Classic Review: Amorphis “The Karelian Isthmus” [Relapse Records]

Classic Review: Amorphis “The Karelian Isthmus” [Relapse Records]

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Score 70%
Summary
70 %
Ancient legends
User Rating : 4.7 (2 votes)

It’s always fascinating to hear the differences between two outputs that stylistically represent the same specific era of a band. Such was the case with Amorphis, as Privilege of Evil would represent a horrific voyage into the depths of the earth where one would encounter nothing but horror and filth, while The Karelian Isthmus would recall pre-Christian tales of ancient battles and tragedies. Musically this meant Amorphis headed into a slightly melodic direction, as there’s a lot of interaction between crunchy (often mid-tempo) riffing and additional moody leads present here.

The result isn’t quite as much of a grandiose and cinematic album as one might expect, but The Karelian Isthmus feels still somewhat evocative; the production feels cleaned up compared to that of Privilege of Evil and enables each instrument to appear with clarity. Compared to the band’s later efforts one might be surprised by the absence of clean vocals and the one dimensional rough, yet lazy growls that bark in between the (often) melodic guitar interplay. If anything, The Karelian Isthmus would probably be a decent gateway death metal record; it’s made out of the expected ingredients, yet doesn’t overpower the listener with any unnecessary blast beats or incoherent death metal roars.

While this might seem ideal on paper, Amorphis operate too restrained for their own good from time to time. Songs like ‘’Exile the Sons of Uisliu’’ (paying a tribute to Maiden’s ‘’Alexander the Great’’ perhaps with those identical twin-lead harmonies) and ‘’Sign from the North Side’’ dwell a bit too much in the mid-tempo territory with little hook-y riffs to keep one’s attention. Certainly, some more action of the band would have benefited The Karelian Isthmus well and although I’d hardly call anything on the record filler material, I occasionally yearn for that blow in the face so many death metal records could deliver. Of course this counts only partially, as you’ll find plenty of tracks that originated from the earlier recorded Privilege of Evil – but honesty I wish those tracks were just left alone. They don’t exactly benefit from the clearer production and I can’t help but think that they get robbed of their dirge spirit this way. Why try to re-create something that was already realized in the best way possible before? Again, they haven’t turned into fillers, but they’re just not fantastic.

When it comes down to the new material The Karelian Isthmus occasionally manages to find a sweet spot between controlled aggression and a melodic approach that makes this record stand out. ‘’The Gathering’’ opens up with a gust of wind-like melody that recalls troops gathering for their final battle on earth before its most violent riffs vividly recreate the scenario of bloodshed and slaughter. I’m also fond of ‘’Grail’s Mysteries’’ and ‘’The Lost Name of God’’, which both represent the more sentimental numbers on The Karelian Isthmus. The former’s tragic doom break after a series of catchy uplifting leads surprised me for the best and the latter’s monumental riffing does create vivid images of a world long time gone; it’s definitely the most epic number on the record in this regard.

Those who are only familiar with the band’s mid/later works might find this too rough while those who crave death metal from the early 90’s might find this a tad too polished and would have a better time with Privilege of Evil instead. Either way, The Karelian Isthmus is a solid output of a band that just like many others shortly played death metal before changing into something completely different over time.

Release date: November 1st, 1992

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