Re­u­nit­ing with pro­ducer Jens Bo­gren for their 13th al­bum, Amor­phis’ new re­lease may be their most grandiose and cin­e­matic yet, while also hark­ing back to their roots. As gui­tarist Esa Holopainen and vo­cal­ist Tomi Jout­sen tell Prog, even they are sur­prised

Prog - - Contents - Words: Phil Weller

Grandiose themes and orches­tras are writ large on the Finns’ lat­est re­lease.

“The or­ches­tra makes it sound so much big­ger: when I was lis­ten­ing to the al­bum, it felt like watch­ing a movie.”

Tomi Jout­sen

When Fin­nish pro­gres­sive met­allers Amor­phis be­gan to record their last al­bum Un­der A Red Cloud with renowned pro­ducer Jens Bo­gren, they were well aware of his rep­u­ta­tion. Bo­gren, who has helmed record­ing ses­sions for ev­ery­one from Opeth and Kata­to­nia to Haken, Pain Of Sal­va­tion and Le­prous, rules pro­ceed­ings with an iron fist. Soon, the band found them­selves work­ing long, hard days in the stu­dio. “Work­ing with Jens is a masochis­tic way of record­ing an al­bum,” gui­tarist Esa Holopainen re­flects.

But though their 10-hour work­ing days were tir­ing, the re­sults were un­de­ni­able. Re­leased in 2015, the record was lauded by press and fans alike as some­thing of a return to form. With their ex­treme metal her­itage lurk­ing be­tween tri­umphant folk sounds and soar­ing melodies, they wrapped up a pow­er­ful pack­age of songs with as much mu­si­cal mus­cle as in­tel­li­gence.

For their 13th al­bum, Queen Of Time, the band were keen to re­unite with Bo­gren. As Holopainen ex­plains, Bo­gren’s im­pact this time around was even greater than be­fore.

“We learnt how to scratch the sur­face with Un­der A Red Cloud,” he says. “This time we knew each other’s work­ing meth­ods a lot bet­ter so we knew what to ex­pect. Jens also had a lot more ideas re­gard­ing his vi­sion for this al­bum and I think that’s ob­vi­ous when you lis­ten to it. You can hear how much big­ger it sounds with Jens pro­duc­ing.”

There are hints about ‘neg­a­tive’ ex­pe­ri­ences while locked in the stu­dio to­gether, but that’s a nat­u­ral con­se­quence of the task at hand – when spend­ing stren­u­ous days in a con­fined space to­gether, stress can eas­ily breed.

“Work­ing in the stu­dio isn’t al­ways fun,” Holopainen openly ad­mits, “but you have to be pro­fes­sional and fo­cus on do­ing your best.”

And it’s clear that Bo­gren’s tough love was some­thing they felt was worth any oc­ca­sional trou­ble and strain.

“Jens is ex­tremely picky with ev­ery­thing when it comes to record­ing,” the gui­tarist con­tin­ues. “There were days where we’d end up record­ing noth­ing because some­thing wasn’t per­fect. His way of pro­duc­ing is not for ev­ery band, but for us it worked re­ally well.”

The ar­se­nal of this al­bum is stacked with much of the usual Amor­phis weaponry. There’s typ­i­cally bru­tal and driv­ing drum­ming and plenty of gui­tar work­outs, as well as lively but never con­trived folk twists that broaden their mu­si­cal palette. But there is one huge dif­fer­ence to Queen Of Time. Bo­gren has pep­pered the record with orches­tras and choirs which thrust the tracks towards more gi­gan­tic and grandiose plains.

“When I first heard the al­bum on some big speak­ers, I closed my eyes and was so proud of how huge some of the songs sounded. It gave me chills,” beams vo­cal­ist Tomi Jout­sen, his voice louder and stronger than Holopainen’s gen­tle Fin­nish tim­bre. “The or­ches­tra makes it sound so much big­ger but also more in­ter­est­ing, too: when I was lis­ten­ing to the al­bum, it felt like watch­ing a movie.”

In­deed, the vivid­ness of the al­bum, bol­stered by Bo­gren’s touch, is its big­gest sur­prise. The pro­ducer’s im­pact on Queen Of Time ex­tends far be­yond just his sprin­klings of sil­ver screen scores, though. As Jout­sen ex­plains, many of the sub­tleties in Bo­gren’s pro­duc­tion approach have helped gal­vanise the songs in ways that are still eye-open­ing for the band, even af­ter nearly 30 years to­gether. It’s no won­der that Amor­phis were so ea­ger to once again go into the stu­dio with a pro­ducer who has worked on over 100 al­bums since Kata­to­nia’s Viva Empti­ness in 2003.

Jout­sen says: “Some­times it’s very hard to find the right flow for a song, es­pe­cially when we have a lot of dif­fer­ent rhyth­mic struc­tures. But Jens is re­ally de­tailed with the tem­pos – he wanted to change the tempo in­side songs. When he came to Fin­land for pre-pro­duc­tion, the big­gest thing was find­ing the right flow for each track. It’s a small de­tail but we can re­ally feel the dif­fer­ence. It’s not some­thing a lot of peo­ple think too much about.”

While this is one of the most di­rect al­bums the band have re­leased in years, the sweep­ing string sec­tions and the dra­matic, vir­tu­ous vibes that the choral em­bel­lish­ments drive into each song’s per­son­al­ity give them a classier, epic edge. What’s im­por­tant, how­ever, is that the or­ches­tra, while adding power and grace, isn’t the cen­tre­piece.

“The gui­tars are still a re­ally im­por­tant part of the band; you can still hear them high in the mix,” says Holopainen. “Some­times when you hear a band are work­ing with an or­ches­tra, you fear ev­ery­thing will be hid­den un­der­neath it, but for us this is more for a mu­si­cal flavour. It’s not the main thing on the al­bum.”

Orches­tras aside, the record also marks the return of a fa­mil­iar face. For­mer bassist

Olli-Pekka Laine, who served a decade in the band from their in­cep­tion un­til 2000, ap­pear­ing on four al­bums, is now back in the fold. His return is sure to de­light long-time Amor­phis fans. For the band them­selves, it was a move that made per­fect sense.

Holopainen says, “It’s def­i­nitely a great feel­ing hav­ing Olli-Pekka back. It gave us flash­backs to the times we had to­gether 20 years ago when he was first in the band. It was sad that Ni­clas [Etelävuori] left, but that’s life and there are no hard feel­ings be­tween us. So Olli-Pekka was the only choice we had in our minds [to fill the po­si­tion] and we were re­ally happy that he wanted to come back. He def­i­nitely put his char­ac­ter into the al­bum, which is great. His bass play­ing brings another fresh flavour to Queen Of Time.”

Some might as­sume that the added bite in the al­bum’s approach came in part with the bassist’s return. In a way, his pres­ence must have been a tan­gi­ble re­minder of the band’s his­tory, of their death metal lin­eage that years of mu­si­cal ex­per­i­men­ta­tion has dampened a lit­tle. Jout­sen, on the con­trary, feels it all hap­pened nat­u­rally, that no con­scious de­ci­sion to return to the beaten path of their early days was made. Ei­ther way, the vo­cal­ist is aware that a lit­tle bit of 90s-era Amor­phis resur­faces across Queen Of Time’s 10 tem­pes­tu­ous tracks.

“With this al­bum you can re­ally hear the roots of the band,” he states. “You can still hear a lot of the band’s early death metal style on Queen Of Time.”

“There’s def­i­nitely a lot of typ­i­cal Amor­phis in the air of the al­bum,” Holopainen adds.

“We al­ways wanted our songs to have a mu­si­cal sto­ry­line as well as a lyri­cal one, so there are a lot of songs that in­clude heav­ier and more emo­tional parts too.”

And for the gui­tarist, there’s still great ex­cite­ment to be found in the band chal­leng­ing them­selves. Their pro­gres­sive am­bi­tions shine through the al­bum’s atyp­i­cal ebb and flow. “It’s a nice thing when you start to re­hearse a new song and you re­alise it isn’t very ob­vi­ous to play,” Holopainen says. “That the song struc­tures are un­pre­dictable and you chal­lenge your­self to lis­ten to what’s re­ally go­ing on. We want to keep the in­ter­est up in the songs so there’s al­ways drama within our mu­sic.”

And dra­matic it is. Even with­out the or­ches­tra­tions and choirs, it’s an al­bum that bal­ances the sum of its parts per­fectly. With Un­der A Red Cloud, the band achieved some­thing spe­cial. Though they felt the pres­sure of main­tain­ing the mo­men­tum and ac­claim with its fol­low-up, they rel­ished rolling their sleeves up and sim­ply writ­ing some more great songs.

“We al­ways feel some kind of pres­sure be­fore writ­ing al­bums and go­ing on tours,” Jout­sen con­fesses. “But in the end we’re just six guys who want to play heavy metal. We’re try­ing not to over­think things – this isn’t rocket science. Ev­ery guy in the band can com­pose mu­sic so we al­ways have lots of ideas and ev­ery­one is open-minded to new ideas.

“If you’re try­ing to top some­thing, it’s im­pos­si­ble. Ev­ery­thing in art should come nat­u­rally: if you try to push it too hard, it can be a to­tal dis­as­ter. With Jens in our team, we just took it day by day and trusted that we were do­ing the right thing.”

For Holopainen, that col­lab­o­ra­tive spirit is es­sen­tial. “It’s the best part of the band,” he says. “We all have a good chem­istry and we’re able to talk to each other about mu­sic and un­der­stand the ideas we’re try­ing to con­vey. We try to do ev­ery­thing very demo­crat­i­cally – there isn’t one leader who has the fi­nal say and I think that’s why we’ve stayed to­gether all these years. I think if you need a boss, you should take some other job in­stead.”

With the Fin­nish act dish­ing out al­bums as good as this, they won’t need to be don­ning suits any time soon. The stage is their of­fice and an ex­ten­sive run of tour dates awaits.

“We al­ways wanted our songs to have a mu­si­cal sto­ry­line as well as a lyri­cal one, so there are a lot of songs that in­clude heav­ier and more emo­tional parts too.”

Esa Holopainen




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