Laakso, Markus-Amorphis (Book Review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed: January, 2023
Published: 2022, Svart
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: JP

I’m not sure what it is with the Finns. Maybe they are natural born storytellers but there seem to be a disproportionate numbers of Metal books about specific bands from Finland in relation to the ratio of Metal bands to population to books. Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, Sentenced, Lordi, Hanoi Rocks and Children Of Bodom and have all had books written about them or books written by members. Add the current book at hand about Amorphis and the Finnish Metal scene is becoming quite well documented! Compare this to neighbouring Sweden with twice the population and way more bands, who have far fewer books written by or about their bands. In the end this curious point does not matter, I’m just glad I can now read the story of Amorphis!

I’ve been anticipating the English translation of this book for years! Originally published in 2015 by Like, the first official biography of the band was intended to commemorate the bands 25th anniversary. Author Markus Laakso wrote the book in Finnish and in late 2022, the English-speaking world was treated to the translated version. The task of translation fell to Katri Makinen who also handled the aforementioned Sentenced book as well.

AMORPHIS (the book) is standard biography. Every band member and countless people involved with the band contributed to make this an authentic and authoritative version of the band’s history. It also has an introduction from the author, a discography and everything is nicely sourced. It’s a nice book to look at as well, there are dozens of photos all across the book including many full colour ones in glossy plates in the middle of the book. Most of these previously unpublished images are drawn from the personal archives of the members themselves.

The chapters flow nicely and follows the bands career in wonderful detail. In the standard fashion from the beginning Laasko introduces us to each member and a provided quite a lot of family history. We read about the early demo days with the band playing in youth centres where drinking was often more important than playing!

Some authors of some biographies focus more on band drama, some focus on recording, some on touring, but Laakso covers everything in great detail; the recording process, line-up changes, the non-musical careers and families of the band, financial stuff, musical gear, record label politics, tour hi-kinks and more.

He also discusses at length the album covers which I appreciated because I’ve always felt that Amorphis album cover were of pretty poor quality or at very least dull. Once I understood the stories behind the creation of the art, I gained a new appreciation of them. I would have liked to have each album cover reproduced in the book. They are all strangely absent. Maybe the author had difficulty securing the rights to publish those images. In a similar vein, the author spends some time discussing lyrics and talking about the Kavela, the ancient tales in which most Amorphis lyrics are based on. I learned a lot!

There were many interesting anecdotes scattered across the book. The stories of the virtual third-world conditions of the 2007 tour of eastern Russia in support of SILENT WATERS are in sharp contrast to the luxurious conditions in Japan where the band found themselves a few weeks later. We read of the band’s adventures in Australia, China and well as North and South America. It would have been nice to include an appendix of all the bands tour dates.

There were a few darker times that get discussed as well. The band had very few kind words for Matt Jacobson of Relapse Records; so, few in fact that I suspect to the tales about Relapse are very one-sided. I’d be curious to read a rebuttal from Jacobson! I had also forgotten the minor controversy that occurred when a former singer wore a politically incorrect shirt on-stage for one gig which led to (unfounded) accusations of racism being levelled at the band. This episode was short-lived. Overall, across the entire career of the band, controversy had been largely absent.

Author Laakso is clearly a loyal and dedicated fan. He wisely managed to avoid the book becoming an extended love-letter to the band. He did his best to justify and explain some of the worst albums (TOUNELA, AM UNIVERSUM and FAR FROM THE SUN) and he worked hard to explain how and why this band came to create these records, without being an apologist. He shares the good times and the bad times with us. The band was not above the foibles of addiction, in-fighting and pampered rock-star temper tantrums on cruise lines and even abandoning an entire tour! However, the band has always remained tight-knit. The seemingly large number of line-up changes in the band’s history seems to be the same circle of friends coming and going over the years, and switching musical roles.

My only dissatisfaction was that with the seven-year gap between the original publication of this book and the English version is that the productive band have already written and recorded three more albums and two live albums! The book is already way out of date! I’m confident a revised version will be published maybe for the 40th anniversary which in reality not that far off in 2030!

As a final note, the good people at Svart originally licensed/published this translated hardcover version with a simple black cover with the title in gold inlay.  The cover design is slightly different from the original pressing.  In other good news, this book has been licensed for publication by the fine folks at Decibel and (as of time of writing) is being issued in North America with alternate cover art in early 2023.

I’ve read many band biographies and this one is simply superb.