AmorphisA number of conversations regarding Amorphis over the past couple of years have brought up the same quite unusual fact, being that there are still people out there who miss the vocals of Pasi Koskinen. I don’t think many people could successfully argue in any way that Pasi is the better singer or frontman; a role that Tomi Joutsen has made his own since his arrival and accepted by most as the more complete package. So I started to wonder what it was that brought about this way of thinking and my conclusion was that the last album ‘The Beginning Of Times’ reminded me a lot of earlier Amorphis albums from the 90’s. The album itself was very good, but when compared with their other albums of the past 10 years there was definitely something missing. A spark, a hook, call it what you will, but there was something almost…dull about that album, and I did wonder whether that the injection of life had maybe worn off. The next album would be the real test…

The initial whisperings I was hearing were good long before ‘Circle’ actually arrived with me, and whilst the last album may not have been their best, I was still more than confident that this would be worth the wait and it didn’t take long to be proven correct. Opening track ‘Shades of Gray’ bursts out of the traps with the same sort of force as ‘Weaving the Incantation’ did back on Silent Waters. Musically brazen and bombastic, it sounds like a dramatic backdrop to a fantasy film as Tomi unleashes his formidable death growls. The imperceptible quality that appeared to be missing from the last album is back with a vengeance and as the chorus kicks in it all comes flooding back as to why I am such a fan of this band. The balance between the harsh vocals and the melodic has been restored and the music itself manages to fuse many different styles into their own quite unique sound.

Where ‘The Beginning Of Times’ never really had tunes to hook you, ‘Circle’ is absolutely full of them, from ‘Mission’ and ‘The Wanderer’ with their bouncy riffs and sing-a-long choruses, to the infectious folk hobbit-botheringness of ‘Narrowpath’, it’s very difficult to identify any low points. There is plenty of variation throughout, with ample opportunities for quiet reflection and to go nuts in equal measure. The guitars of Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari are as uplifting as ever, with Esa’s soaring lead providing some of the more memorable riffs of the year. The production is absolutely spot on, providing a richness and depth that makes this album seem enormous during those grandiose and dramatic moments, yet soft and reserved in those rare moments when the song calls for it.

I’ll freely admit it, I was worried about this one, but the band have approached the Circle firing on all cylinders. Musically, vocally and from a songwriting perspective, this is Amorphis at the top of their game, and that is a formidable thing indeed. For the sake of balance I’ve sat here purposefully trying to find some fault with it, anything at all, but I’ve got nothing. I loved it on the first listen and it’s been getting even better with every subsequent listen. Quite simply, ‘Circle’ is a true all-rounder, and a likely contender for my album of the year.

(9/10  Lee Kimber)