If you look up “multifaceted” in the metal dictionary, you just might see a picture of Finnish stalwarts Amorphis. Well into their third decade now, the band is never happy to rinse and repeat. Starting as a melodeath outfit in the 1990s, the band’s sound has evolved over time to include everything from folk music to progressive metal. Queen of Time is the band’s thirteenth album, coming to us less than three years after the highly-regarded Under the Red Cloud.
Loosely based on the idea of empires and civilizations rising and falling, Queen of Time is a collection of epic songs in the truest sense of the word. Every single cut on this ten song album is slathered in layers of instrumentation, giving the impression of massive, cinematic spectacle – even when singing about something as small as a bumblebee.
Tomi Joutsen does an excellent job with the vocals here, tastefully adding cleans to a primarily harsh delivery. His conveyance of Pekka Kainulainen’s lyrics is spot-on – roaring at many times, melancholic at others – and the duet with Anneke van Giersbergen on “Amongst Stars” is superb. Musically, the chemistry and cohesion of Amorphis is on full display which is interesting, since original bassist Olli-Pekka Laine is back in the fold after a 17-year absence.
Each song is immaculately arranged, and show Amorphis to be a band that defies a single genre label. Melodeath, folk, power and progressive metal are all on full display throughout, often interwoven seamlessly within a single song. “The Golden Elk” and “Heart of the Giant” are massive and anthemic. “Grain of Sand” is a ponderous cut, possibly the heaviest on the record, while “Wrong Direction” is an excellent yet straightforward number. “Daughter of Hate” is the band’s blackest song, but still somehow accessible to any listener.
There are a vast number of elements featured in Queen of Time. In addition to the band’s trademark melodeath foundation, the album features such wide-ranging touches as Spanish guitar (“The Golden Elk”), saxophone (“Daughter of Hate”), choirs, orchestras, pipes, and laryngeal singing (“The Bee”). That’s a lot of ingredients, but the mix is so good that the listener is never overwhelmed. Devin Townsend is a master of the “wall of sound” approach; Jens Bogren comes close to matching that here.
Not everything is perfect on Queen of Time, though. Overall, the album is mastered loudly enough that the dynamics, most obvious on the snare drum, are squashed – typical of Bogren’s work despite his mixing and producing prowess. While the individual instruments’ sounds are impeccable, the brickwalled final product takes away from the experience. And individually, “Message in the Amber” is much too jaunty of a song compared to the rest of the album, even with harsh vocals, and Joutsen’s choice of voice for the verses of album closer “Pyres on the Coast” is a bit weak.
Those faults may seem nitpicky, but they are the only detractions from an otherwise stellar album. Amorphis gave us a gem with Under the Red Cloud, and on Queen of Time they have upped the ante in almost every way imaginable, delivering an engaging, thoroughly entertaining album that shows us they are the one of the most well-rounded and capable bands in the metal scene.
(released May 18, 2018 on Nuclear Blast)
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Watch Amorphis – “Wrong Direction” Video