AMORPHIS was always high on my must-listen list, but it somehow took the release of “Queen of Time” (2018) for me to fully appreciate their music and dive deep into their discography. It took them a few years to unleash a new record on the world, but at last, the time has come! Their new album, “Halo,” will be released on February 11th, 2022, via Atomic Fire Records. With “Circle,” “Under the Red Cloud,” and “Queen of Time,” AMORPHIS have been putting out excelling records for quite some time now, so we’re here to investigate whether “Halo” passes the test of time and can be added to that list.
From the first second, AMORPHIS manage to convince listeners with the opener, “Northwards.” The song is representative of what is to be expected from “Halo” as a whole. For instance, I feel like the band has included more time signature changes and there is just something about the rhythmic section and certain structures that make this album very unpredictable at times. Midway through, there is a beautiful instrumental section with very groovy bass lines and a Jon Lord-esque keyboard solo, after which singer Tomi Joutsen sings at a calmer pace. Afterwards, you’d think the band would switch up back to the chorus, but they leave the track with a banger of a choir, before hitting back to the epic chorus. I love a good twist!
More melodic, but no less heavy, is “On the Dark Waters,” a track that is a perfect mixture of “Under the Red Cloud” and “Queen of Time.” What’s so great about it is that if you listen to it a bunch of times, every time you can discover something new, as it’s a very layered track. Furthermore, we haven’t talked about the Oriental influences in the C-part or about the modulation at the end of the track, but they should certainly be mentioned.
If you, like me, have been spinning “The Moon” for quite some time, you probably like the stunning combination of AMORPHIS‘ different styles in it. Honestly, what got me hooked was the more progressive note to the song. The chorus consists of the loveliest melodies, the guitar melodies surrounding the song give it a different blend of spices, and it has dynamics to die for. Speaking of progressive, the prog elements continue into the next song “Windmane” (of which guitarist Esa Holopainen admitted during our interview that the working title of this was “Progfart”). The first part of the song progresses very nicely, but things unwind during the beautiful interplay between the guitar and keyboards in the solo section.
More leaning towards melodic death metal is “A New Land,” which adds nicely to the flow of this record. The chorus has some beautiful female vocals added, harmonizing beautifully with Tomi Joutsen‘s vocals. Structurally, this track is perhaps the most straightforward, in-your-face track, but it’s surely welcome after the many polyrhythms we were offered so far. The band then plummets into “When the Gods Came,“ with beautiful added keyboard melodies accompanying the song throughout. This is easily the most fun chorus of the record to sing along to, making it a shoe-in to be a super fun live track.
From here on, things take a turn a bit. The album gets really heavy with “Seven Roads Come Together,” easily one of my personal highlights of this record. Oriental-influenced heavy riffs are paired with Tomi Joutsen‘s incredible growls during the verses, which gives the song an ominous character. The lighter and poppier chorus forms a nice contrast. That Jens Bogren has decided to use fewer orchestrations, but instead, use them where it’s worth it, is apparent in this track. Only during the last chorus, there are dramatic strings added to the chorus, which give it a more emotional touch.
“War” is a pretty standard AMORPHIS track – the magic only happens midway through the song when there is a beautiful section with grand choirs and things start to shift around again. This is definitely a track that needed a few spins in order to fully appreciate it. The poppier “Halo” starts off with an electronic soundscape, creating a tense atmosphere, after which a melodic riff starts to steal the show. It’s a nice change in dynamics, as this song feels a little bit more laidback and mellow. The female vocals during the second verse add a really nice touch to the whole. Towards the end of the song, the female vocalist does some ethereal atmospheric vocals, after which the chorus starts all over again.
If by this point, you were getting a little bit worried about the lack of the word “heavy,” you might find relief in the fact that “The Wolf” is definitely the heaviest track on this record. Midway through, the song gets a progressive touch with a great instrumental section and of course, in what seems to be a trend on this album, a random choir pops up as a plot twist again – bonus points because they’re singing in Latin!
Those who have followed my reviews for a while, perhaps know that I am a fervent hater of any kind of ballad. Admittedly, I was not fully convinced at first by the album closer, “My Name Is Night.” However, even I have a soft spot for something that touches the soul (re: Petronella Nettermalm‘s vocals on this track are otherworldly and blend so beautifully with Tomi‘s vocals.) Overall, this is the perfect ending to the album because it totally gives you a relaxing, soothing feeling that you kind of want to experience after the richness and complexities of this very layered record.
“Halo” is the third time the band is working with highly acclaimed producer Jens Bogren. We all know that he is one of those names in the industry that everybody likes to work with, but listening to an album like “Halo,” it’s also pretty clear why. I can’t think of a single point of criticism concerning the production of this record. The album is totally carried by the instrumental backbone behind the machine that is AMORPHIS, yet Tomi Joutsen is necessary for this machine to work, as his voice – whether it’s his growls or clean vocals – carries a lot of emotion that conveys the themes of these songs perfectly.
To conclude, “Halo” is the kind of album that you can put on repeat for hours, days, months, centuries, eons… you’ll never get sick of it. There is something new to discover in this record every spin because across these songs, there are so many extraordinary details that spice things up a bit, but essentially really make a difference. Whether it’s extra spicy guitar licks, subtle keyboard melodies, or the often groovy bass lines and polyrhythmic drums, this album is truly dynamic and altogether an interesting rollercoaster to the attentive listener.
Written by Laureline Tilkin
2. On The Dark Waters
3. The Moon
5. A New Land
6. When The Gods Came
7. Seven Roads Come Together
10. The Wolf
11. My Name Is Night
Tomi Joutsen – vocals
Esa Holopainen – guitars
Tomi Koivusaari – guitars
Santeri Kallio | keyboards
Olli-Pekka Laine – bass
Jan Rechberger – drums
Atomic Fire Records