Amorphis - Under The Red Cloud (2015)

If ever there was a model for consistency in heavy music, Amorphis might be the poster child. Twenty five years from inception to present day, with member turnover that, by today's standards would be considered minimal, and still putting out albums with regularity and ease. Beginning with their 1994 classic, Tales From The Thousand Lakes, the band began to infuse a unique mix of traditional death metal, spacey, psychedelic rock, and folk metal into their sound, making them trailblazers for many current bands. Their ability to combine oil and water, so to speak, also helped to make them as wildly popular as they are today. The other reason? For twenty five year, you'd be hard pressed to find a dent in the armor of their catalog. From the commencement of recording to promotion to release, a new Amorphis album is as close to a sure thing as you'd find in the metal genre. And Under The Red Cloud is no different.

The release of Death of A King as the lead single was a brilliant move; it gave the awaiting fan base something to hang their hat on. It was boisterous and dynamic, as a good Amorphis track tends to be. But it was also, in hindsight, a mission statement for the album as a whole. It starts with the dedication to coherence, each song rolling perfectly from the one before, into the one after. While that seems like a foregone conclusion, it's anything but. It speaks to the ability of the band to write an album and not just songs. The renewed push of keyboards and synths is apparent, most notably on the majestic twirl of The Four Wise Ones. It's a layer the band has always utilized to their utmost ability, yet another in a list of defining characteristics. But not to be outdone, the riffs here are driving in their energy. They embody something exceedingly infectious, drilling into your inner ear, and on into your auditory cortex where they remain for days on end.

Vocalist Tomi Joutsen is at his finest throughout the album, delivering a strong performance on both clean vocals, and his signature growl. Switching seamlessly between the two, as he does beautifully on Dark Path, Joutsen proves to be almost too good at what he does. When he goes clean, he strengthens the melodies constructed by guitarists Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari; when he unleashes the ferocity of his scream, he contrasts them. It's a musical win-win, both for the die hard fans and the casual listener. For the latter, it lends a degree of accessibility tot he album, without sacrificing the rougher edges people who have followed the band expect. The heavier moments on the album, such as the blistering Enemy At The Gates, are stronger than ever, often sandwiched between alternating periods of chaos and soaring melodic explosions. Conversely, there are injections of whimsical folk melodies to round out the album, an often forgotten aspect of the Amorphis catalog. It's a perfect storm of metal elements that keeps you surrounded with every passing second.

It's hard to say whether the continued excellence of Amorphis is a work of sorcery or black magic; that isn't a subject I've researched enough to make a judgment on. But questioning what the band has left in the tank is as futile as trying to resist their music itself. However they've kept up this streak, be it supernatural or otherwise, Under The Red Cloud is another in a set of albums that you'd have a devil of a time topping. Round out a tremendous effort with the expert ear of Jens Borgren, and you have yourself a contender for album of the year in any year, past, present, or future. But this isn't just any year. In 2015, Amorphis have staked their claim for the year's best album. But even more, their release of "making of" content, pre-release music, and behind the scenes storytelling has brought their fanbase closer to the action than they've ever been. And it makes the music shine that much brighter.


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