Through a panoramic view of the world’s folk metal scene, one can recognize most of the bands under the umbrella organization known as ‘Scandinavia”. A reasonable explanation to this phenomenon can be found in the roots of the proud Viking legacy, still echoing in the scene. This legacy appeals as an almost biblical inspiration to many musicians, who flood the genre with ongoing tales about Odin and his rowdy friends in Valhalla, seasoned with almost – “happy” keyboards and “ho-ho” choirs. The antithesis to the fashionable Vikingism stands as most of the folk musical works in the country that’s not Scandinavian in the deep meaning of the term – Finland. The Finnish folklore is based on the pagan background before the Christendom era and is embodied through an important cultural and mythical layer – the Kalevala. This is an anthology of folk songs that passed from father to son throughout generations and deals mostly with the adventures of the ancient gods. Simultaneously with the gathering of the Kalevala, joined together the Kanteletar: a cycle of more then 700 songs and ballads, describing the life of the ancient Finns, their beliefs and observations, their daily customs, their relation to nature and their joys and sorrows.
Some Finnish bands found their influence in the Kalevala and traditional music, but none of them managed to blend these influences together with grace and uniqueness as the most important band in the Finnish metal scene ever – Amorphis. In my humble opinion, there isn’t another Finnish metal act (and those outside Finland who elevate from Amorphis are rare), who melted a genuine love of its national traditions to sounds, based upon such a rich mixture: folk, doom and death metal, progressive rock and psychedelic etc.
One should remember that Amorphis started as a doom-death band, and the seeds of continuous musical evolution, which reached its blossom in “Elegy”, are demonstrated in their previous albums. New band members have brought fresh spirit to the group with energetic drumming and mesmerizing keyboard work. But the major difference was adding Pasi Koskinen’s clean voice full time next to Tomi Koivusaari’s growls. The album also differs itself musically with sharpening of the musical agenda: the significant prog-rock and psychedelic grew, as the band’s doom-death orientation formulated into a mutation of soft doom, rhythmic and toothless. The traditional influences stood clear, through the folk melodies and the textual basis of the Kanteletar. As his ancestors, “Elegy” is also a concept album, correspondent with Finland’s pagan glory days. Yet the texts reflect the simple and daily side of the northern land beyond the twilight of the gods. All this, without diminishing the original poetic quality and gentleness, since the members have realized that they’re dealing with genuine poetry. The album contains 11 songs, drowned with unordinary arrangements, as far as it concerns dealing with folklore assets. The listener faces a meticulous display of genres, embroidered with sensitivity and accuracy.
The album opens like a snowstorm with “Better Unborn”, displaying perfectly Amorphis’ genres’ feast of genres: oriental sitar playing (and so Finnish!), growing stronger until the song bursts – the psychedelic guitars, the metallic background, the folk riffs – the natural way in which all these ornaments are entwined together is almost incomprehensible. It’s obvious that this is a work by sensitive and attentive musicians, mainly because the challenge of blending the world of yesterday with the present time. In general, it’s fascinating to observe and be impressed by the interpretation given to each song, if in faster rhythms, like “Against Widow” and “On Rich and Poor”, or in the beautiful ballad “The Orphan”, that opens with melancholy speck and ends with rain of hope scraps. Amorphis didn’t fear combining other strange elements, such as the quiet folk beat (that it’s almost tango!) and afterwards a 20-second dance bridge, breaking into guitar solo in “Cares”, a song that at first listening seems confused and detached. After some investigating, one must respect the band’s courage, what may have lifted many metal fans’ eyebrows, wondering if the band had gone amiss. Sadly, not every average metal fan understands that this is complex and multi-faced music that reflects complex and multi-faced culture. The name of the album had not been chosen in vain – this is an elegy to a lost world.
Not easily one can point for weaknesses in the album. However, the songs settings’ may be considered a weakness, for the album opens fast with the 5 most rousing songs, and its energy goes out towards the end. Nevertheless, the last song keeps the listener with the sweet longing that only another listening can liquefy. The fifth song, “My Kantele”, is by far the best song on the album and keeps the proper ending: it reprises acoustically with sitar and gentle drums that deliver night of northern lights, in a tight and exciting performance. In addition, in spite of the success of the two vocalists working together, Koskinen’s vocals fit perfectly to the music, and indeed, in future albums he’ll be the sole vocalist.
Amorphis’ music built magnificently, on surface and deep inside: not only from the fine musical essence, but also from its ability to trickle into the heart’s eaves trough and engrave its feelings on its walls. It’s music of love – of Finland, of past and future, of people and above all, of music itself. Lifted on the spiritual uplifting from the album, the Finnish magic goes on and on.
01. Better Unborn
02. Against Widows
03. The Orphan
04. On Rich And Poor
05. My Kantele
07. Song Of The Troubled One
08. Weeper On The Shore
11. My Kantele – Acoustic Reprise