Amorphis were originally a Finnish death metal band, whose career progression is best summed up by this Metal Archives description of their genre: Progressive/Death/Doom Metal (early), Modern Rock/Melodic Metal (later).
The Karelian Isthmus is their first full-length, and it is in no way a "modern rock" album. And yet... Knowing what we know today, that Amorphis are wussy at heart, that they took the shortest distance between artistic integrity and the almighty dollar (or whatever the Finnish currency is), should we listen to this album differently?
The 1990s must have been a strange time for metal. In an earlier era, "selling-out" meant Celtic Frost releasing the quasi-hair metal album Cold Lake.. but at a later period bands like Opeth and Dimmu Borgir obviously felt they could "make it" while remaining within the metal underground, producing flagrantly gimmicky music. And then there are a number of bands who sit in the middle ground of this distinction. The Karelian Isthmus belongs with the first Katatonia album, Dark Funeral, At the Gates' Slaughter of the Soul, and Edge of Sanity--respectable, but hopelessly cheesy and pretentious.
The problem with any excessively "melodic" metal is that, because these people aren't Mozart, everything tends to blur together after a while. This is true with all Candlemass-influenced doom metal, with all In Flames/Dark Tranquility Swedish death metal, with Iron Maiden, with Viking Metal, with the dreaded Norsecore in Black Metal, etc. etc. It becomes impossible to place any melody within a given song. Everything just becomes one stream of vaguely hummable mid-tempo. One wager of this blog is that the best metal music is that which succeeds in being endlessly "melodic" without falling into this trap. To that end, I nominate Metallica, King Diamond, Carcass, and Emperor. Obviously a number of different things are meant by "melody" in that list. I don't have time to go into it now.
Amorphis in this respect are like a shitty Bolt Thrower. Every song works, and they are easy to follow, but why it wasn't all just one big song... or why they didn't take any lessons in narrative songwriting that would modulate the mood and take us away from the endless ambience here... who knows. One of my favorite descriptors for good metal music is "endlessly inventive." Let's just say that Amorphis are NOT.
So. This is a same-y record, but it's the best one they made, and you can listen to it all the way through.
Rating: 2.5/5 (** 1/2) stars
Best songs: All the same