It’s very easy to label the last decade as the best of Amorphis’ career. While the band has had some arguably brilliant periods during their three-decade-long tenure, the past 10 years have seen the powerhouse deliver some of the strongest melodic death metal releases in recent memory through albums Circle, Under the Red Cloud, and Queen of Time, all of which were critically well-received. Following up on one great album is hard enough for most bands, but it’s truly the greats that manage to do so for three consecutive records. If there is any band well enough equipped to do so, Amorphis would be it, and the band have chosen to tackle this task by starting 2022 off with their new album Halo.
Album opener Northwards sets a good early impression, tempering expectations for the album by opening with a slow key and orchestral introduction before escalating into a fully-fledged barrelling melody. This song is a very mixed bag in terms of tools and sounds that the band uses, with particular standouts being the instrumental interlude in the middle of the song which plays on a typical guitar-keyboard duel, and the choir break towards the end of the track, but is overall a brilliant beginning for the bands 14th opus.
The second track On The Dark Waters has, for the most part, very classic rock feel to it. It’s got very a catchy verse riff that will earworm its way into your subconscious long after the song has finished, but its real strength is in the ethereal melodies in the chorus and the bridging harmony riffs. Slowing the pace down from the first two tracks, The Moon brings a more nuanced and eclectic sound to the album. The hard-punching riffs are filled with groove, and the harsh spoken lyrics in the verses bring a real dichotomous weight to the cleanly sung chorus and its emotive harmonies that tie everything together neatly. The female vocalizing over the instrumental section gives the song a good variation and while it’s one of their slower offerings, it stands out as a distinctly unique track on Halo.
Windmane seems like a fairly standard until it hits possibly the best instrumental solo on the album. The interplay with the guitar and keyboards for this section in particular instantly creates a lasting impression and builds to a strong track closing. Subsequent offering A New Land is again, your standard melodic death metal faire complete with a powerful melodic opening that builds into a barrelling verse before converging together for an impactful, and very sing-along-esque chorus. There is a very prominent middle-eastern influence running through this track, and a sitar solo demonstrates the uniqueness of Amorphis’ instrumental abilities and eclectic soundscape visions for this album.
When the Gods Came employs several unique elements, like pauses, gaps, and silences, to really escalate it in an emotional sense, but subsequent track Seven Roads Come Together definitely feels like an interconnection of all tracks on the album to this point, and dare I say it, possibly one of Amorphis’ strongest tracks in its discography. Its melody-rich introduction and chorus are infectiously good, and although these sections feel directly at odds with the track’s hard-hitting bass-oriented verses, it just works brilliantly through time signature changes. There are very few elements from the band’s repertoire that aren’t utilized on this song, and it’s a clear standout as a result of it.
War is a fairly standard Amorphis track that begins the final stretch of the album, but subsequent offering, title track Halo, changes the pace by being one of the only fully clean sung songs on the album. Its meticulous pacing and its lyrical content instantly evoke very vivid imagery, and its orchestral elements before the solo really stand out. The fusion of male and female vocals brings a very powerful aura to this track and definitely helps this track etch itself into your subconscious.
The Wolf is the heaviest song on the album, with a rich groove bassline carrying the song very swiftly throughout its runtime. The melodies in the chorus and bridge are rich and vibrant and the brief inclusion of a choir is an unexpected, yet welcomed twist on a very heavy track. Album closer My Name Is Night wraps up the album with a wonderful fusion of Amorphis’ sound in ballad form. The back and forth between the male and female vocals over the slower-paced music make for a beautifully melancholic offering. With awe-inspiring lyrical content, this track oozes so much emotion and musical richness that it is the perfect capstone for an impressive album.
Amorphis has always been very strong in its musical delivery, and with Halo, the band has proven that they are unrivaled in the genre for fusing together sounds. There are so many elements beautifully blended across these songs, from standard melodic death metal, folk metal, and even just classic rock music that the soundscapes from the beginning of the album to its conclusion are so vibrant and powerful. Guitarist combo Tomi Koivousaari and Esa Holopainen and keyboardist Santeri Kallio carry these tracks with their rich melodies, but the impressive work of bassist Olli-Pekka Laine and drummer Jan Rechberger provide the perfect platforms for these harmonies to come over. The mix on these tracks is always balanced, and with the band once again engaging Jens Bogren for the final product as per their previous offerings, it’s very easy to see why.
Vocally, Tomi Joutsen is firing on all cylinders on Halo. The change between his contrasting harsh and clean vocal styles at the drop of a hat is impeccable, and while he has always been a very strong vocalist it seems like he has really been working to expand on his abilities with Queen of Time and Halo. It is also worthwhile noting that the band has once again adopted the services of lyricist and Kalevala expert Pekka Kainulainen who has translated the intricate poetry of the Kalevala into the lyrics for this album. The lyrics are a very strong and important part of what brings these tracks to life, and when these emotive and descriptive lyrics are fused with Joutsen’s vocals you are left with very vivid, almost relatable, tracks that can instantly transport you through to the places and times from the lyrics. Halo as an album has lyrics that really stand out, and the band has excelled once again in delivering its listeners a new adventure.
Overall, Amorphis has once again shown that they aren’t afraid to play around with unique elements in their music. Whether it be changing time signatures, their use of often underutilized instruments or their unrivaled blend of folk and melodic death metal fusion, the band has clearly found a core formula they are comfortable with and isn’t afraid of to play around and tinker with it to reach new frontiers. While this record isn’t necessarily as groundbreaking as Under the Red Cloud or Queen of Time before it, there is a lot on offer here that listeners will like, and perhaps more on offer for fans to digest over numerous visits. Amorphis continues to deliver 31 years on from their inception, and while this might be the conclusion of a powerful trilogy of albums started seven years ago, if their consistency is anything to go by, then we are in for many more great years of music to come.