Am Universum, the 5th full-length album of Amorphis, does not fall far from the tree that was 1999's Tuonela. You could think of it as Tuonela II: The Meatening, because about the only comprehensible difference I notice is a beefier use of the guitars and even more radio friendly polish to the standard rock songwriting being employed. Am Universum, like its predecessor, is not a bad album, but in the past 8-9 years it has not entirely held up for me. A few of the songs still rock, quite hard, though the growls (which appeared only briefly on Tuonela) are now lost. This may also be the first time the band kept a dedicated keyboard player for two consecutive records (Santeri Kallio), but Niclas Etelävuori replaces Olli-Pekka Laine on the bass.
"Alone" was the lead-in single and also christens the album with more of the band's driving pscyedelic-rock over thumping bass rhythms. The guitars are given a popping, funk swagger in the verse and as the vocals soar for the chorus, the guitars rock out in pure chord pounding, with organs trailing behind like an mesh of Finnish folklore and a Wild West showdown. It works, but it's not the best you'll find here. The album then packs its way through two of the better songs, the thundering "Goddess (of the Sad Man)", with a powerful if predictable chorus, and more of the somber, flighty guitar spackle the band is so fond of. "The Night is Over" is like the funky, low down Southern rock gospel according to Amorphis, with curvy blues and enough trip hipness to dust off those bellbottoms and shake down. I enjoy "Shatters Within" for the means it develops its grooving bass line into a cold, wintry stream of piano and axe melody while Pasi soars almost as high as he possibly can...and then it gets even better. "Crimson Wave" features a churning rhythm that drifts into some groovy 70s rock ala The Doors, another of the best tracks the album has to offer.
She's riding on a crimson wave
Truth sat on her shoulder
Planets before melting face
The keys for the wounded
It is the latter half of this album where I often feel like tuning out (not tuning in), though "Drifting Memories" tries to belay this with a opening surge of elevated melody that almost recalls the brilliance of the band's 1996 masterpiece Elegy. The rest is rather dull. "Forever More" in an exception, sounding bright and hopeful, thanks to the soaring guitar surf and some of Pasi's best vocals on the album, but "Veil of Sin" is a forgettable drag that wouldn't even suit me if I was sitting in a Finnish bar at 1am on a winter night. "Captured State" has a pretty strong chorus, provided you are still awake at this point and can arrive at its mid motion glory. "Grieve Stricken Heart" is another jamming, hippie rocker with blues and organ, the longest track on the album, but sadly there is no money shot worth the price of admission.
As usual, Amorphis enter the studio and later emerge with a top shelf sounding album. This once again transcends the metal boundaries, but unlike many evolving acts, a lot the bands stuck to them, even as they were acquiring droves of new ones from the increased radio/commercial exposure albums like this would win them. Am Universum is Tuonela with a few new chorus hooks and a slightly more bloodied coat of paint. It's their most suitable album for jukebox play at the local drinking hole, a soundtrack to broken hearts and fist fights and drunken stupors that are all delivered through its still-present adherence to the lessons of Finnish yore. Unfortunately, 'I'll drink to that' just doesn't apply to every song on this.
Highlights: The Night is Over, Shatters Within, Crimson Wave, Forever More
Verdict: Win [7.5/10] (it's a morning of misfortune)