Music

Amorphis: Eclipse

With a new vocalist leading the way, Amorphis sound reborn on their seventh full-length album.


Amorphis

Eclipse

Label: Nuclear Blast
US Release Date: 2006-03-21
UK Release Date: 2006-02-21
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Replacing a lead vocalist is always the hardest thing for an established metal band to successfully pull off, but Amorphis are no strangers to the situation, as guitarist/death howler Tomi Koivusaari gave way to singer Pasi Koskinen in the mid-'90s, and when Koskinen left the band in late 2004, just as their fine album Far From the Sun was hitting stores in North America, the band was forced to go through the whole process all over again. At the time, it might have seemed like the worst possible time to bring in a replacement singer, but in retrospect, the quick hiring of new frontman Tomi Joutsen (formerly of Sinisthra) before their US tour turned out to be a blessing in disguise. By breaking in their new singer with a full touring schedule as opposed to working in rehearsal and recording studios, by the time the band was ready to record their much-anticipated follow-up, instead of sounding like five guys and a singer, they were a finely tuned unit of six, and as we hear on the new disc Eclipse, Joutsen’s presence seems to have given the rest of the band a tremendous boost of energy. Not only is the new album their most commercially accessible to date, but it’s arguably their finest effort since 1994’s much-lauded Tales From the Thousand Lakes.

In keeping with their name, Amorphis has always been one of the most difficult-to-pin-down bands out there, easily shifting musical styles from album to album, and while that evolution continues on Eclipse, the band appears to have settled into the kind of groove that suits them best, nicely balancing the progressive, folk-inspired element from their early days with a more robust, melodic hard rock touch. Far From the Sun inched toward that more accessible sound, but as enjoyable an album as it was, one could sense a malaise in both Koskinen’s singing and the band’s overall sound, but the instant you hear Eclipse’s opening cut “Two Moons”, it’s clear that Joutsen was just the shot in the arm the band needed.

In direct contrast to the rather easygoing Far From the Sun, “Two Moons” bursts out of the gate, Santeri Kallio providing his usual serpentine synth riffs, and Joutsen displaying impressive range, alternating from a commanding bellow to a distinctive, lower-register baritone. The straightforward rock formula suits the band very well, as Kallio and guitarist Esa Holopainen display a knack for composing terrific, memorable hooks, while still incorporating the band’s trademark guitar/ keyboard-oriented style; “Born From Fire” is first-rate power metal (in the vein of fellow Finns Nightwish), built around a slick lead guitar melody, while the brooding, goth-tinged “House of Sleep” ranks as one of the finest singles they’ve ever put out (not to mention their most successful, topping the charts in Finland), Joutsen’s nuanced vocal performance adding a welcome depth that had always been absent in Amorphis’s music.

While the majority of Eclipse is up-tempo, there are a couple of instances that hearken back to the more languid sounds of the previous record, namely “Under a Soil and Black Stone” and “Same Flesh”. The folk-oriented side of Amorphis will never fully disappear, and longtime fans will take great pleasure in such tracks as “Leaves Scar”, “Perkele (The God of Fire)”, and the lovely “The Smoke”, three songs that mark a glorious return to the folk death metal that made the band famous more than a decade ago. Sumptuous, sinewy synth and guitar melodies wind their way around each song as Joutsen and Koivusaari (who reprises his death vocals!) trade verses, no song venturing longer than four minutes, a testament to the veteran band’s restraint, fully aware that less is often more.

After an extended period of experimentation, Amorphis appear to have finally found just the right combination of hooks and progressive moments on Eclipse, and with their third lead vocalist, have finally stumbled upon the right person for the job, as Joutsen carries the entire record with his robust, yet appealing performance. It’s easily one of the most impressive transformations of an established metal act in years, and what an album, to boot.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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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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