Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Amorphis - Tales From the Thousand Lakes (1994)

In September 1993, Amorphis entered Studio Sunlight to record their sophomore album, Tales From the Thousand Lakes. Once again, they worked with Tomas Skogsberg, for this full-length that was based on the Finnish national book "Kalevala". For one reason or another, it would take until September of 1994 before this album was released. Whatever the cause, it was well worth the wait. This record marks one of those times when the cover art, perfectly, suits the music and goes well to help establish the atmosphere.

It took a few years before I discovered Amorphis, but this was the album that introduced me to these Finns. Oddly enough, I first heard this while riding back from a concert, with a friend of mine. I recall not being in the mood to check out anything new, but as soon as it began I got quiet. I was staring through the T-tops of the old Camaro that we were riding in, looking up at the stars and the moon. Unexpectedly, the music that filled my ears fit the mood, quite well.

It begins with the piano/keyboard intro, "Thousand Lakes". The atmosphere created here is peaceful yet cold. There's a mystical and, somehow, somber feeling. I would imagine this as the sensation one might feel as they are passing from life into death.

"Into Hiding" starts with fairly slow, doom riffs. This is quite similar to what was found on their first album, The Karelian Isthmus. The song does speed up, and it's worth noting that the production is heavy, yet cushioned in a sense. It's not as abrasive as on the previous album, being kind of blunt rather than sharp. Again, this works well with the peaceful feeling that permeates this record. This is very melodic and epic in nature. There's a clean vocal passage that I absolutely hated, at first. I thought the guy sounded reminiscent of Axl Rose (and I still do, in a way), but it has grown on me, over time. The main riffs of the song seem to be thrash-oriented, with a lot of power chords in the background. The keyboard is used sparingly, adding the effect of some 70s progressive rock sound, near the end.

The melodies on this album do seem inspired by traditional folk music, almost having a medieval vibe to them. "The Castaway" slowly builds up, getting catchier as it goes along. The riffs are almost hypnotic and trance-like. This is somewhat difficult to describe, though I believe the band was called Progressive Death/Doom, around this time, for whatever that is worth. The rhythm guitars maintain some sort of ominous feeling, as the lead produced the hypnotic melodies. It all slows down, nearer to the end, leaving only the keyboards, drums and a distant lead 'solo'. This leads into a very memorable melody which words fail to do justice to.

"First Doom" has a slightly darker feel, filled with the type of epic riffs that were common in early Swedish Death Metal (as well as the first album from Amorphis). I read that the band had already 'matured' so much by this point that they felt odd to put the harsh vocals on this record. It was as if they were somehow beyond that. I, for one, am quite glad that they waited until the next album to abandon this vocal style, as it would have ruined this classic. The closing riffs seem to be drenched in sorrow, though not in a terribly overt manner.

The next song was popular enough to get its own E.P. a short time later. "Black Winter Day" starts out with a keyboard, and has a slightly up-tempo feel, compared to the previous song. It's still very epic and does well to take the listener beyond the real world, into the realm depicted on the album cover. Again, there's brief use of clean vocals on this song that may take some getting used to. There's a decent keyboard melody that then gives way to a lead solo, which is preferable.

"Drowned Maid" seems to pick the pace up a bit, with an added sense of urgency. It gives the feeling of taking some lengthy journey, which is the same throughout the entire album. The music is very memorable and interesting, never boring for even a moment. The tale is sort of bleak, however. While not bearing an oppressive sound, there are still strains of sorrow present here. It ends with the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, where the maid's blood has been offered.

"In the Beginning" flows directly from this, with one of the more depressing riffs on the album. It also opens with a trade off of clean and harsh vocals. The lead melody is truly epic and sort of miserable, yet peaceful at the same time. The song speeds up, though never getting intense. This song preserves the atmosphere that has been created already and adds to it, greatly.

The down-tempo feeling is ever-present in the opening riffs of "Forgotten Sunrise". It continues building, until exploding with a funereal spirit, accompanied by the sound of an organ (or some effect, created by the keyboard). There are some more uplifting moments,serving as peaks to contrast the deep valleys, but even these are obscured by clouds. Despite all of this, there is still a peaceful feeling that pervades all else. It is like the peace one would find from drowning in freezing cold water. As the song slowly fades, you begin to prepare for the end.

"To Father's Cabin" begins with epic thrash riffs and keyboards that blend together, seamlessly. This one might as well be an instrumental, as there is only a single verse that is spoken in a clean and distant voice. This one seems to be dominated by the melodies, giving more or a build-up for the final piece. It cannot be overstated that the riffs are all very memorable, remaining in your brain long after the record is over.

The final song, "Magic and Mayhem", starts out with a slow riff that is both somber and exquisite. This then flows into something that is heavier and kind of harsh. There is almost a dark quality to this, though the strange keyboard effects prevent it from going too far in this direction. The thrashy riffs are joined by more epic chords, in the background. It all ends in a chaotic eruption of riffs and more strange effects.

Tales From the Thousand Lakes is a classic of Finnish Death/Doom Metal. This is, definitely, something that should be in your collection. There's absolutely no excuse for you to not own this.