Album Title: Queen Of Time
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 18 May 2018
Just when you think that a band has reached their peak, they come along and prove you wrong. The moral of the story therefore, is never think that a band can’t improve upon a superb release, because they can. The evidence I present to the court is ‘Queen Of Time’, the thirteenth album from Finnish veterans Amorphis.
Back in 2015, I suggested that ‘Under A Red Cloud’ was arguably the best album of Amorphis’ career and that is something I still adhere to three years later. ‘Under The Red Cloud’ is most definitely the sound of a band firing on all cylinders, pushing my historical favourite record, ‘Tuonela’ all the way. However, if anything, ‘Queen of Time’ sees its direct predecessor and raises the stakes even higher. I’m scratching my head a little as I try to grapple with this reality but reality is most certainly is. Like a fine wine, Amorphis just seem to get better with age.
The first thing to state is that ‘Queen Of Time’ is not a radical departure for a band that has been on a gradual evolution of sound over their entire career. What it is, is the next step in their evolution and a firm statement of where they are today as artists and musicians.
And that statement seems to suggest that Amorphis are hitting new heights, challenging themselves and creating some magic in the process. ‘Queen of Time’ is, quite honestly, a joyous listening experience from start to finish, principally because everything that these Finns do is of the very highest quality. The melodies are strong, the folk elements are both authentic-sounding and interesting and there is a faint progressive element to the music in terms of the variety and subtle ideas at play. Indeed, ‘Queen Of Time’ feels like it contains some of the most complex music within the entire discography. If that wasn’t enough, I also love the heaviness of some of the material – led by the commanding riffs of guitarists Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari, and enhanced by the superb rhythmic section of returning bassist Olli-Pekka Laine and drummer Jan Rechberger – that is juxtaposed so smoothly and effortlessly with lighter, more upbeat sections, something that Amorphis have seemingly excelled at in recent years.
Put simply, the song writing is just so strong that so many of the songs on this record turn into bona-fide anthems that get lodged in my head for ages after the songs have finished playing.
Then, to top it all off, there’s the vocals of Tomi Joutsen. Over the years, the surprisingly shy and retiring singer has got better and better, to the point where I honestly feel that he is one of my absolute favourites. His clean delivery is so smooth and full of feeling that it simply cannot be ignored, but it is the variety in his singing that’s just so damn impressive.
What also strikes me about ‘Queen of Time’ also, is the depth and richness of the material. Each track is multi-layered and full of subtlety but they never feel over-worked or cluttered. The keys of Santeri Kallio are superb on this record, but they are enhanced by the addition of an orchestra and a choir for the very first time in the band’s career. It is a masterstroke that adds layers of atmosphere, a symphonic bombast and a majestic elegance that is often breath-taking, always irresistible.
Where does one begin then, when trying to pick out the best moments for a succinct review? Well, I’ve never been renowned for brevity or succinctness, so who cares, right?
The album kicks off in masterful fashion with the lead single with which many of you are now extremely familiar. Let me assure you however, that if ‘The Bee’ remains the only song you’ve heard from ‘Queen Of Time’ to date, the rest of the album really is just as good. The quiet yet ominous opening that explodes into a gorgeous melodic section full of exuberance is captivating, as the insistent heavy riffing imbued with an almost Middle-Eastern flavour, and the huge atmospheric chorus that was hinted at in the early stages. And it gets better with repeated listens; so much better, as the small, subtle intricacies peek through into your conscious. If your pulse is not racing as the song closes at the five-and-a-half-minute mark, there really is no hope for you I’m afraid.
‘Message In The Amber’ offers a much more pronounced Scandinavian folk flavour, as well as a greater dichotomy between quiet, understated passages and the all-out metal attack, led by gruff growls and plenty of measured aggression. It also has a greater cinematic sheen, as well as a darker overall vibe, embellished wonderfully by the aforementioned choir.
The opening up-tempo riff of ‘Daughter of Hate’ has a vaguely off-kilter, progressive feel to it whilst being very seductive. I cannot shake the belief that there’s also a black metal edge to the song on occasion which is no bad thing. I even like the guest appearance of Shining saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby who adds yet another dimension to proceedings, whilst further emphasising the experimental, almost playful nature of the song which is capped off with a native spoken-word section towards the close.
If I had to pin my colours to the mast, I’d declare the following two tracks, ‘The Golden Elk’ and ‘Wrong Direction’ as the album’s best however. The former begins with a striking, cinematic intro reminiscent of Kamelot in their pomp before launching into a stomping, heady melody that makes an immediate impact and which only gets better when the chorus fully unfolds. There are parallels with Orphaned Land too, thanks to the pronounced Middle-Eastern melodies that come hugely to the fore throughout the song.
The latter contains unmistakeable echoes to the ‘Tuonela’ era, especially in the brilliant opening guitar work, so it’s no wonder I find myself gravitating towards it. It is also one of the simpler, straightforward tracks on the record, with a devastatingly strong chorus that Joutsen makes his own, ensuring in the process that it is a sing-along anthem of epic proportions. Right now, this ranks as one of my all-time favourite Amorphis compositions, an accolade I can’t see being removed any time soon.
I could honestly mention every song on ‘Queen Of Time’, as there isn’t a misstep or a weaker moment anywhere to be heard. For example, ‘Heart of The Giant’ is another ambitious composition complete with keyboard solo and sprawling grandeur, ‘We Accursed’ is blessed with a wonderful tempo and no small amount of groovy swagger, whilst ‘Grain Of Sand’ masterfully builds to an imposing climax.
However, I feel compelled to take a breath and pause to mention ‘Amongst Stars’ in particular, a euphoric beacon of light and melodic brilliance that is further enhanced by a guest appearance from the unmistakeable Anneke van Giersbergen, who sounds as angelic as ever, the perfect counterpoint to Mr Joutsen within the exquisite song.
Finally, my review of this spectacular album wouldn’t be complete without mention of the production. It takes a huge amount of talent and skill to make such an ambitiously grand proposition like this sound so balanced, powerful and clear. Enter Jens Bogren of Fascination Street Studios, who has surpassed himself here. Put on a pair of headphones and tell me that this isn’t one of the best-sounding albums of recent years, I dare you.
All this means that with ‘Queen of Time’, I am faced with a strong contender for ‘album of the year’. Virtually flawless, oozing with class, slathered in killer musicianship and bursting with unforgettable melodic elegance, ‘Queen of Time’ has to be the very best record of Amorphis’ career. If you haven’t bought it yet, I hope this review has convinced you to do so. If you’re a metal fan with any shred of self-respect, ‘Queen of Time’ needs to be in your collection immediately.
The Score of Much Metal: 9.8
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse