In my very humble opinion, Amorphis full-length debut is, hands down, one of the best melodic death metal albums of all time. With heaps of incredibly bleak and spell bounding doom overtones, this classic album, titled The Karelian Isthmus
completely obliterates 99.9999% of what people refer to as melodic death metal nowadays.
The tricky thing is, is that I dont know who exactly to recommend this album to. Its a hit or miss with so many different fans of metal on a few different levels:
For Example, fans of modern day Finnish melodic metal bands such as Children of Bodom, Norther, and Insomnium might love Amorphis melodies and atmosphere. On the other hand they might not dig the vocals (low, and fairly guttural compared to the newer Finnish bands), the lack of fruity, frilly layers of synth, guitar wankery and/or the drawn-out acoustic passages in every song, or the production may sound a bit dated or sludgy to them.
On the other end of the spectrum, there may be fans of old school death metal that may enjoy the production and the vocals, but cant get into the music because of the melodic overtones or the general atmosphere.
And although The Karelian Isthmus
has never been labeled a viking metal album per se, I think a lot viking metal fans might really take a liking to both the melodies and general Nordic feel of this album. Fans of Amon Amarth, in particular, may dig this.
Its a tough call, but as you may know, metalheads are some of the toughest music fans to please ;). Im hoping that someone who reads this review is somewhere in the middle of the three types of aforementioned fans.
Regarding the CD itself, everything about this album is harmoniously simplistic, so to speak. The guitars are fairly uncomplicated, which is just fine because the melodies and the song writing MORE than make up for any missing guitar wankery. I couldnt imagine it being any different. As for the drumming? Pekka Kassari frequently plays some good fills and blastbeats, but the drumming is fairly straightforward, which gets the job done just fine when everything else is simple. As I mentioned in the beginning of the review, Tomi Koivusaari has fairly low death metal growl. Not as guttural as the likes of Disgorge (US) and whatnot, but Ive heard a few people mention that theyd like Amorphis just a tad bit more if there was more variety in the vox department.
The Karelian Isthmus
is a solid album through and through. While the song structures in the album dont vary much, all of the different entrancing and hypnotizing melodies give each song oodles of individuality so that they dont get mashed together into one massive clusterfudge of an album where everything sounds identical.
While being so melodic, The Karelian Isthmus
maintains an air of brutality (wellbrutal for 1992, anyway) making this an authentic
melodic death metal album in every way. None of the lackluster, mislabeled as melodic death metal type of crap is evident here (Arch Enemy, anyone?).
Another thing I love about this album are the consistent tempo and mood changes within each song to prevent things from getting tedious and stale. There are also plenty of crushing breakdowns, usually enhanced by Esa Halopainens melodic guitar leads giving the slower parts a dismal atmosphere the majority of the time. Absolutely perfect.
Since I consider all of the songs on The Karelian Isthmus
to be absolutely enthralling, a song by song review of me saying that everything is excellent about each individual track would be redundant, so Ill name a few highlights that caught my ear at first listen:
Karelia & The Gathering:
Im the type of person who enjoys an acoustic or synth intro on a metal album, as long as its brief, to the point, and is somewhat of an indication of the general aura of the album. This is definitely the case with the 43 second long acoustic intro, aptly titled Karelia. Although somewhat jovial compared to the rest of the tracks, it gives you an idea of what kind of melodic atmosphere to expect thorough most of the album.
Its the perfect prologue before the ever so crushing second track, The Gathering kicks in and lets you know right off the bat how REAL melodic death metal is done. Structure-wise, the song itself is not unlike the rest of the album, so this is already a good point in the CD as to whether you'll take a liking to TKI or not.
Grails Mysteries & The Exile of the Sons of Uisuliu:
As the 2 only upbeat tracks in an otherwise sludgy, doomy album, which is a nice change of pace when listening to TKI in its entirety.
Warriors Trail and The Lost Name of God:
What sets these 2 tracks apart from the rest of the tracks on the Karelian Isthmus is these two songs have the most epic sounding atmosphere on this album. Viking metal fans should take a liking to both of these tracks.
This song lacks the melodies that characterize TKI in favor of straightforward, traditional death metal goodness. This should be a treat for the fans of old-school death metal fans who may be listening to this.
In conclusion, my predictable rating of this album is a solid 5 stars. As said in the description, I deem this album an absolute essential to fans of TRUE melodic death metal.