Friday Full-Length: Amorphis, Chapters

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 22nd, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Twenty years ago, Relapse Records had a distro booth at the Palladium in Worcester for the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival. Coincidentally, the fest was held last weekend in roughly the same spot (it’s outdoors now). Fair enough. Relapse‘s booth was inside, as were both stages in what was apparently 2003. I was walking through from the larger downstairs area to the upstairs stage — I don’t remember whom I was seeing just then, but I know I definitely saw Stampin’ Ground up there one time, and I’m pretty sure Brand New Sin played up there at one point — and passed by the large banner and the table that had vinyl and CDs (more of the latter then) arranged in boxes with some flat on the table for display.

AmorphisChapters was one of those out. A CD and DVD with music videos — that was a big deal then — it was released in 2003 to some murmurings about an anniversary. I dug the band a lot, had seen them in Worcester a few years earlier, and it caught my eye, but it was like $20 and I know for a fact didn’t have $20 in 2003. I don’t have $20 now. And I don’t think they were taking cards at merch tables two decades ago, so I left it on the table and went about my business in the mildewy upstairs of the Palladium.

I’d return to Relapse distros many times over the subsequent years at various events — not to mention their record store, glorious as that was, in Philadelphia — and never saw another copy of Chapters in-person, there or anywhere else. It went out of print quickly, all parties seeming to silently agree that it was for the best, and languished on my Amazon wishlist basically since. I won’t say I was on some Odyssean quest to find it, scouring the earth in its many nooks and hithers and yons, but it became something of a regret of the early century in my head that I didn’t manage to make that purchase. That I let that one go.

Found it the other day on Discogs. Six bucks, plus six bucks shipping. It’s in great shape.

Since the package came in — it’s in a jewel case and just brims with turn-of-the-century thickness in its plastic; the guilt-free excesses of a world that didn’t understand how mad it had gone — I’ve been through it a couple times and I’ve tried to place it as well in the band’s history. The thing is, if Chapters was supposed to be an anniversary thing, it was off. Begun as a cavernous death metal act informed by their native Finnish folklore and eventually, by then, progressed into a melodic heavy/hard rock act with plenty enough of that metal left over to give them some edge, Amorphis marked their 10th anniversary in 2000, and their first long-player, The Karelian Isthmus, came out in 1992.

Plus — and here’s the one that’s had my eyebrow up lo these many years — Amorphis released their Story – 10th Anniversary comp in 2000, so if Chapters was somehow intended to complement that, which doesn’t amorphis chaptersseem unreasonable on its face given the two titles, the fact that it came three years later is puzzling (I’d thought it was earlier). DVDs had ‘chapters.’ Was that why they called it that? Rest assured, I continue to have no idea.

On the most basic level, it could just have been contract fulfillment, I guess. In 2003, Amorphis released Far From the Sun (highlighted by the bonus acoustic version of its title-track) as their first non-Relapse offering, through Nuclear Blast. Certainly possible they owed their former label a release and the CD/DVD was where they landed. However they go there, the audio disc is packed. In addition to the bonus tracks “Too Much to See,” a highlight of the special edition of 2001’s Am Universum (discussed here) and “Northern Lights” from the recordings of 1999’s Tuonela (discussed here), it’s got a whopping 17 songs total, culled from the band’s first decade of releases.

And in addition to any revisit to this era of Amorphis‘ catalog (and other eras as well) bringing renewed appreciation for the complexity of their arrangements, from flutes and instrumentation that helped them become credited as early practitioners of folk metal — which they never really were, but they influenced the mindset with their lyrics culled from the Kalevala, the national poem of Finland, and some of their transposed-onto-death-metal groove — the layeres melodies of the vocals as heard on Chapters resonate with depth. As they would. At this point in their history, Amorphis were fronted by Pasi Koskinen (also Ajattara, ex-Mannhai), who took over on lead vocals for 1996’s Elegy and helped make that one of the band’s most crucial landmarks. As frontman through the aforementioned Far From the Sun, Koskinen‘s contributions aren’t to be understated and the malleability of his voice to work from harsh to clean played a large role in the band’s overarching progression. He set the model that Amorphis would follow with subsequent singer Tomi Joutsen, who is about to enter his 20th year with them and is their longest-tenured vocalist.

But whether one listens to Chapters or Story, or just to the albums themselves, that progression is the narrative. It’s just presented differently, and something I appreciate about Chapters as opposed to Story is that our presents Amorphis‘ growth in reverse order such that the then-newest material, which was the Am Universum and Tuonela stuff, is up front, and the listener can trace back from there, through Tales From the Thousand Lakes, not all the way to 1991’s Disment of Soul demo, but at least to the raw first record that was built out therefrom.

And while it’s true their sound has settled from the radical shifts it presented in the decade covered by Chapters (and the earlier compilation), they continue to grow. Now signed to Nuclear Blast offshoot Atomic Fire, they oversaw a series of catalog reissues last year and put out their 14th studio LP, Halo (review here), and undertaking an ongoing full touring cycle to support. Just yesterday they released a live video for “Wrong Direction” from an upcoming third live record, Queen of Time (Live at Tavastia 2021), out on Oct. 13. They have a Fall tour in Europe lined up (of course), were in Japan earlier this month, toured the States last year, tour Finland in December and already have fests lined up for 2024, including Summer Breeze in Brazil next April. So yes, very much active.

I usually say when I write about Amorphis that they’re one of a few acts I write about to zero response, and I suspect that this being a silly contract-fulfillment comp from 20 years ago that I once passed up won’t help that. But you should know that I bought this CD with money from Obelisk merch and that I appreciate the support that let that happen.

Thank you for that, and thank you for reading. As always, I hope you enjoy.

Week was proceeding. Monday and Tuesday were recovery from Desertfest New York last weekend. Then it was just digging into the rest and getting through. Yesterday the first of what I expect will be a lifetime’s supply of emails from The Pecan’s school came in, this one from the principal asking what the hell we can possibly do with this kid who puts her fist in other kids’ faces, hits the aide in the classroom and, on Wednesday, bit her teacher. That one took the wind out of our sails a bit. She’s doing all her academic work, which is a thing upon which one might hang some kind of hat, but everything else is hard. Very much a challenge.

I told the principal I didn’t have an easy answer but reminded him as well that before the year we had a whole series of meetings on how to handle her and this was why and that the plan we agreed to at those meetings, the first of which was before last school year even ended, has yet to be put into place. We have another meeting next Friday. I expect it will be a conversation.

But it sucks to see my kid having the hard time that I think we knew she was going to have even as we parent-denial’ed ourselves into some hope otherwise. If I sound defeatist about it, I am. We have muddled through camps (until we couldn’t) and various other activities like soccer and tae kwon do, and pretty much anytime she’s somewhere with other kids her age and there’s an adult in charge, especially if she’s there more than once for longer than, say, 40 minutes, it’s going to be a problem. That’s based on past history.

But now, instead of having her own paraprofessional in class to help her stay on task and resist urges toward physical violence — biting a pregnant lady is never a good look, regardless of one’s grade level — she’s flailing, feels like a failure, and has entered a negative cycle of feeling ashamed at her behavior, scared of her surroundings and like she needs to lash out when basically any demand is put on her. I cannot properly emphasize how much the school has dropped the ball here, nor how disappointed I am in their having done so. These are legal questions and obligations.

She’s there today. Her teacher was out yesterday — one might want a day off, yes — and I don’t know what the score is today yet and won’t until we pick her up, so I exist in a nebulous zone of cluelessness, which rest assured is a big change for me. We’ve started taking her upstairs, no warning, when she hits us. It gets her to stop hitting and does nothing, apparently, to prevent the next one. Yesterday she started behavioral talk therapy in hopes of learning some strategies to cope with her brain being apparently on fire all the time, which, yes, rest assured again, is a perspective on existence I blame myself for teaching her.

Oh, and we’re getting the dog groomed like right now as I’m writing. And I taught her to spin for a treat in like three minutes the other night. And she hasn’t had an accident in the house in like two weeks. She’s a good little dog, this Tilly. Surprisingly so.

Have a great and safe weekend. Watch your head, hydrate, enjoy the emergent Fall if it’s Fall where you are. Try not to bite any pregnant ladies on your way to next Monday.


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