One of the few times in recorded metal history when a vocalist change didn't provoke a nerd riot among a band's followers, the ascension of Tomi Joutsen to the singer position in AMORPHIS has signaled instead a renaissance for these enigmatic Finns. Yes, the death growls are back, in limited quantity, and yes, there's that unique folk-tinged metal flavor here, the sound that made "Tales From the Thousand Lakes", "Elegy" and "Tuonela" so refreshing.
But let's not be too hasty here — "Am Universum" and "Far From the Sun" were good records, too. And "Eclipse" isn't a complete "for the fans" retreat to the days of yore. There's a lot of the modern-day "rock and roll" AMORPHIS here, albeit delivered with a passion and spark that was intermittent in recent years. Put it this way, they don't sound like a death metal band again, so don't get your hopes up, 1992 holdouts. Instead, this is the sound of a band comfortable in its own skin, and all its various facets, finally combining them in a winning way and making their first must-have record in quite a while.
Joutsen has a deeper, more authoritative voice than previous belter Pasi Koskinen, even at his most accessible. And make no mistake, Euro single "House of Sleep" is just that, a relentlessly catchy, piano-driven single with a great guitar hook and that mid-'90s PARADISE LOST rhythm and tempo (which they in turn borrowed from "Black Album" METALLICA). But even here, in the bridge, there's an interlude of that spacy, spooky aura, Finnish folk tales spun through BLUE ÖYSTER CULT's acid trip.
"Leaves Scar" and "Perkele (God of Fire)" feature entire verses delivered in the death metal voice, and their rollicking tone and insistent organ make them perhaps the strongest link to the band's revered past. But an energy and accessibility remains even here, proof that the band has no intention of throwing out the last few years' changes and developments in their sound.
For the uninitiated (and where have you been?), this sound is a pretty singular headtrip — warm, chiming guitars in circular patterns, interspersed with keyboards and locked down with heavy rhythms, Jouten voice alternating between thunderous declarations from the mountaintop and a smoother, more reflective tone. Lyrically, the band have ventured back into Finnish folklore, their arcane lyrics only adding to their strange juxtaposition of history and modernity. The whole thing has a vital, organic sound to it, loads of class, and intensity even in the most sedate songs.
In short, everything you could want from an AMORPHIS record, if you're a fan of anything from "Tales From the Thousand Lakes" onward, is here in spades. Their vibe is timeless, and their sound not entirely metal, though without metal it could not exist. In one way, this is the "for the fans" record — but it also happens to be their strongest batch of material in years, arguably since "Tales", delivered with a renewed fervor and the haunting, atmospheric echoes of Scandinavian legend.