Following Amorphis' amazing Elegy album, a curious mix of psychedelic sounds, folk, and death metal, the band decided to leave their death metal roots behind, and enlist Pasi Koskinen as the only vocalist utilising clean vocals. Thus, Tuonela ("Underworld" in Finnish) marked the start of a new era for the band, where they explored more folky sounds blending them with Floydian soundscapes and timeless melodies.
Tuonela presents a more focused songwriting vision, functioning as a perfect transition from the band's new-found progressive roots on Elegy to a more stripped down yet more original sound. It hints at a development of the band's Middle Eastern ideas in songs like "Nightfall" and "Greed". Actually the beautiful synth solo and saxophone on "Nightfall" would later be perfected on Am Universum; however, "Greed" is a quite curious piece, being the only song featuring death growls and interesting percussion and sitar sounds from Tomi Koivusaari. These two songs are tied together by the amazing title track "Tuonela", complete with strong vocal melodies, ominous guitar and keyboard work, and a great piano coda along with fitting saxophone, courtesy of Sakari Kukko. The keyboard player on this album was Santeri Kallio performing as a guest, but he would become a full-time member by their next release, and thus play a more vital role in the overall songwriting.
The more straightforward "Morning Star" is chock full of hard rock guitars and 70's organ amidst boomy bass grooves. Likewise, "Shining" and "Withered" are among the fast-paced numbers in that they are both guitar-friendly compositions, highlighted by lots of wah pedals, ringing notes, and catchy riffs. That said, "Withered", despite its exotic leanings and sparkling keyboards, does seem to drag on a bit. It's actually a good song, but Amorphis would learn to hone their future material and craft songs with more variety. On the other hand, "Divinity" is a nod to their love for Floydian psychedelia which allows them to throw us plenty of Moog and guitar leads.
"Rusty Moon", complete with prominent flute sounds, is the most folky work on Tuonela, evoking their Elegy period without relying on any death growls. With all that said, the most experimental pieces on the album are the first song "The Way" and perhaps the album closer "Summer's End". The most melodic and modern-sounding cut, "The Way" begins with shimmering electronic sounds planted under an organic guitar and keyboard hybrid. This song was easily their bravest moment given their extreme metal roots: they employed slow, psychedelic elements and married them into effect-laden guitar contexts. At the same time, special attention was given to big choruses emphasizing Koskinen's uniquely melodic vocals. They played both Moog and rock-styled guitars that were comparatively denser and served to achieve atmosphere rather than monumental death metal riffage.
Of the three Amorphis discs with Pasi Koskinen on lead vocals, Tuonela may be the best. While there are some better songs with creative ideas on Am Universum, such as "Alone" and "Crimson Wave", Tuonela is decidedly a more complete album. It features more guitar work whereas Am Universum is a jazzier and even more psychedelic effort. I feel Far from the Sun was the lowpoint of Amorphis' career which led to the departure of Koskinen, but it's a still worth a listen if you've heard all other Amorphis releases and enjoyed them one way or another.
- The Way
- Morning Star
- Rusty Moon
- Summer's End