This is Death Metal of the most epic sort.
With their debut release, AMORPHIS left their indelible mark on the Scandinavian Death Metal scene.
AMORPHIS chose to eschew the unsavory and morbid fare of their Death Metal contemporaries in favor of topics more grandiose, and from the beginning there are hints of the more Progressive band that they would become in just a few years, as “Karelia” opens the album with an acoustic, medieval-sounding intro. This is just the calm before the storm, as this track segues into the more ominous “The Gathering,” a song that abruptly changes the mood with, plodding riffs, churchbell, and Death growls.
The remainder of the album sticks with this formula. The tracks are mostly slower in tempo, shich adds to the epic quality of the overall composition. In keeping with the lyrical theme of the album, he pace of the music seems to better mirror the kind of music that would have been written during the Middle Ages than it does modern Death Metal. Complementing this is the restrained use of keyboards on only a handful of tracks, a device that helps to deliver the desired atmosphere. Fortunately, the band are dexterous enough in the arrangements to employ this device only when it is needed.
For a debut, “The Karelian Isthmus” demonstrates AMORPHIS as an ambitious, but not yet fully mature band. There is not a whole lot of variety here, and after a while this can become a tedious listen. One must approach this album as a total composition, not as a collection of songs, and must also be prepared to be patient.
That said, AMORPHIS definitely created something different here. “The Karelian Isthmus” does not fit the typical Death mold, and it paved the way for the band to create their much more coherent sophomore release “Tales From The Thousand Lakes.” For fans looking to understand the evolution Scandinavian Death Metal, this is a milestone release, and should be checked out if for no other reason than its historical significance.
(Online March 7, 2009)