Amorphis
Halo

A well-respected colleague of mine once advised me that it was a bad idea to stay with a job or company for more than 10 years – and even that long was pushing it. The idea being, after a certain amount of time in the same setting, you begin to lose your passion for the gig; that the monotony of being in the same surroundings for too long will kill your drive to push your professional limits and be the best version of yourself at work.

That same guy also just retired after a 35-year career with his company. So maybe he’s full of shit.

For their part, Amorphis has been around for 32 years now – though that 32 years could certainly be sliced up (like any band who’s been around that long) into different eras. A certain section of fans will tell you the band stopped existing after their first two records, The Karelian Isthmus and Tales from the Thousand Lakes, both featuring a more straightforward Death Metal approach than the more Progressive leanings the band would later become known for. From there, the band started integrating more clean vocals, taking more creative risks, doing the kinds of things that can tend to make lots of metal fans uncomfortable, and others giddy with joy. Depending on who you ask, the band may have either peaked with the more adventurous Elegy and Tuonela, or they marked the beginning of the band’s downward slide into weak-ass, noodling non-brutality (not my words, I’m just passing along others’ concerns).

For the sake of time, we’ll skip ahead to 2005, when long-time lead singer Pasi Koskinen was replaced by Tomi Joutsen, the man who still holds the position to this day, and one of my personal favorite metal vocalists of all-time. I guess that sorta gives away how I feel about Joutsen-era Amorphis, who since has grown into one of the world’s finest, most consistent metal acts. Their run of quality-to-incredible albums from 2006’s Eclipse, to 2018’s Queen of Time is a feat most fans could only dream of. That said, after 12 years featuring more-or-less the same lineup, it’s fair to say of late that the band has fallen into a little bit of a lane. An impeccably performed and composed lane, but let’s just say that by now you probably have a pretty clear idea of what new Amorphis material is gonna sound like – from Esa Holopainen’s gorgeous melodies to Joutsen’s signature mastery over beautiful crooning and bellowing gutturals alike, to Santeri Kallio’s whimsical keyboard interplay with the guitars, there’s a definite base recipe the band has been following for some time now.

Halo, to be frank, ain’t straying from the cookbook. Granted, that this is the final chapter in a trilogy of connected albums, maybe this shouldn’t be all that surprising – but Amorphis is hardly the first band to put together multiple interconnected albums, and many others have pulled off the feat while making each album have its own distinct character. Instead, Halo takes the same trends you found on Under the Red Cloud and Queen of Time and essentially turns them back around again with different arrangements; an expertly crafted blend of darkness and light, a continued emphasis on the progressive end of their sound while straying from the folkier elements found more prevalently on Skyforger and The Beginning of Times, and the band’s continued liberal use of Middle Eastern-inspired guitar and string elements and ethereal female vocal accents, making you feel as though you’re receiving sage guidance from a drugged-up oracle (look no further than first single “The Moon” to hear what I’m on about).

So was my colleague right after all? Is it time for a change?

There’s one major flaw to that line of thinking: Halo may not be especially unique or original in its overall presentation, but to call it “uninspired” seems terribly short-sighted. Its lack of new approaches can very easily be forgotten by the fact that this is a band still performing at an extremely high level. I apologize for making a sports reference to those of you smart, healthy individuals who find more useful ways to occupy their precious time (I am not one of those people), but at this point, Amorphis is very much like the Kansas City Chiefs: Immensely talented, let by two absolute geniuses at what they do (Tomi Joutsen is Patrick Mahomes and Esa Holopainen is Andy Reid in this comparison), but for 4 years now they’ve pretty much been doing the same shit. Does that make watching them any less exciting? Fuck no. They’re still one of the greatest shows on turf every time they hit the field, and while they may not be winning Super Bowls EVERY year, they’re always on the cusp of absolute greatness. Compare that with Amorphis and Halo; and the similarities become more clear.

The chugging verses or album opener “Northwoods” may indeed very similar to Queen… opener “The Bee,” but who cares? It still sounds frigging great. I still want the gorgeous leads and bouncy energy of “On the Dark Water”. I still want the endless stream of memorable, beautiful hooks and chorus like those of “The Wolf” and “War” that demand your attention and have you singing along in just a couple spins, the latter appropriately providing a level of seething aggression towards the end of the track that slaps with uncharacteristic venom. And is there room in my life for yet MORE of Esa Holopainen’s seemingly endless well of gorgeous guitar work?  Why yes, there is. Load up my plate with that familiar comfort and I’ll continue to go to town on it.

The band even manages to provide listeners with a track that is certainly among its best ever with “Where Seven Roads Come Together.” It’s a relentless, epic track that once again shows the seemingly symbiotic relationship this band has between its guitars and Santeri Kallio’s keys. The breakdown at the 4-minute mark that ushers in some of the band’s most cinematic vocal accents to date will put chills in your spine and raise the hairs on your arms with it’s grandiose glory. If it’s “inspiration” you’re looking for, you can’t find a finer example than this to prove the band isn’t sleepwalking through the process. Maybe I’m wrong – maybe Holopainen and fellow guitarist Tomi Koivusaari can just whip out dazzling leads and high energy riffs like these without even thinking about it – but one listen to the rousing “On the Dark Waters” or the ear worm of their first single “The Moon” makes it very hard for me to believe that this could be a mailed-in effort. They know what works, and they’re deploying every weapon at their disposal to continue their run of mastery at their craft.

Look, I applaud every band with longevity equal to Amorphis who are continuing to push their own boundaries and find new ways to add to their sound. It’s a noble pursuit. That said, there are some things, in their consistency, that just work. AC/DC have pretty much been playing the same beat since 1973, and most people aren’t raising a big stink about it. Similarly, the brand of progressive, melodic, high-quality metal that Amorphis have been delivering now for a truly impressive stretch of time continues to just feel right.

In 2022, they’re still pretty much the gold standard for what they do, and for a band that’s been at it for over 30 years, you can’t help but continue to admire the persistence. Amorphis are still Amorphis, and for me, that’s still plenty of reason to celebrate this latest offering.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
February 7th, 2022

Comments

  1. Commented by: Erik T

    Great review Steve. My thoughts exactly, but man there are a couple of bangers here ( On dark waters, seven roads)


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