Halo, the 14th studio album by the renowned Finnish metal band Amorphis, is set for release this Friday. If you were compelled to do a double take upon reading the 14th studio album, I won’t blame you. More amazing than the sheer volume of their back catalogue is the consistent quality these masters of melodic metal with a progressive twist have been able to maintain throughout their discography. To a sympathetic onlooker it has at times seemed a tad unfair, if not outright criminal, how underrated these Finns are relative to their musical feats, yet Amorphis has kept on chugging away at their niche apparently content with their lot. With the release of their latest opus just days away, the time has come to dive headfirst into the world of “Halo” and discover what Amorphis might still have to say with their music some 30+ years into their career.
The opening track “Northwards” begins with a mellow piano intro, its melody repeated by the soaring lead guitar that kicks in along with the rest of the band. “Taken by Tuonela’s river” growls Tomi Joutsen in the opening lines, the familiar imagery assuring the listener from the get-go that all the beloved Amorphis-elements are there, both lyrically and musically. The second verse is followed by a subdued yet strangely majestic clean vocal section, and some juicy dual-solo action by Santeri Kallio and Esa Holopainen. The instrumental section recalls some of the past deeds of bands like Katatonia and Opeth, which could simply be due to the fact that all three bands are more or less influenced by 1970’s prog rock. “Northwards” is a triumphant opening statement that foreshadows everything the listener can expect from the album: strong melodies, world-class instrumentation with straightforward hooks and more ambitious progressive sections alike, and Tomi Joutsen’s ever-impressive vocals, both growling and clean singing.
The following two tracks “On the Dark Waters” and “The Moon” should already be familiar to most Amorphis fans as the promotional singles released ahead of the album. As the two most easily digestible tracks on the album they were the obvious choices by the record label. Upon listening to the record for the first time I was a bit aghast how I couldn’t seem to get a firm grip on much of the music besides these two tracks. Turns out drummer Jan Rechberger had been quite prescient when he said on one of the making of “Halo” documentary clips that the album didn’t open up for him until after ten spins or so.
Right after the two catchiest songs on the album the band delivers “Windmane”, perhaps the most progressive offering on the record. Some of the track’s quirky twists and turns seem a touch too forced, but not to the point of ruining the song entirely. “A New Land” is straightforwardly standard mid-tempo Amorphis song in that it contains everything fans have come to love about this band, oriental riffs and all. One minor blemish on the tune is the clean vocal section of its chorus, which seems to recycle “You I Need” quite noticeably. “When the Gods Came” boasts arguably the album’s most delightfully upbeat chorus, while the soaring c-part on “Seven Roads Come Together” is one of “Halo’s” finest moments for me.
Aptly entitled “War” relies a bit too much on repeating its chorus, even though it marks some of the album’s most heart-wrenching lyrics with an emotional vocal performance from Joutsen to match. Title track “Halo” is to this album what “Amongst Stars” was for the previous one: a catchy, crowd-pleasing jewel of a song opportunely before the final bow. Sandwiched between “Halo” and closing ballad “My Name is Night” is “The Wolf”, an appeasing offering to the band’s death metal crowd with a mean buzzsaw riff and a mournful c-part to balance the aggression. “My Name is Night”, the first ballad in the band’s career in a very long time, is sung as a duet between Tomi Joutsen and Petronella Nettermalm. It serves beautifully as a quiet, contemplative send-off for the listener as well as the entire album.
“Halo” has been promoted as a completion to a trilogy that began with 2015’s “Under the Red Cloud” and continued on to 2018’s “Queen of Time”, all three albums having been brought to life with producer Jens Bogren. One can only wonder if, after such a successful collaboration, these two parties have the courage to part ways in order to avoid even the possibility of stagnation. Whether Amorphis still has more music in them to gift to the world, and whether or not they choose to do so with the same producer in the future, the band can stand proud and assured that “Halo” is such a potent show of force that nothing remains to be proven, and yet everything still remains to be gained.