Founded nearly thirty years ago, eclectic collective Amorphis has extensively reigned as one of the most iconic and fascinating names in modern Finnish metal. Starting out as more of a traditional death metal act, they eventually came to incorporate varied vocal and instrumental styles—namely, progressive and folk techniques—that yield cleverly multifaceted achievements. The same holds true for their thirteenth studio outing, Queen of Time. The new album is a far more engrossing, consistent, and inspired record than it has any right to be. Frankly, few bands ever release something this outstanding this far into their careers.
Amorphis deserves some credit simply for keeping its original core members of Jan Rechberger (drums), Tomi Koivusaari (guitars), Olli-Pekka Laine (bass), and Esa Holopainen (guitars) intact after all this time. Additionally, Santeri Kallio (keyboards) and Tomi Jousten (clean vocals) complete the line-up. According to the group, the LP distinguishes itself by including “real strings, flutes, orchestral arrangements, and even choirs” as it “provides a ground-breaking epic about the rise and fall of civilization… about the cosmic powers that people believed in long ago in a very universal way.” Helping them bring their vision to life once again is legendary producer Jens Bogren, as well as several guests: saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby (Shining) and singers Chrigel Glanzmann (Eluveitie), Albert Kuvezin (Yat-Kha) and Anneke van Giersbergen (VUUR). Together, they take listeners on a methodically astounding aural journey that surely ranks as an apex of the entire Amorphis catalog.
Queen of Time undoubtedly packs some clear highlights that deserve individual mention. For instance, “The Bee”—which, according to Holopainen, “represents the microcosm that can nevertheless trigger cataclysmic changes. The fall of world empires ushered in by a small sprouting seed. The butterfly that causes a hurricane”—is an expertly crafted opener whose whirlwind of futuristic loops, invigorating growls, catchy choruses, angelic hums, and frantic percussion makes it utterly captivating. Later, “Message in the Amber” and “Wrong Direction” offer triumphantly Nordic arrays of woodwinds and guitar riffs. “We Accursed” meanwhile soars with hypnotically carnivalistic complexity. Similarly, the penultimate “Amongst Stars” is inherently elevated by the gorgeousness of van Giersbergen’s creamy emotional timbre (not to mention the serene, Jethro Tull-esque break halfway through). Indeed, it’s inventive and fetching choices like these that allow Amorphis to remain remarkable.
Luckily, the rest of the sequence is nearly as impressive, with the relatively accessible “Daughters of Hate” standing out because of how well its additional components—Munkeby’s horns, choral chants, and even a spoken passage from lyricist Pekka Kainulainen—complement the rest of the instrumentation. In contrast, closer “Pyres on the Coast” is surprisingly symphonic and gentle in spots, with beautiful harmonies and piano motifs bringing effective elegance to its guttural foundation. Just as “The Bee” held nothing back as an introduction, this track ends the record as tour-de-force of furious yet tranquil depth.
Taken on its own, Queen of Time is excellent, but when considered in context as the thirteenth studio effort of a band that’s been around for several decades, it’s downright miraculous. Rather than feeling tired and predictable, the full-length is ingenious and renewed from start to finish, using everything at its disposal to challenge and intrigue its audience. As such, it exceeds expectations as a both a new Amorphis album and a new entry into the genre while also serving as a testament to how the most seasoned players can deliver the most satisfying results given proper vigor, ambition, and resources.