Ah, Autumn. The perfect season to party. And by party I mean huddle up indoors with a fleece blanket and my cat, listening to the latest records so I can happily pass on new discoveries to you, my fellow metalheads. So far, the change of seasons has brought along some interesting new releases, one of those being BLACKSTAR HALO‘s newest album “Siren” (13.09.2019).
BLACKSTAR HALO, formerly known as DOWNFALL, is a Finnish Melodic metal act. Along with the name change, the band chose a new line-up, and a new path, releasing their debut album – “Illuminated” – back in 2010. This solid release was followed by live performances as the opening act for big fish such as LACUNA COIL and SCAR SYMMETRY. Since this promising debut, fans have been waiting eagerly for its follow-up. They got a taste of something more to come with EP “Downfall”, which was released last year. Their prayers to the metal gods have now finally been heard, for a second full-length album “Siren” is here. This is the result of more than eight years worth of the band’s blood, sweat, and tears, along with some production pixie dust sprinkled by Johan Örnborg and Jens Bogren of Swedish Fascination Street Studios. So, was it worth the wait?
There is a wide array of influences to be discovered throughout this Metal journey. The first track, “Bleeding Red Door”, gives you Melodic metal with atmospheric accents, a marriage between the dark riffs of IN FLAMES and melodic choruses of DISTURBED. “The Queen” has an Industrial side to it, with an 80ies kind of vibe, blast beats acting as the one thing to break that spell. The band perpetuates the 80ies throwback with “Remedy”, reminiscent of Glam metal, and bringing some bright guitar solos to this daring mix of styles that proves Hannu Kumpala and Timmu Eskelinens talent is beyond question. “The King” further confirms this with, in my humble opinion, the strongest leads on the record, with some well-placed silences to enhance the experience.
On to “The Wolf Mender”, which heads down the classic Heavy Metal path, the sirenesque female vocals adding to the mysterious atmosphere the band was going for. As for “Downfall”, which may or may not be hinting to the band’s past, they turn their musical style back around 360 degrees to a more modern kind of alternative. “Intruder” seems to go on in the same fashion, adding some curious electronic elements in case you weren’t on board with this style shift yet. The chorus here reminds of the band’s earlier work, and acts as a catchy, nostalgic throwback, welcomed before this track loses itself in too much detail. Another 360-degree style shift is the least you would expect, but it’s exactly what “Perdition’s Air” does. Modern, crunchy riffs make way for classic rock with a synthy twist. “Less Than You” turns the volume up a notch, but remains on the classic side. “The Other Side” “ends the record epically with full-blown Symphonic Metal goodness.
This wide array of styles somewhat makes and breaks the album. On the one hand, the band showcases their broad influences, musical knowledge, and excellent musicianship. On the other, all this mixing and matching sometimes tends to turn into chaos. If you consider some of the layers on their own, there is so much potential. Stirring rhythms, captivating synths, gripping leads,… But there is so much of everything that I had a hard time staying focused, trying to pick up as much of it as I could. The vocals are what really keep the whole of the album together, though.
Ville Hovi’s voice is definitely something else. Aside from his impressive vocal range, including some proper uncleans, he has a unique, gripping timbre that drags you along for the ride whether you want it or not. He puts his ability to channel different genres on display, juggling melodic cleans, strong Power falsetto’s, and decent growls. Lyrically, he tells stories of seduction and temptation, much like a siren lures sailormen to their deaths with her alluring, otherworldly voice. The songs are stand-alone and don’t connect to one story. They do not necessarily have to, but I feel like this does add up to the chaos a little, making it harder to stay in the zone this record aims to create.
Taking everything into account, I applaud the band’s boldness in experimenting, but at the same time, it’s sometimes hard not to get lost in the layers upon layers in every track. Eight years of puzzling pieces together may have caused them to fall into the trap of overthinking, which is understandable if you have an even broader audience to please. They are incredibly talented musicians, but this album felt like they were trying their hardest to showcase every single ability and influence they could think of, losing sight of their true identity as a band. Nevertheless, I am still thrilled BLACKSTAR HALO is back, and – thankfully – we haven’t heard the last of them.
- Bleeding Red Door
- The Queen
- The King
- The Wolf Mender
- Perdition’s Air
- Less Than You
- The Other Side
Ville Hovi – Vocals
Timo Eskelinen – Guitar
Harbo – Guitar
Dino Kullberg – Drums