Having released a new full-length album on a roughly 2-3 year cycle since 1992 the massive list of achievements sported by Helsinki, Finland based death metal progenitors gone melodic metal artistes Amorphis now includes this fourteenth album, an emphatically delivered and seeming sentimental hourlong opus centered around heavier, increasingly progressive guitar-forward works. ‘Halo‘ does very little to alienate itself from the consistent grind of the sextet’s post-2005 output as they continue modulating their most distinctive melodic innovations into signature works that’ve proven more often refreshed than rehashed. It is an unusually big album considering the restraint shown here beyond the celebrated over the top melodrama of 2018’s ‘Queen of Time‘, a feat and experience that is no less inspirational but perhaps indicative of a more roots-aware set of choices as the band continues toward their fourth decade. All efforts within appear selected to channel some manner of timeless intent — songs for ages, and perhaps despite uncertain tomorrows, offering melancholic meditations upon earth-specific eternal constants.
For the sake of not stagnating too heavily in the old fool’s golden casement of nostalgia I’ll sidestep personal anecdote with light as possible mention of my own fandom, which stretches back as far as 1993 and perhaps most crucially involves ‘The Karelian Isthmus‘ (1992) as a vitalizing education, ‘Elegy‘ (1996) as a revelation in its time and ‘Eclipse‘ (2006) as a point of pop-metal revived interest lasting ’til (and including) today. From a still moderately engaged fan’s point of view ‘Halo‘ is an extremely comfortable album pulling from the endless wells of Amorphis‘ own realm of melodic possibilities; Though it comes with a notably hardened edge compared to their last few records this shift is largely expected considering ‘Queen of Time‘ found the band at their most maximal production values and an almost cloyingly accessible level of melodic metal balladeer songcraft. In the most practical sense ‘Halo‘ is an equally big record intent on sharing an expectedly larger-than-life narrative but, also a far more -direct- one chomping at the bit to cut a few big riffs whenever the opportunity presents itself. On that same note it also appears to be a somewhat cumulative envision of all things Amorphis past and present, less a resume of feats and more a continuum of prime melodic ideas expanded outside of time.
The land of heroes centers much of its mythos around a seer whom is essentially a supernaturally gifted bard, fitting enough foil for the post-2007 Tomi Joutsen fronted version of Amorphis which aims for modern applications of the eldest Suomi folklore traditions via an elaborately melodic form of accessible progressive metal. By exclusively adopting the imaginative meter and dramatic strokes of the Kalevala as their major subject matter the band, by way of lyricist/artist Pekka Kainulainen, have sustained not only a distinctly Finnish reputation but a source of uniquely illustrative depictions of the ancient Finnish perspective as it might apply to modern man. This incrementally revealed crystalized cultural cache is perhaps the ‘depth’ that we find within the last seven full-lengths from Amorphis in terms of both artistic symbolism and the lyrics themselves, inarguably placing these fellowes as some of the most profound storytellers melodic/progressive metal has to offer, at least with any real consistency or popularity in tow.
Loosely set within the thaw of the ice age, ‘Halo‘ fits into a specific progression of events as the third in a proposed trilogy of works starting with ‘Under the Red Cloud‘ (2015), each linked by not only their thread of Kalevala-adapted yet loosely linked narrative but also choice pairing with Swedish engineer/producer Jens Bogren and symbolism provided by French artist Metastazis. Having read each album press release from the band since ‘Circle‘ (2013) Amorphis tend to arrive at pre-production with nearly twice as many songs in process than are needed and a producer like Bogren is preferred for his decisiveness, clipping those options down to a most crucial 45-60 minute setting. This likely explains the consistent mood and theatre of the band’s last few albums being especially well ordered, ‘Halo‘ being arguably the most dynamically placed running order of the lot. The catch is that perhaps some of the cutting room floor items might’ve provided additional coloration for we long-winded and patient folks as this record undoubtedly trims all but its most bombastic and rousing anthems. If I’m left with one major takeaway it is that this is the aggressive peak of the trilogy yet it is no less beauteous in hindsight.
Opener “Northwards” sets this tone of spirited yearning, a determined yet rocky journey set within what could be described as a sort of juiced re-opening of the ‘Elegy‘-era sound of the band, an idea that’d gained a bit more traction when the album’s second single “On the Dark Waters” incorporated a few sitar runs of the major melody. The general uplift of ‘Halo‘ and its energetic opening moments continues to raise the stakes chorus by chorus from that point, quickly presenting the introductory single, “The Moon“, with a bit more of an ‘Eclipse‘-era (‘Am Universum‘, even?) hook to it. I’d happily depict these pieces as somewhat self-referential if only to convey that Amorphis‘ signature is in full bloom right from the start of ‘Halo‘, as if to stamp right on the forehead of the listener that this album intends to sustain this exact high level of catchiness and anthemic bravado for as long as possible. Well they certainly do from that point on, perhaps peaking the well-listened fandoms ears with the on-the-nose tip to ‘Elegy‘ within “A New Land”. At this point in the full listen I’d found myself having a strong enough nostalgic reaction to this first of two LPs in the set that I was merely happy to be along for the ride for the first ~ten listens, enjoying every moment without a self-conscious thought — Eventually waking with the soaring sort of guitar hooks and cinematic prog-rock swells Amorphis are known for stuck in my head and carrying the more memorable residue of the full listen in mind for days on end.
The second LP in the set threatened to be the less obvious harbor for major standouts as the arabesque melodies and orchestral hits of “Seven Roads Comes Together” shifted the tone of the full listen a few degrees south of the snowbound north of Sides A and B. Considering keyboardist Santeri Kallio wrote a fair deal of the last two albums I’d felt like much of the first half of ‘Halo‘ was likely penned by Esa Holopainen whereas some of the more patient melodicism and grandeur found on “War”, the late 90’s Rotting Christ-esque “Halo” and especially closer “My Name is the Night” seem to bear more of his input, or, appear in line with those prior records to some degree. The catch and perhaps the only point of criticism I’d stand somewhat firmly behind in hindsight: Couldn’t they have clipped everything between “Seven Roads Come Together” and “My Name is the Night” and still end up with a profound and brilliantly stated full-length experience? The running order only appears to lose the plot somewhere between Side C and D because it either needed to be a few songs longer as a double LP or else be clipped down to single LP size, leaving its impact to a more succinct power move. ‘Halo‘ isn’t perfect as a full spin but none of this will likely feel unbalanced until you’re too many listens deep to be perturbed.
Quick to stamp the memory but largely up to the same old tricks, there is something for all manner of fandom that Amorphis have accumulated these last two decades festooned within the dramatic sky-sighted aggression of ‘Halo‘. Though it might appear they’ve stripped things down to their most familiar and warm elemental appeal this fourteenth around, the band’s over the top signature has arguably never sung so loud and clear. It is an ‘easy’ listen that plays beautifully on repeat and offers a serious-enough face and inarguably engaging experience that I cannot help but recommend ‘Halo‘ by way of its compulsively tested repeatable entrancement in my hands. A high recommendation.
|LABEL(S):||Atomic Fire Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||February 11th, 2022|
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