At the end of the day, if you’ve heard an Amorphis album – especially a latterday Amorphis album – before, then you know what you’re in for on Under the Red Cloud almost down to the very last note.
However, to say that this album is unoriginal or hackneyed in any way is to miss the point. Amorphis exist as a band almost unto themselves, taking from many genres but belonging to none; therefore it can be seen that the band is refining this sound with every album – and if that means referencing chunks of their past to reinforce the present and lay the foundations for the future, then so be it.
Of course, Under the Red Cloud is a masterful exposition of the Amorphis sound, with this lineup harvesting the experience of a decade together with maximum good effect. Eighth track Enemy At the Gates (such is the interchangeability of the material here it could easily have opened the record – this is truly Amorphis for the digital, pick n’mix age) is as good as any to pick out as an exemplar of the band in 2015 – faint eastern undertones, epically progressive overtones (there’s a real hint of Opeth about this track), crushing rifferama from Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari, a compelling vocal performance from the sometimes-maligned Tomi Joutsen - it’s all here.
Elsewhere the rollicking Tree of Ages fuses folk and Thin Lizzy with exciting results, allowing the band to adopt a spritely, mischevious air not usually heard so prominently on their records, but to pick any track here as a highlight would be to deny the fact that this, as usual, is a universally strong piece of work from Amorphis. Sure, there’s a little tweaking going on in places – producer Jens Bogren has pulled a matchwinning performance out of keyboardist Santeri Kallio, for instance, which just nudges the progressive, orchestral edge of some songs into territory the band hasn’t exploited before to quite such good effect as they do here – but the overall feel here is one of solid, dependable, artisanal excellence. Great stuff.