Amorphis – Lighting the Dark Path

Sunday, 9th April 2017

On their first full North American trek in what seems like eons, Finnish metal heroes Amorphis have come to remind everyone who truly is Finland’s flagship metal band. Buoyed by their utterly-fantastic 2015 album Under the Red Cloud, the Finns are armed with arguably the best metal singer in their home country (Tomi Joutsen) along with a back catalog that still stands tall, most notably their enduring 1994 Tales from the Thousand Lakes. If this tour proves anything, it’s that Amorphis remain true forward-thinkers, able to embrace their illustrious past while continuing to forge a path few in metal can replicate.

Having last played Pittsburgh in early 2005 at the Rex Theatre, bass player Niclas Etelävuori couldn’t help but feel a sense of deju vu as we corralled him at the venue’s bar for a quick chat. The tour got off to a bumpy start as a blizzard beseiged parts of the northeast and Canada, but this was nothing for the band. Pittsburgh was seasonably mild on this day, so here’s what transpired…

Dead Rhetoric: You’re from Finland and used to bad weather. You come over here and you get more bad weather. How did that happen?

Niclas Etelävuori: The amount of snow wasn’t surprising, but when they started to close down cities because of the snow, then we were like, “How does this happen?” But, there was a lot of it. It’s a bigger area to clear than we have in Finland. Everything shut down. When you start to calculate the trip from where we were stuck to the next show is about as far as all of Finland…it’s a lot of roads to plow.

Dead Rhetoric: Besides that, how have the shows been?

Etelävuori: Amazing. It’s not what I expected, actually. It’s been a long time since we played here last, so we have a better turnout than last time.

Dead Rhetoric: Since you haven’t done a North American tour of this magnitude in such a long time, is it nice to see the response you’re getting?

Etelävuori: It is, yes. It is quite overwhelming. For example in Canada, there was people who book thousand dollar flights to get to the show, then in Ottawa, we ended up cancelling, which was a bummer. We will try to replay some of the shows, but there are only so many days.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you think because Under the Red Cloud is so good is the reason you’re able to come back?

Etelävuori: We had problems at some point, like we didn’t have a booking agent here. Then they said “Come back and play Tales from the Thousand Lakes.” But we said, “Fuck, we have a new album to play.” We did Tales in Germany and other places, so we weren’t going to do that. That was the first idea, but we said, “No, fuck it.” We’ve done ten albums after that, so we’ll need to play those too.

Dead Rhetoric: Esa (Holopainen, guitar) made the quote that Under the Red Cloud is one of his top-three favorite Amorphis albums. What are yours?

Etelävuori: [pauses] I think Circle is one and then Under the Red Cloud, and maybe from the older ones, Tales, for me, is when I was still a fan, so that one.

Dead Rhetoric: You joined in 2001. What do you remember about that time?

Etelävuori: It was 2000 when they went on a U.S. tour and gave me three weeks’ notice. Then we had to rehearse with the singer [Pasi Koskinen], and when we got on the plane, the singer got taken away by the police because he didn’t do his paperwork. It was my first time going on tour with them and the singer is in jail at the airport, but they let him go and arrested him later. [Laughs] That was my first experience. It all started in the U.S.

Dead Rhetoric: Did you know the guys before joining?

Etelävuori: Yeah, our bands had been playing together and doing the same gigs. If you live in the city, there isn’t that many places where you can rehearse so they all go to this building where a hundred bands rehearse. You meet the people there. If you are living in the suburbs and you rehearse in your parent’s garage, then you never meet anyone. You just go to these buildings and can find hundreds of bands. It’s easy.

Dead Rhetoric: What makes this Amorphis lineup so successful?

Etelävuori: I don’t know…there are no ego problems or big alcohol problems. [Laughs]

Dead Rhetoric: Some people consider Far from the Sun to be the weakest of the Amorphis albums. Was that the most difficult period for the band?

Etelävuori: Yeah, around that time when the album was done, Pasi was already quite done. He didn’t put much effort into the album. It was just a matter of time that we had to replace him or quit.

Dead Rhetoric: Was the option there to disband Amorphis?

Etelävuori: Yeah, it was, but we took a chance and tried one more time to see if we could find a good singer.

Dead Rhetoric: Had Amorphis broken up, what would you have done?

Etelävuori: Continued my day job at a guitar store in Helsinki. I was one of the owners there selling and repairing. Then the other guys were playing in other bands and we got so busy we could never keep it open. Yeah, I would probably be doing something like that or playing in a band with someone else.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you remember the first time you heard Tomi’s vocals?

Etelävuori: I remember when he came to our rehearsal room. We had checked out probably 100 CDs. We had two guys come, we didn’t really like them. They weren’t bad singers but didn’t fit. Then Tomi came out of nowhere. I saw him walking in the room and went “If that guy could sing. He is our singer!” It was how he behaved. Then he sang a couple of songs and after that, we hoped he wanted the gig. We rehearsed a bunch of songs from Far from the Sun, then he made us play “Sign from the North Side.” We had never played it before. It was from The Karelian Isthmus. He said it was one of his favorites and said “Even if you don’t choose me as a singer, can we at least play it once?” Then we said “We need to learn it first!”

Dead Rhetoric: Usually when bands get a new singer so late into their career, things go down. But when Tomi joined, things turned around.

Etelävuori: He changed it for the better. Nightwish also changed singers plenty of times and every time they change you think that will be it, but they become bigger.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s your favorite part of his vocals?

Etelävuori: I think he has a good voice for both. His screaming vocals are amazing. He’s always in key. His low grunts, he can do them and still sing after that. He’s got an incredible vocal range. Every album he comes up with something new. Like Under the Red Cloud, there were more black metal sounds which he never did before. He always comes up with surprises.

Dead Rhetoric: You recently did some shows playing the Eclipse album in full. What are your recollections of writing and recording that one?

Etelävuori: That was make it-or-break it time for us. If that one didn’t do anything, we wouldn’t be here anymore. In a sense, it brought the band back. There were some people skeptical because we had a new singer but after a while people who were critical, accepted him. Tomi would have never applied for the job if one of his friends never pushed him. There are a lot of people out there who never do anything unless someone pushes them.

Dead Rhetoric: You have been releasing an album every two years since 2007. Are you still on schedule for that?

Etelävuori: Now we can’t because this tour is going to take two years once it’s done. It’s going to be closer to two-and-a-half, three years, the next one. There’s no chance to even start to rehearse before October. We haven’t started compiling ideas yet. Everybody has demo ideas, but when we get into it, we get into it. For Under the Red Cloud, we spent two months straight in our rehearsal room every day. It’s like a day job.

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