It was a little bit over a year ago when I had a chance encounter with the debut offering, titled “Fragile Hearts Awake,” by the Finnish one-man alternative-metal project, HALO ONE, and it took me by a delightful surprise, what with its banquet of groovy metalcore riffs, subtle shades of grunge, and the thick layers of that specific strain of Slavic melancholy that is second nature to us Finns. Now, time and tide have passed by long enough to present us with the sophomore effort by Hannu Halonen, the man at the helm of this promising new act.
The second studio album, “Tuli Sisälläni,” was released in March 2022 and quite a lot has changed, while the subtle metalcore undercurrent has remained more or less intact. The most notable change is the singing language. “Fragile Hearts Awake” was sung in English, whereas the new outing is thoroughly sung in Finnish. So, when Halonen belts out in his signature style that is slightly reminiscent of Randy Blythe of LAMB OF GOD, it really does add a new layer to the music when we realize that he sings in Finnish now – yes, despite the fact that the lyrics pay quite the homage to the somewhat emo-ish sentiments of the metalcore genre. Then again, pedigree outfits such as MOKOMA and APULANTA have already sold the Finnish public on the somewhat angst-ridden notion of perfect song lyrics. It needs to be said that the lyrics are by far not the most clichéd in this context. I would rather have it this way than listen to endless ruminations on the topic of New-Age-y quantum physics. You see, the new album title, “Tuli Sisälläni” (or “fire inside of me”) could really open a whole new avenue of opportunities; quite the can of worms, in this respect. Fortunately, it doesn’t.
The new album sets things in motion with the somewhat radio-friendly, yet robust metalcore riffage of “Likainen Pyhimys.” The song kind of continues the sentiments of the debut and does not offer massive surprises, apart from the fact that the lyrics are now in Finnish. I could easily imagine this song to be featured on the playlists of, say, Radio Rock, and just like the songs on the debut, this song flows forward as though played by a real collective of musicians. It is no small feat for a one-man endeavor and it goes to show that Halonen is quite proficient at writing catchy metal songs.
On the second track, “Hengitän,” things begin to shimmer with new interesting and intriguing shades. The ambient intro and the verses resonate strongly with the air of the popular 1990s band, DON HUONOT. The clean vocals balance between the ballad side of Chad Gray of HELLYEAH and Kalle Ahola of DON HUONOT. In the chorus, things go full-tilt metalcore with the appropriate vocal belting. Who would have thought that brewing a sonic cocktail with influences having been distilled from groove metal and Suomi-rock could possibly sound this good? The effect is something close to having Randy Blythe feature on, say, the 1999 DON HUONOT track, “Suojelusenkeli” – and my goodness, it works! Similar vibes come off the track, “Surun Saatto,” on which the clean vocal parts resonate with a tad more pronounced Kalle Ahola twist. It prompts me to say, once again, that HALO ONE is surely destined to become a force to be reckoned with as soon as Halonen gets a live line-up to start spreading his metalcore gospel. The debut already showed a great promise and the progress made only in a year is quite remarkable.
In terms of radio-play potential, the title track stands out rather nicely. It is an uptempo banger with a diabolically catchy chorus – that is, exactly the kind of metal music with a pop hook that fits the format of many a rock and metal radio. While there is a subtle “I think I’ve heard this before” feel to the music, probably stemming from the somewhat “commercial” sound, HALO ONE is by no means plundering the graveyards for the material. Halonen mixes different flavors in his bag of metal tricks with good taste, adding his signature tweaks and twists to the music. “Tuli Sisälläni” is yet another show of strength from Mr. Halonen, one that is nuanced enough not to be labeled merely as a metalcore effort of the lowest common denominator.
One of my favorite songs on the outing is “Sydämen Kansi,” for a number of reasons. The verses resonate by turns with the air of HELLYEAH and MOKOMA, while the icing on the cake is the (way too short!) clean guitar solo juxtaposed against the ambient, almost post-rockish canvas of chiming guitar arpeggios. I really wish the section would have lasted longer, MUCH longer, plunging headlong in the cinematic realms of PINK FLOYD and the like. Then again, this is HALO ONE, not RIVERS OF NIHIL – although somehow, I get the vibe that Halonen could scarcely be expected to flinch from the idea. After all, the code of metal conduct on the album is nuanced enough not to be labeled merely as yet another stereotypical metalcore effort.
In conclusion, HALO ONE‘s new outing is a strong metal endeavor. It throws in a good number of tight metal riffs that bounce around in the best metalcore and groove-metal fashion. By way of creating a nice contrast to the relentless grinding, some of the songs flow upon more plaintive waters, almost resonating with the vintage air of pedigree Suomi-rock bands such as DON HUONOT. In effect, “Tuli Sisälläni” continues from where the debut, “Fragile Hearts Awake,” left off and plunges remarkably deeper into the Neverland of metal music. The pop hooks in the choruses, topped off with the vehement belting of Mr. Halonen, obviously resonate with the subtle air of standard metalcore, but the album is something much more – so that I needn’t snub this charming nose of mine at it. The thing is: while metalcore remains one of my guilty pleasures, I don’t really care for most of the bands in the genre. HALO ONE is one of those metalcore outfits that ventures along the less beaten path, spicing up its metal schlagers with the most interesting and intriguing new shades. The 2020 debut sounded promising already and the new studio album certainly makes good on that promise.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Likainen Pyhimys
- Tuli Sisälläni
- Sydämen Kansi
- Surun Saatto
- Valo Joka Seurasi Varjoasi
Hanne Halonen – everything