Amorphis - The Karelian Isthmus review


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Band: Amorphis
Album: The Karelian Isthmus
Release date: November 1992

01. Karelia
02. The Gathering
03. Grails Mysteries
04. Warriors Trail
05. Black Embrace
06. Exile Of The Sons Of Uisliu
07. The Lost Name Of God
08. The Pilgrimage
09. Misery Path
10. Sign From The North Side
11. Vulgar Necrolatry [Abhorrence cover] [bonus]

The 45 seconds of traditional melody of "Karelia," capturing pristine nature with blue rivers and green forests, maybe isn't an attractive intro for an album in a genre like death metal in the early '90s, but when this cool introductory wind is replaced by the long and insidious solo of "The Gathering," we find ourselves standing on an isthmus under the dark side of the moon; a swift sword sprays the smell of blood and iron over this canvas, combining with this watery grassland until the end of a frightening battle that now rests on another clean landscape under the light side of the moon.

Even without considering these long and wonderful solos that make this album one of the classics of folkish death metal and create a dark and deadly space in each track almost like a narrator, we must know that the coordination of lead and rhythm guitars on this album is very good for a band's debut; the rhythms work with classic death metal riffs to create a heavy structure and an elastic, harmonious sound. All of those leads and rhythms come together to create a space that is heavy, doomy, and traumatic; though the tracks are usually only three or four minutes long, they make for a classic doomy death metal album.

The trebly guitar tone over mid-frequency bass lines maybe doesn't hit very loud or fast like things that exist in the death metal genre today, but this simple playing turned into a great result for this atmosphere. Along with the drums, which work on playing the main beats and trying to fill in the blanks with single-beat cymbals and two-beat hi-hats, focused on tuning the speed and intensity of the playing, this simplicity seems successful in controlling and holding together the players at a time when advanced mixing and mastering capabilities and other studio facilities were not available. This is a serious problem of the album, but another thing to cover up the gaps in this heavy armor is the keyboards, which also provide more coverage for each melody line and fill the vacuous space between layers of sound and shifting parts.

At the front, Tomi Koivusaari's vocals aren't as excellent a performance as we have generally come to expect from death metal, but his short, harsh growls, in contrast to a louder, more liberated vocal tonality, help create a more terrible and grimy atmosphere on the album. The lyrics, dealing with Finnish mythology, come up from the ancient ruins of the North's traditions with a scent of folkloric religions, making this album special.

Finally, I think that after the hiatus in the '90s of Abhorrence, with whom Koivusaari in his early days released one EP and one demo, he went on to create with his new friends in Amorphis what was maybe not the best death metal album ever but without a doubt one of the classic albums in the genre's history that created a big impression on other bands and from which much has been derived. Although 28 years have passed since the release of The Karelian Isthmus, it can still be heard and enjoyed.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 7
Songwriting: 8
Originality: 8
Production: 7

Written by The.Messenger | 08.11.2020


Guest review disclaimer:
This is a guest review, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.


Comments: 6   [ 5 ignored ]   Visited by: 58 users
09.11.2020 - 00:54
i c deaf people
I still remember hearing Amorphis for the very first time, it was their track "Exile Of The Sons Of Uisliu" and I heard it in 1992 here. I still have that cassette somewhere and it strongly influenced my taste in music for the following years.

Having said that, I also do remember hearing The Karelian Isthmus in its entirety for the first time. And how disappointed I was that I already knew the absolute highlight of the album...

Anyway, congrats on your first review which was an interesting read.

There's just one point I'd disagree with and that's the production.
I believe that alongside with Morrisound's Scott Burns, Tomas Skogsberg was the most gifted and influential extreme metal producer of the early nineties and I don't even want to imagine death metal classics like Left Hand Path, Like An Everflowing Stream, With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness, Godless Beauty and Soulside Journey (just to name a few that were recorded on the same equipment) without the very specific Sunlight Studio sound of those days.
It's true that Skogsberg had some serious issues with his very early works (1987/88, when death metal was still a pretty new thing and nobody really knew how it should sound), but if there has ever been a pinnacle of death metal recording technics, then we are talking about the early nineties and Tomas Skogsberg.

In my book, the production of The Karelian Isthmus is just about perfect. I wish there would be more of this particular sound nowadays.
signatures = SPAM
09.11.2020 - 09:37
i c deaf people
Written by Guest on 09.11.2020 at 07:42

I just write my felling about the albums, and I think this album is one of the best death metal ever
but I don't said the production is bad, I say the production isn't bad thing compared to today studio's equipment

Okay, then I must have gotten this part wrong:

[...] when advanced mixing and mastering capabilities and other studio facilities were not available. This is a serious problem of the album [...]

Anyhow, I didn't intend to dissect or demystify the album, it is what it is and your approach of reflecting your thoughts and feelings in regard to its overall impact is always and by far a better option than the nerdy prattle of an old relic.
signatures = SPAM
09.11.2020 - 14:23
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
The sound of thousand warriors
The fields of thousand battles
Still, in our hearts we can hear
the great hymn of Karelia."

One of greatest intros ever, great album, great strong message , strong and good album, even my fav always will be 1000 Lakes.
Maybe he is not best vocalist, but then old DM bands did not care about vocals quality, it was life style and philosophy. Joutsen can sing DM songsmaybe they should compose new DM album?
Anyway, good reviev, good intro, good way to describe Karelia.
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
09.11.2020 - 22:24
Written by Guest on 09.11.2020 at 13:36

Written by Starvynth on 09.11.2020 at 09:37

... but old guys (like you) are like a light in the dark ...

10.11.2020 - 11:24
I am in complete agreement with what the "light in the dark" said above. Tomas Skogsberg and Scott Burns have produced metal masterpieces and these albums are absolutely fine to listen to today. Tomas was going for a more organic sound and Scott for a somewhat more polished one. At some point, almost every dm band from the USA (and elsewhere, like Pestilence or Napalm Death) recorded with Scott Burns. It was getting ridiculous, I remember that out of the 10 albums I bought at the time, about half of them were produced by him.

Even though I like Amorphis with Joutsen a lot, the first two albums are their best for me. Thousand Lakes is invincible, it is a crown achievement for metal in general. But Karelian Isthmus is also a fantastic debut, it is like they took Bolt Thrower's war machine riffs and Paradise Lost's gloomy melodies and put them in the blender. The cocktail is one of the best death metal debuts that ever came from Northern Europe, on par if not better than the debuts by Entombed, Dismember, etc.

I loved this album then and still do now.
14.11.2020 - 19:59
i c deaf people
Written by nikarg on 10.11.2020 at 11:24

But Karelian Isthmus is also a fantastic debut, it is like they took Bolt Thrower's war machine riffs and Paradise Lost's gloomy melodies and put them in the blender.

I've never looked at their debut from this perspective, but now that you've mentioned it...
You're totally right, that's a very apt description of pre-Tales... Amorphis.
signatures = SPAM

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