For years, I thought metalcore was a somewhat dissident faction from the established metal brotherhood. It seemed like a threat that I declined to take seriously due to the fact that it often sounded more like a fashion statement – teenage angst layered with busy stop-and-go riffing. It wasn’t until quite recently when it finally dawned on me that not every metalcore act was a highly suspicious endeavor. For some reason, I was under the impression that I was going to immerse myself in this fine but somewhat questionable art here. The musical artifact in question is the fresh debut album, “Fragile Hearts Awake,” released independently on December 31st, 2020, by the up-and-coming Finnish artist HALO ONE. It is the one-man alternative metal project of Hannu Halonen, started in 2017.
So, on account of my personal shortcomings, I approached the album slightly on the defensive – only to be delighted by the fact that HALO ONE appeared to conduct his ars musica with the weapons of choice being something much more than the stereotypical bag of metalcore tricks. While building on aesthetics not entirely different from this notorious metal sub-genre, “Fragile Hearts Awake” holds a banquet to the beatitudes of groove-metal riffing, vintage Seattle-flavors, and even a bit of nu-metal. In passing, the guitar melodies punctuate the full-metal onslaught with a sonic brush that has been dipped deep in the Slavic melancholy, rooted in our collective psyche by the forefathers of the Finnish metal brethren.
The album kicks you in the groin pretty damn straight away, without issuing a warning, like a forward-coming street bully with violent intentions. The opening track, “Paper Thin,” has steamrolling riffage, strongly resonating with the air of LAMB OF GOD. Occasionally, when Halonen belts out in a true post-hardcore fashion, his vocal delivery is almost reminiscent of Randy Blythe. The choruses, in turn, resonate with the air of the groove-injected version of HELLYEAH, probably due to the fact that Halonen‘s clean vocal delivery is strongly reminiscent of Chad Gray. The marriage of such an unlikely sonic couple works quite brilliantly – and most importantly, the riffs kick some major ass. The song pretty much lays the framework for the whole album.
Throughout the album, the vocal delivery and musicianship are top-notch. Obviously, HALO ONE is still in search of his true personal tone of voice but as a gambit, “Fragile Hearts Awake,” is quite a demonstration of talent. Sure, he plays it safe more often than not, resorting to the tried-and-true metal virtues. At its most mainstream and metalcore, the album makes a sonic salute to BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE and such – but It’s perfectly okay as a good number of the riffs and turns generate a significantly pleasant buzz in my ears.
A couple of songs step off the well-beaten path and stand out rather nicely. The third track, “I Wonder,” invokes fond memories of 1990s grunge and nu-metal even. The slow dialogue of the guitars and the vocals takes a gentle nod towards ALICE IN CHAINS. Of course, a typical 1990s-kid like me would have been happy as a dog with two tails if the song plunged a bit deeper in this general direction. The slow-motion desperation of grunge seems to pair quite nicely with metalcore aesthetics as well. The closing track, “Post Scriptum,” plays with the verses’ DEFTONES vibes and the metalcore flavors of the choruses.
One of the most pleasantly surprising aspects of “Fragile Hearts Awake” is that it never falls into the common traps associated with these one-man projects. The album is neither a blasé pastiche of yesterday’s trends nor is it a copy-pasted montage of incongruous riffs and ideas. The music flows as though having been performed by a real collective of musicians. Obviously, the album isn’t one of the most innovative offerings I have heard from its year but, in spite of playing it safe, HALO ONE delivers rather beautifully. For a one-man venture that is no small feat! With a little bit of further refining, the next batch of songs might just as well be the release that will elbow-grease HALO ONE’s way into the high society of Finnish metal. “Fragile Hearts Awake” is full of promise, a fine exhibit of this guy’s skills of shooting out power-riffs like an old dog at it – from the hip, on the double, sounding busy like the devil in a high wind. It isn’t probably happening anytime soon that this kind of metalcore-flavored songs will become the chart-toppers of tomorrow but mark my words, HALO ONE will be a force to be reckoned with, guaranteed to kick up some dust.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Paper Thin
- I Wonder
- End Was All I Ever Wanted
- Darker Soil
- Anxiety Is An Anchor
- Fragile Hearts Awake
- Post Scriptum
Hannu Halonen – everything