Under the Red Cloud by Amorphis: Another home run
First, I need to say that this album was by far the toughest to review in my short career as a music reviewer. I listened to it for the whole month, and a week ago though that I should skip reviewing it. Why? Well, the biggest problem with Under the Red Cloud is the fact that all of the songs are on the same level, quality-wise. And with the first few listen throughs you can’t just take one song and say it’s the best one. That problem was solved after tenthish listen of the whole album, because by then you really get into the songs, that’s when the subtle differences between songs start to show and you finally get that sweet feeling of “digging” the music.
Now that the problem part was explained in detail, let’s talk about actual music, but before that a little bit of Amorphis history. As you probably know, ever since Eclipse, when the band finally rose up from the ashes that was Far From the Sun, they haven’t released a mediocre album. Started as one of the first Melo-death bands that gained commercial and international success, Amorphis failed to accomplish their musical evolution into more progressive sided band. Am Universum and Far From the Sun were sort of a musical mess, albums without direction and idea, with too much diversification and without the quality that was sort of a trademark of Amorphis, ever since their first album, The Karelian Isthmus. But then they got a huge reinforcement in the form of Tommy Joutsen, a phenomenal vocalist capable of singing serene and heavenly calm clean vocals, as well as growls that are originating straight from hell. And Under the red Cloud is a prime example of his vocal powers.
Songs are usually constructed as clean verses and growl choruses or vice versa. A formula that Amorphis used ever since the Eclipse has become a little bit worn-out, and that is my main criticism about this album. Although they are great for the most part, songs sound just a little bit too familiar, with predictable structure, similar riffs and overuse of the “clean-growl” singing. If we put this problem aside we get an awesome piece of the progressive/folk/melodic metal music. The grandeur of the songs is very hard to describe you just have to listen them, the vocals are top notch, as usual. Production is supreme, if you have some better sound system or a pair of excellent headphones (or earphones) you’ll be delighted listening to exceptionally good mix of the musical elements, there is not a single instrument that’s overpowered and the vocals are perfectly in front on every song, the master vocalist Tommy definitely deserves that treatment.
The best tracks of the record are those that don’t follow the clean-growl formula, like the demonic The Four Wise Ones, a song that proves my opinion that Tommy Joutsen has probably the best growls in the metal world. On the other side of the line is Sacrifice, a melodic and calm song showing that Amorphis have almost magic ability to sound so melodic in one song and so brutal on the next, while keeping their trademark sound throughout the whole album. Death of a King is phenomenal track that include that Middle Eastern vibe which fits perfectly with the Amorphis sound, Enemy at the Gates is the perfect example of the clean-growl formula, and the song sounds too similar to the couple of tracks from the previous albums but nonetheless it is a solid Amorphis anthem. Tree of Ages is a folk-infused piece of music, reminding me a little of Eluveitie, probably because Chrigel Glanzmann of the same band plays his pipes in the song. White Night is a welcome change in the sound, at least vocal wise, with the guest female vocals from Aleah Stanbridge, vocalist of the Trees of Eternity. The title song, Under the Red Cloud is a flawless album opener, a song that would get in your ears in a second when you first hear it, if only the other songs were not so terrific.
All in all, Under the Red Cloud is one very strong offering from Amorphis, probably the best album since Eclipse, and surely a contender for the title of the Metal Album of the Year, at least for me.