"In Finland there are some parts where it's dark for 24 hours in the winter, so Finnish people are usually a very depressed people"
-- Esa Holopainen (guitarist/creative center)
1990 saw the creation of what was to become one of the most stunning and impressive bands Finland has ever had to offer the rest of the world. It was in this year that guitarist Esa Holopainen had the vision of creating a band to shatter everyone's perception of what a metal band should be. Although the band started as a typical death metal outfit, Amorphis soon grew to realize that they had a higher purpose. In keeping with the definition of the word from which they derived their name, amorphous, the band is a 'constantly changing entity with no fixed shape or form.'
In 1994 Amorphis released an album that has yet to be matched in its intricacy and utter stunningness. _Tales from the Thousand Lakes_ was the launching pad from which Amorphis separated themselves from all the cliches of the death metal world. The album won them critical acclaim the world over, and is still looked upon (by myself especially) as one of the most memorable metal releases of all time.
Two years later, this formidable musical entity has come out with the newest fruits of their labor. _Elegy_ is an album that holds a great deal of surprises for the average Amorphis fan and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this band has definitely chosen the right name for themselves.
Amorphis' music is not the only thing that has changed since 1994. Added to their lineup are three new personalities that have had a lot to do with the Amorphis sound. Kim Rantala (keyboards), Pekka Kasari (drums) and Pasi Koskinen (clean vocalist), have joined ranks with the 'veteran' Amorphis crew, Esa Holopainen (guitars), Olli Pekka-Laine (bass) and Tomi Koivusaari (growls/guitars). The fusion, according to Esa, has been a smooth one; "It's gone very good. Kim was the first one of them to join and he has brought so many new elements to our music, it's unbelievable. And Pekka our new drummer plays very tight and he's a really good drummer. It's easier for us to play when you know the drummer is keeping the right tempo. And the new vocalist, Pasi, has also done an amazing job for us. These three members have contributed a large part of the music." And have these new members brought anything new to Amorphis? "Well, we're all listening to the same stuff that we've always been listening to, but I think this time our influences come out of the music more easily than they did before. The music's got much more folk melodies and the production of the sound is much better than the last time, it's much more what :we: wanted it to sound like. It's not the typical death metal product, it's got an 'old' sound to it. There isn't much 'hi-tech' stuff on this album."
Two years is quite a gap between albums for a band that is so young, but Esa explains that the band did not want an album that sounded rushed, instead one that came from their hearts. "Straight away after we recorded [_Tales from the Thousand Lakes_] we started to compose new songs and it took quite a while to finish each track. It was about a year's process putting all the songs together." He continues on how the music was arranged; "We've arranged everything as a band, all of us together. Basically, it's always been like that, I mean, sometimes one of us might do some stuff at home. But during rehearsal, we all get involved in the arrangement of the songs and everyone does their part."
Also different on _Elegy_ is the vocal element of Amorphis' music. To my ultimate dismay, I discovered that the band has pre-empted their previous growled vocals, and chose to blend in clean vox with the growls taking the obvious back seat. To pull this off however, the band recruited a separate vocalist, Pasi Koskinen. But does Tomi (the growler) feel overshadowed in any way by Pasi? "I don't think he feels like that. As a matter of fact, he's here next to me if you want to ask him <laughs>. No, I don't think he feels very badly. Me, Tomi and Olli are very pleased with the new members and with how the album turned out. We still like the growling parts though, and I don't think we'll ever drop them. Pasi has a big part in our stageshow, he's the ultimate vocalist." Also changed to distance themselves from the death metal norm is the band's logo, "We changed it because we didn't want to use the old logo anymore because the music also changed. It was just too death metal for us. Relapse did this logo for us, it's just a typical font but it's really cool."
Perhaps most noticeable in the music of Amorphis is their extensive use of folk melodies, something that is certainly not typical in this genre. Esa explains, "Well, the whole thing started in like 1992 when we first got interested in old Finnish folklore and culture. After that we started to get into the folk music from all over Scandinavia, we respect it a lot because there are a lot of good melodies in folk music and we started to get influences from that sort of music." Another unique aspect of Amorphis is their use of traditional Finnish ballads and poems as the lyrics to their songs. These lyrics were taken from The Kanteletar, a traditional Finnish text. "Basically its just a collection of poems and lyrics that haven't been used in hundreds of years. It was an interesting area to use because this stuff includes old philosophical and mythological meanings. The book itself talks about every day life and it has a lot of interesting stories. And because they were just lyrics and no music, we decided to compose music for the lyrics." He continues about the difficulties of translation; "We used this guy to translate the stuff and he was really good. Originally, the book is in the old Finnish language which is really hard to translate. It's not translated word for word but it still has its meaning."
In keeping with the traditional theme of _Elegy_, Amorphis elected to use old Finnish symbols and artwork for their cover and liner notes. Esa describes what each symbol means; "Ok, the symbol in the middle of the album sleeve, the big circle, that's an old symbol of Helsinki. The little one on the north, east, south and west sides are old symbols from the eastern part of Finland. The symbols beside these are from northern Finland and the Lap Lands. The symbol that encircles everything was pretty much Kristain's idea (Kristain Wahlin has done artwork for the likes of Tiamat, Dissection and At the Gates). It's like a little map of Finland right in your hands. In the booklet too are symbols behind the lyrics, for example the one behind "Against Widows" describes a world that's a snake with a sun in the middle. Everything has its own meaning, but we don't know everything's entire meaning. It's just something to make this booklet interesting." He continues describing the hammer symbol from their last album; "That describes the creation of the world. There is a ring on the top of the hammer and that represents the sun. Then there are two paths were two gods walk down, one going one way and the other going in the other direction. Good and evil."
The production of _Elegy_, as compared with Amorphis' previous efforts, is ten times as superb. What was different with the production this time around? "It was much more professional this time. The recording process was in three parts. First we recorded all the electric guitars and drums in (the newly rebuilt) Sunlight Studios (with Tomas Skogsberg), then we recorded the bass and acoustic guitars and vocals in Finland and finally we mixed the album in Liverpool, England (at Parr Street Studios with Pete 'Pee Wee' Coleman). It was a cool experience, but next time, we want to just concentrate in one studio."
Amorphis' tours following the release of _Tales from the Thousand Lakes_ were successful, to say the least. Having toured Europe many times with Paradise Lost, Tiamat and others, late 1994 saw them take to North America, opening for Sweden's Entombed. Esa details their tour plans this time around; "First off, we have a bunch of festival gigs we are playing. We'll probably play at Dynamo, and at the big festival in Denmark. Also a few festivals in Germany and a few in Finland. Altogether, that's about ten festivals. Then in September we are planning to headline in Europe. We have dates confirmed for that. That's going to be one and a half months with a lot of good venues and good dates, so that should be great. We are searching for supporting bands now. There was a rumor that Therion would go out with us, but I don't know, it's pretty much up to the booking agency. Also we are looking to do a US tour at the end of this year. We've been there before with Entombed. It wasn't anything special, just a club tour, but we had a really good time. It was pretty rough for us touring with seven people in the band, but from that we've learned how to live in tour busses. You can compare it to living in a hotel <laughs>."
Being from Finland, there is no doubt that Esa thinks Americans are different; "I'm not sure if it's right to say the people think in different ways, but they do have a different mood. In Finland, there are some parts where it's dark for 24 hours in the winter, so Finnish people are usually very depressed people and they don't smile much on the street and don't talk very much. But when you come here you see all the people smiling and being polite. [!?! Are we talking about the same United States here? :) -- Gino] It makes you wonder if they are just putting on a mask for you by being polite. Finnish nature is quite depressing but when the summer comes everyone starts to smile and have a good time. And Finns also consume a lot of alcohol, that's another part of Finnish nature. We are shy and don't talk until you give us a couple shots of Vodka, then watch out! <laughs>"