Music

Amorphis: The Beginning of Times

The Finnish metal veterans continue their impressive resurgence on their tenth album.


Amorphis

The Beginning of Times

Label: Nuclear Blast
US Release Date: 2011-06-07
UK Release Date: 2011-05-30
Artist Website
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Nearly 17 years after delivering Tales From the Thousand Lakes, arguably the most influential metal album the great metal nation of Finland has ever put out, Amorphis finds itself enjoying a significant career upswing as of late. As recent as 2004, you couldn't have predicted that would ever happen, as the band was starting to stagnate creatively. Despite the subtle strengths of 2004's vastly underrated Far From the Sun (a record both the band and its fanbase have since disowned), it was clear Amorphis badly needed a good shot in the arm, which came a year later when longtime singer Pasi Koskinen was replaced by the relatively unknown Tomi Joutsen. With his long dreadlocks and outgoing stage presence, Joutsen was a big change from the more enigmatic Koskinen, but the real improvement was heard when he sang. Not only is Joutsen capable of a massive death metal roar, but he continually displays surprising clean vocal range, and the band's songwriters - guitarists Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari, and keyboardist Santeri Kallio - took full advantage of that latter talent on 2006's revelatory Eclipse. The singles were crossover successes in their home country, the album was a critical success, and most importantly, Amorphis suddenly found its fanbase expanding significantly.

Since then it's been full speed ahead for the veteran musicians, as Amorphis has been very busy churning out the product, seeming like a band reborn. 2007's Silent Waters and 2009's Skyforger were even better records as Joutsen grew into his role. Last year's Magic & Mayhem was a surprisingly effective collection of re-recorded classics with Joutsen at the helm, while the CD/DVD Forging the Land of Thousand Lakes was a superb, detailed combination of live performances and a career retrospective. 2011, meanwhile, sees the band hopping right back on the horse again, and Amorphis's tenth album continues that remarkable positive momentum the sextet has been riding these last five years.

One of the best things about this current incarnation of Amorphis is how the band can put together a rather loftily-themed concept album about its Finnish heritage, yet remain accessible throughout. If you're into folklore and Finland's national epic "Kalevala", Amorphis never disappoints, but if you couldn't care less about the messages and just want to experience the music on a more visceral level, that's just fine as well, the music is plenty catchy and engaging enough. Consequently, although the focus of The Beginning of Times, this time around, is on the character Väinämöinen, the protagonist from the Kalevala, the overly arch lyrics never detract from the music, and for the fourth album in a row, the music is where the real strengths of this band lie.

Amorphis has been reliant on a distinct formula for four straight albums now, but it's a good one. The influence of Finnish folk melodies is still subtly present in the guitar and keyboard melodies, but gone is the progressive rock inclination that the band was tinkering with before Joutsen came along. Instead, it's a slick, classy blend of death metal and melodic hard rock, massive riffs offset by the ornate keyboard melodies by Kallio, a perfect backdrop for Joutsen to showcase his versatility. What sets The Beginning of Times apart, however, is its restrained feel. The past three albums have been dominated by superb, pop-infused singles, but this record is more even-keeled. So while that big hooky moment never really happens, it's still a consistent, very strong piece of work.

The first half of the album emphasizes the band's accessible side very well. "Battle For Light" kicks it off in understated fashion, Joutsen alternating between clean and harsh vocals atop a wistful, Celtic-inspired melody by Kallio. "My Enemy" is the closest we get to a song on the level of "House of Sleep" or "Silver Bride", but Joutsen pays up the band's aggressive side a lot more during the verses than we expect. "Mermaid" and "You I Need" see keyboard and guitar melodies interweaving beautifully, "Song of the Sage" bears a strong similarity to the last ten years of Iron Maiden, and "Reformation" utilizes harmony vocals to great effect, all without compromising the band's more metallic side. At 54 minutes the album does overplay its hand a touch, but that doesn't diminish The Beginning of Times much at all. It's a great pleasure to see Amorphis going through such a significant creative renaissance, and it's further proof that with Joutsen, this band has never sounded better.

7

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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