Considering what the last 14 months has meant for live music, it is somewhat bittersweet hearing a live album and the stark reminder of the beauty of experiencing a band performing their art in front of a living, breathing crowd. Little did Amorphis know that the show presented on this record, a hometown show at Helsinki’s Ice Hall in December 2019 would be their last before a pandemic tore life as we knew it apart. It is easy to get wrapped in the circumstances that followed the recording of this album when what should be remembered is that Live At Helsinki Ice Hall is not only a top notch live document but a celebration of Amorphis’ 30th anniversary as a band.
Amorphis – who were formed in 1990 in Helsinki – has taken something of an artistic journey over their career. Described as “melancholic”, Amorphis began as a death metal band but evolving over time to introduce both folk and progressive elements and weaving a vast tapestry lyrically by using Finland’s poem the Kalavela as inspiration, Amorphis has consistently delivered rich and layered sonic landscapes in their recorded work that has never failed to translate this into the live arena. That being said, live albums can be seen as a bit of a ‘filler’ release which does not always capture that magic of a show and bearing in mind that this live album – as well as being available on its own – is part of the 30th anniversary monumental vinyl box set of all Tomi Joutsen fronted albums since 2006, it is a bit of an ‘extra’. In rock and metal circles, only a rare few live albums are talked about in a legendary manner, Scorpions World Wide Live; Motörhead’s Live At Hammersmith or Live After Death by Iron Maiden, all iconic releases that capture those bands’ power, energy and essence. It may be a tall order to add Amorphis’ live release but your humble scribe is going to do it anyway – Live At Helsinki Ice Hall does exactly what it should do, a superbly recorded event that brings home that magic of Amorphis.
The Queen Of Time material does really stand out in the live setting but it is testament to how expertly it is mixed; the sound is absolutely crystal clear throughout and the presentation that Amorphis receive sis simply stunning. However, listeners could be forgiven for thinking that this may have been a streaming gig because crowd noise is virtually inaudible at times. There are cheers when the band walks on at the intro and it is slight at the end of songs. There is some irony in that the world is bursting for live music and the audience participation is there but not to the fore. On the plus side, it does give the focus to the band which is only right but it is curious as to why the crowd is so low down even in their appreciation for the performance.
Even from the intro, the extended fluttering bee like key riff of The Bee there is that sense of anticipation, it feels quieter, more translucent and then the realisation hits when vocalist Tomi Joutsen belts out that roar and the music is elevated, those keys and the almost tribal element are at the forefront and to epic proportions – not even a couple of minutes in, not a word sung but the neck hairs are at attention. This is a constant as Joutsen, surely one of the premium voices in the melodic death genre as he swings from his growl to that oh-so sweet singing voice and with breath taking ease. It is that intricate power to melt light and dark and something that Amorphis do incredibly well and display over and over on this engaging live document. Following a sweeping Heart Of A Giant with its orchestral majesty is Bad Blood and The Four Wise Ones both from 2015’s Under A Red Cloud album. Into Hiding from 1994’s Tales Of A Thousand Lakes initially slows the tempo down but that quickening pace with a middle eastern flair, the superb guitar and the prog-tastic keys and stabs of Hammond are superb with Joutsen urging the crowd on. Sampo is one of those songs that has some excellent melodies but the guitar solo is simply magnificent.
Yet again, Queen Of Time material does stand out, the ultra-melodic Wrong Direction – until the growl right at the end kicks in at least – and The Golden Elk are songs that show exactly how powerful a band Amoprhis is, that these are not mere deviations in the melo-death but that there is real progression, songs that have emotion and memorable choruses that soar and it is at these points when it is obvious that Amorphis know exactly what they want to achieve, they know who they are as a band. Black Winter Day from Tales Of A Thousand Lakes piles on the keys, a veritable ocean of sound that underpins Joutsen’s terrific vocal performance while egging on the crowd. It is regular set closer House Of Sleep that brings this show to a stunning ending, one of the most joyous tracks in Amorphis’ catalogue that brings audience and band together as Joutsen lets them sing those lines back to him and it is one more nerve tingling moment in a 90 minute set that is full of them.
It is incredible to think of Amorphis as “veterans” and while it is not a band that record bad albums, from 2013’s Circle, it did feel like a new lease of life, something just clicked and both Under The Red Cloud and Queen Of Time burst with the potential that this band truly has. Esa Holopainen is such an underrated song writer but he has a band with him that all deliver with every ounce of their being – this live album does nothing but put an exclamation point behind this. With a crystal clear sound, every instrument, every note – all of it – is simply so on point. Live At Helsinki Ice Hall is a rare experience, a live album that becomes something of a ‘best of’ while being utterly authentic. Thoroughly engaging and enjoyable, endless plays still are not enough to delve into the world of this unique and talented band. Rarer still that for anyone that has ever had the slightest interest in Amorphis and has no idea where to start – that a live album could be a jumping on point – but it is.
There are few 10/10 live releases but this is definitely one of them..