don’t. It is among or maybe the best record I have ever listened to in my whole life. Only time will tell, though I’m pretty sure that this release will pass the test of time.
Thank you, Amorphis! Of course, any metal head should immediately call this album his or her own. Don’t forget to grab the limited box set edition that includes three more bonus tracks and many interesting gimmicks.