AMORPHIS’ debut album “The Karelian Isthmus” came out on November 1st, 1992, via Relapse Records. It is no secret that the band went through at least three different phases since then, paired with a bunch of lineup changes, and their status in the Finnish metal scene has been unmistakably valuable throughout the decades. This album is likely to be considered as the very first evidence of a Finnish death metal record that got properly produced and favorably received by a wider audience; in fact, its producer is TOMAS SKOGSBERG, a full-fledged grandmaster in the scene, who also took care of many important releases of other bands, such as AT THE GATES, ENTOMBED, and DISMEMBER, and more. The recording and mixing process took place in the legendary Sunlight Studios in Stockholm, adding some extra points to the final outcome.
The band’s lineup back then was formed by four guys, or I would probably better say “boys,” since none of them was yet in their 20s, yet; guitarist TOMI KOIVUSAARI was also covering the role of singer, ESA HOLOPAINEN was on lead guitar, OLLI-PEKKA LAINE on bass, and JAN RECHBERGER on drums. These people are still (or again) in the band nowadays, and it feels challenging (in a good way) to take their evolution as musicians and songwriters into account, while analyzing their very first opus.
“The Karelian Isthmus” can also be considered a watershed between the demo-era and a completely new one when Finnish death metal, as already stated, got the chance to reach more listeners, and it ended up drawing the attention of those who were not that much into death metal as well.
If we look at the album as a whole and take the context it was published in into account, the effect it had does not come unexpectedly: the folkish elements are in a delicate yet perfect balance with a more brutal and straightforward approach, starting from “Karelia,” the 45-second instrumental opening tune on “The Karelian Isthmus.” Its melancholic vibe is indeed detectable in the following songs as well, as some sort of a red thread that contributes in making the album one-of-a-kind, considering also that the genre was, back then, already quite well-defined and established in other parts of the world, especially in Sweden and Florida.
The songs come one after the other so effortlessly that it almost feels like a constant flow, where mid-tempo riffs, a unique and raw growling style, and an essential yet effective rhythm section shape a perfect soundscape. Some of the lyrics are based on ancient legends from Ireland, such as the sixth track, “Exile of the Sons of Uisliu,” which sounds a bit weird, considering what the band’s sound eventually turned into in this regard – as many of you already know, AMORPHIS took massive inspiration from Finnish epic poem “Kalevala” and starting from their eighth release, “Silent Waters,” the role of lyricist went to local artist, writer, and painter, PEKKA KAINULAINEN, making “Finnishness” one of the band’s main characteristics.
“The Karelian Isthmus,” however, bears the seed of the band’s peculiar personality that took shape starting from the following release; it is an album that managed to make Finnish death metal accessible, without compromising on its crucial features. Massive influences from Finnish death metallers XYSMA and early PARADISE LOST are also detectable, but as a whole, the album is nothing like a cheap imitation of somebody else’s music. There are a few IRON MAIDEN -infused parts here and there, especially when it comes to the guitar-work, and doom elements are also masterfully blended.
The last tune is a cover of ABHORRENCE’s “Vulgar Necrolatry,” Koivusaari’s other band. It works pretty well as a closer because it gives a clear hint of where the frontman’s approach comes from, and it generally sounds more brutal and straightforward if compared to the previous tracks. In this regard, it is also worth mentioning that three songs on the album were originally part of AMORPHIS’ EP “Privilege of Evil,” which was eventually released in 1993.
All-in-all, the band’s debut album had for sure set a standard in a genre that was just about to become recognized as a valuable example of the local culture. It still sounds fresh and enjoyable, and it deserves to be celebrated as a proper rough diamond.
Written by Licia Mapelli
- The Gathering
- Grail’s Mysteries
- Warriors Trial
- Black Embrace
- The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu
- The Lost Name of God
- The Pilgrimage
- Misery Path
- The Sign from the North Side
- Vulgar Necrolatry (Abhorrence cover)
Tomi Koivusaari – vocals, guitars
Esa Holopainen – lead guitar
Olli-Pekka Laine – bass
Jan Rechberger – drums