To stand out in a field where the obvious signifiers are the most common, and therefore the most clichéd, elements, one has to know when to try something different. Amorphis had already shown itself to be a more than competent end-of-the-century Scandinavian black metal outfit, but there were plenty of others equally able to say the same. The inspired turning point had two points of origin -- recruiting another lead vocalist, Pasi Koskinen, to sing with Tomi Koivusaari, and deciding to record an album infused with earlier Finnish folk influences, both musically and lyrically. The choice of lyrical inspiration, Finland's national epic The Kalevala, isn't necessarily surprising given how often metal of all kinds has favored tales of dungeons and grue. But Amorphis wisely eschew Conan the Barbarian grotesqueries in place of the often grim existentialism found in the original poems, more like a medieval northern Metallica (or even a Joy Division, if you like) than a prancing Dio. The result is a powerful release that, if anything, feels like an equivalent to Sepultura's own inspired combination of past and present, Roots. Esa Holopainen's use of sitar on certain tracks, like the opening "Better Unborn," as well as the continued use of keyboards shows the band avoiding some sort of retro-unplugged move -- it's still Amorphis ripping through things with a number of prog touches as they go, but wanting to bring all sorts of musical options to the fore (as with the folky dance break in "Cares," where the guitars almost sound Hawaiian). Koskinen's much clearer vocals nicely offsets Koivusaari's subterranean grumble, ensuring that the lyrics aren't lost in the flow. For all the darkness of the lyrics and delivery, there are some jaunty moments as well, like "On Rich and Poor," which for black metal is actually a pretty upbeat song, at least at the opening! With a gentle acoustic version of "My Kantele" closing things out, Elegy is an inspired leap forward.
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett