01. Shades Of Gray
03. The Wanderer
04. Narrow Path
05. Hopeless Days
06. Nightbird’s Song
07. Into The Abyss
09. A New Day
As far as band names go, Amorphis is nothing if not an accurate term for the music associated with them. From their crushing death metal origins, past some experimental folk-y metal albums, to their current folky-melodic-metal-with-crunch, the amorphous Finns have always managed to find a way to surprise on each release, for better or for worse. Eleven albums into their career, they seem to have no intention of bucking this trend; Circle is quite the different record from its predecessors The Beginning Of Times or Skyforger. While The Beginning Of Times saw an increase in harsh vocals but a decrease on the heavy music, Circle swings in the other direction, which makes for an interesting listen for those who know the depths of their discography. Oh, and did I mention it’s a concept album?
Circle roughly divides into two categories of song. Firstly, there are the folky melodic jaunts such as “The Wanderer” and “Mission”, both of which manage to sound melancholic yet upbeat simultaneously, and rely heavily on big catchy choruses to carry them. There are interesting folk or keyboard elements abound, and “A New Day” even adds in a completely left-field saxophone performance near the end. The epitome of the folk material, however, is encapsulated in “Narrow Path”, the closest I’ve heard Amorphis approaching fellow countrymen Korpiklaani‘s general merriment. The flute instrumentation that infects the tune is definitely one of the stronger moments on the album.
Conversely, Amorphis also try their hand at the heavy and groovy. “Hopeless Days” and “Shades Of Gray” carry this banner with their with their opening chugging riff, although the songs do evolve into much more familiar and preferred melodic territory by the time the chorus rolls by. “Nightbird’s Song” similarly undergoes a confusing metamorphosis from an effective thundering black metal-esque section to a folk interlude, complete with a keyboard solo that nearly mimics birdsong. Finally, not satisfied with enough contrasting directions, “Enchanted By The Moon” sees a nod to the melodic doom style of Swallow The Sun, particularly in the gloom-laden chorus. You may be surprised, then, to hear that these styles all seem to fit well under the Amorphis banner; only the saxophone moment feels a little too out of place.
Fans will be pleased to hear that Tomi Joutsen‘s baritone singing, which has always been a draw for many, is in fine form throughout the album, often carrying the songs during more simplistic moments. What surprises is how his harsh vocals have changed; they sound much rawer and unnatural than normal, particularly in “Nightbird’s Song” where he stretches to a black-metal-esque rasp. Eventually, it seems more natural that the clean vocals dominate most of the tracks, simply because they take the cake by a small margin over the harsh ones. I’ve usually been the first one to champion Joutsen’s grunts, particularly on Skyforger, but here the development rubs the wrong way.
In short, Amorphis excel in their usual areas of excellence, and while their new-found chug takes a little getting used, it too can be accepted into the fold. Despite a couple of missteps along the way, Circle strides confidently to its conclusion, straight into the hearts of the band’s fans. Worth a spin or two for any fan of Finnish melodic metal fan.