CRIMFALL has been fairly quiet since their 2011 album, “The Writ of Sword,” with the odd tour date here-and-there. Now it seems they’re back with “Amain” some 6 years later via Metal Blade Records. Known for mixing symphonic metal and folk metal in a straightforward, approachable way, their return has assuredly been awaited by many. We’ll be taking a track-by-track look at it to see if it was worth the wait.
Vincent: As the elders hath decreed, every self-respecting metal album must have an intro track. This one stretches the limits of what is acceptable by being nearly 2 minutes in length. At the start, it consists of a short monologue on what sounds like a windy hilltop, which is then followed by strings, drums, and a choir. It’s epic enough to warrant its place on the record.
Bear: I agree that it was a bit risky using such a long track as an intro, yet its length didn’t bother me. The spoken-word part perhaps contrasts a bit with the choir, but I like the way the music builds up at a steady pace, and I especially like the wailing, wordless female vocals that appear for a time.
2. “The Last of Stands”
Vincent: This song sums up the album fairly well. It begins with the kind of epic, bombastic, choir-infused metal you’d expect from CRIMFALL. It then abruptly abandons it in favor of a somber ballad with Helena Haaparanta‘s voice in the forefront. And just before you think it’s a ballad, it turns into a metal song again, complete with Mikko Häkkinen‘s growls. All of this happens in the first 40 seconds.
When it’s a metal song, it’s actually really energetic. Häkkinen‘s growls sound a lot heavier and more masculine than on the previous album. Helena also gets to sing in a heavier, louder style in the pre-chorus. The chorus itself is very Rhapsody of Fire-esque. It gets me admittedly hyped up, even if it’s a bit all over the place in the beginning.
Bear: I agree and disagree entirely on this song. I think the first 40 seconds of this song sound like what TURISAS could’ve become if they hadn’t lost all sense of what it was that made them good back in 2013. I love the transition from the very “To Holmgard and Beyond” intro into the gentle vocals; the time-change doesn’t bother me. Then, as Vincent said, it goes fully back into a metal song, and at this point, I find it a little messy, with a tiny bit too much going on; I’m not sure how I feel that TURISAS and RHAPSODY blend together. The song is very complex and won’t suit every person or every mood, but it’s pretty good nevertheless, though could’ve been reined in a touch.
3. “Ten Winters Apart, Part. 1: Far from Any Fate”
Vincent: This is the first part of a four-part song. It starts off as a proper ballad led by Haaparanta, but the verses are again led by Häkkinen‘s growls. The chorus, however, is all Haaparanta. The melody is pretty strong but not quite as memorable as the last one.
Bear: I like the gentle, layered whispering of Happaranta in the beginning of this track. The soaring epic quality of this reminds me a bit of how EPICA likes to turn all their songs up to 11. For some it might be too much, while others will find it fantastic. I’m riding the line, but ultimately, as the melodies are very nice. I do like a little more reservation in my use of choirs though – I find if every song has them, they start to lose their power and overwhelm things. If every song is crazy epic, no song is epic.
4. “Ten Winters Apart, Part. 2: Song of Mourn”
Bear: I like the wind-down of the previous track and how it leads acoustically into this well-needed break from the action (though if I’m being a Grammar Nazi, that should say “Song of Mourning“). With full-choir rager songs prior, this is a necessary breath of air. Also, I really need some lyrics for this, because I thought I heard the words, “My loins are bleeding…” which clearly needs some context (or I heard it wrong). I dig the solo, as well as the ethereal fade-out.
Vincent: The interesting thing about this one is that it’s not a half-ballad/half-metal anthem. It’s just a sincere, quiet moment. For some it might veer a bit too close to folksy pop (think SCANDINAVIAN MUSIC GROUP). It has a classic, fuzzy guitar solo, but the whole thing just feels like padding to me.
5. “Ten Winters Apart, Part. 3: Sunder the Seventh Seal”
Bear: There is a tentative and tension-building intro to this song that feels like the preamble before a wicked climax in a movie. I have to give praise to the strength and grit in Haaparanta‘s voice. She is truly a force to be reckoned with. They’re also blending heavy and folky quite nicely yet again. In particular, I like the ending, with the tinkling parts and soft outro.
Vincent: I nominate this for Musicalypse’s patented “Hardest Title to Say Three Times Fast” award. “…Sunder the Seventh Seal” sounds like it’s really gearing up for an impressive climax. It has a fast-paced string arrangement and sound effects that seem to be hoisting up something big. Perhaps an anchor? Some of the band’s arrangements are made with intentional dissonance that make them sound unnerving. It doesn’t really work as it’s own piece, but perhaps with that last part in mind…
6. “Ten Winters Apart, Part. 4: Dawn Without a Sun”
Vincent: “…Dawn Without a Sun” flows directly from where the previous part ended. It gets going with Haaparanta‘s vocals as the focus. The chorus has a solid melody but it sounds embarrassingly poppy, and downright annoying. Häkkinen does the backing vocals, but it all just falls flat. These four parts flow together well but none of them stand out as anything particularly interesting.
Bear: What can I say? I agree that part 3 & 4 work best as a unit, as opposed to individually, and while the poppy chorus didn’t bother me much at first, I do think there are some vocal techniques that might lead you to feeling the way Vincent does. I think the growls help to neutralize it a bit.
7. “Mother of Unbelievers”
Vincent: This track is the opposite. “Mother of Unbelievers” starts off strong with a catchy riff and keeps the energy going. Haaparanta seems to be channeling Bruce Dickinson in the pre-chorus and the chorus isn’t half bad either. It’s a great power metal song with a dash of extreme metal which is what a lot of people came for, right?
Bear: I agree that this is easily one of the winners on the album. I like the eastern feel of the folk intro, which feels very tastefully done (and not overdone like some songs I could name). Haaparanta‘s vocals are powerful and at their best in this one. I’m still getting a bit of a SYMPHONY X vibe in this, but here it works a little better for me.
8. “It’s a Long Road“
Bear: Three kicks, followed by a trumpet, and this almost treads into the realms of a western [ed: actually, this is the Rambo soundtrack cover], but the acoustic guitars keep it from going too far into that territory. The dynamic clean male vocals are a nice change-up, and the orchestrations back it up well. The changeover into speedier death metal was a bit unexpected, and perhaps fewer full-on tempo changes might’ve benefited it. I’m on the fence, but I think I like this overall. Perhaps there’s a bit too much going on.
Vincent: It is indeed a long road, filled with ballads. This one’s saving grace is guest vocalist Rob Lundgren. He brings a gravitas along with him that carries through the slow first half. The second half goes more towards symphonic metal, but at the end of the day the melody just isn’t that strong. The lyrics are pretty straightforward as well. At the end, it goes off on a MOONSORROW-esque jam; it’s nothing special.
9. “Wayward Verities”
Vincent: This one is the most folk metal of all the songs so far. It begins with Haaparanta‘s signature yoik, which was very refreshing, as we’ve gotten so little of it on this album. It’s short-lived, however; the song is mostly growling metal verses intercut with power metal choruses. The bridge goes full folk metal however. It makes me wish it had more moments like that.
Bear: I too appreciate the delightful yoiking at the beginning of this song. This song has a lot of power as it transitions between its parts, and also sees a return to the eastern folk sound. It also has some of the most powerful growls on the album.
10. “Until Falls the Rain”
Vincent: “Until Falls the Rain” is the perfect CRIMFALL song. It’s epic with it’s choirs, it knows exactly when to go heavy and when to go mellow. It has those yoiks that were sorely lacking elsewhere and it keeps a good folk metal groove the whole way through. It’s almost 8 minutes long but it doesn’t feel bloated or as if it’s stalling. It’s just a solid, epic piece.
Bear: No argument here. I think the album ends on what is perhaps its strongest song, and that’s a great way to end things!
Vincent: I was actually really excited for “Amain” and, in some ways, it’s an improvement on “The Writ of Sword.” All of the vocalists gave excellent performances that were far better than anything I’d heard from them elsewhere. The compositions were more ambitious and they used a more varied array of techniques to put them all together. That being said, every song seemed to follow the pattern of slow beginning, growly metal verse, power metal chorus. The whole thing just seemed a bit too big for its britches. It’s an ambitious album but didn’t stand up to further scrutiny. The four-part epic in the middle just padded it up and made it seem like it was saying more than it really was. It’s a good album but it won’t keep you warm when winter comes.
Bear: I appreciate hearing what I would consider to be a very mature folk metal album, which tend to be rare these days as Viking/folk themes get cheesier and more into the “Manowar and/or drinking songs” territory. While the album didn’t quite live up to the very high expectations I had for it, the dynamic and soaring soundscapes have a great deal of power, and Haaparanta truly stands out as one of the best and most diverse vocalists that people should start to take note of if they haven’t already. I do agree that the four-part piece does slow the album down a bit (I never seem to get on board with the X-part tracks on any albums, come to think of it), but I think I got more enjoyment out of the rest of the tracks than Vincent, and I wonder if the enjoyment might deepen with access to the words.
Written by Vincent Parkkonen & Bear Wiseman
- The Last of Stands
- Ten Winters Apart, Pt. 1: Far from Any Fate
- Ten Winters Apart, Pt. 2: Song of Mourn
- Ten Winters Apart, Pt. 3: Sunder the Seventh Seal
- Ten Winters Apart, Pt. 4: Dawn Without a Sun
- Mother of Unbelievers
- It’s a Long Road
- Wayward Verities
- Until Falls the Rain
Helena Haaparanta – vocals
Mikko Häkkinen – vocals
Jakke Viitala – guitars, orchestrations, percussion
Miska Sipiläinen – bass
Janne Jukarainen – drums
Metal Blade Records
Interview Phantom Elite – “It’s always good to share that feeling that none of us is alone in hard times”