Bjørkø
Heartrot

I’ll be honest with you, dear reader – usually when an established artist strikes out on their own, regardless of how much I may respect and admire them or their prior work with their respective bands, I just cannot care less. I don’t think it’s going out on too big of a limb to say that, for the most part, solo albums – especially in the world of metal, for whatever reason – tend to fall a bit flat. All too often, they wind up just sounding like cutting room excerpts that weren’t good enough to make it onto their 9 to 5 gig’s latest record. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, and I can understand any musician’s need to scratch particular itches and stretch their legs a bit, that’s all well and good, but far too many times a solo effort just feels like something that needs to get out of the artist’s system, so that they can go back to their bandmates with a clearer, more focused creative mind.

With that all in mind, I approached this project from one of the masterminds of one of my favorite bands (in this case, guitarist and songwriter Tomi Koivusaari of Amorphis fame) with a healthy dose of trepidation, but also some curiosity – because for getting on well over a decade to this point (and specifically, since Tomi Joutsen’s addition to the band), one could argue Amorphis’ run of unwavering consistency is either a stretch of utter brilliance, or a tiresome repetition (or maybe both?).  Whichever way you look at it (and I’m unapologetically a huge fan), Koivusaari and co. haven’t strayed too far off from their winning formula for quite some time now, and with the planned trilogy of Under the Red Cloud, Queen of Time and Halo coming to its conclusion, maybe venturing out and getting a little weird is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Any suspicions about Heartrot just being a collection of ideas deemed unfit or not good enough for Amorphis can, for the most part, be thrown out the window. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly moments that have Amorphis‘ fingerprints on them, in particular on “Whitebone Wind” (featuring Nightwish bassist/ vocalist Marko Hietala and Finnish singer Petronella Nettermalm) which is very much cut from the same cloth as the familiar “Amongst Stars” (Queen of Time) and “The Trickster” featuring UK Industrial artist Jessi Frey, which contains the same sort of highly melodic delivery of Amorphis‘ recent output, but when paired with Frey’s gruff, straight-forward delivery, creates it’s own sort of vibe altogether. It hits like a track that would do very well in Tokyo’s infamously chaotic night life, if that makes any sense? Somebody out there gets it.

 

But for the most part, Koivusaari does seem to be getting out of his recent comfort zone to try new things (or even in some cases, revisit some past glories) with an impeccably chosen cast of guest vocalists that match the energy and tone of each track beautifully. On the more aggressive side, you’ve got a track like “The Heartroot Rots” with Carcass‘ Jeff Walker that, despite some weird, goofy sound effects layered over the beginning of the song, brings to mind much more of a Karelian Isthmus or Tales From the Thousand Lakes vibe than virtually anything we’ve heard from Koivusaari since those darker, heavier days. There’s even an all-out blast attack just before the midpoint that sounds truly refreshing and genuine which, I’ll admit, I did not see coming at all – but makes the call for Walker’s assistance all the better for it. Then there’s “World of Fire and Hallucination” featuring the instantly recognizable Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir, and we’re talking a straight up, old school Death Metal attack that may not sound wholly original, per se, but it no less surprising and welcome in its fevered delivery. Even his current partner-in-crime, Tomi Joutsen, makes an appearance to dole out some punishment on the excellent “Hooks in the Sky,” which sees Tomi leaning much more into his killer growls and lower end delivery to match the heavy, rumbling paces of Koivusaari’s riffs. Much like how Magic and Mayhem – Tales from the Early Years gave us a glimpse at what early Amorphis may have sounded like with Joutsen at the helm the whole time, “Hooks in the Sky” pulls off a similar trick, and it’s pretty damn glorious.

But where Tomi really stretches out his creative spark is on the tracks that take the intensity down a few pegs. There’s a very Goth-y vibe found on a lot of these tracks, like “Vaka Loka” featuring Solstafir‘s Addi Tryggvason (yet another perfect pairing) which takes a more minimalist approach, allowing Tyggvason’s particularly expressive vocals sort of take center stage to set the mood, and even featuring some very Solstafir-friendly slide guitar leads that seem almost a tribute to his guest musician’s work. It’s a very moody track that flips the initial tone of this record on its head, not letting you get too comfortable with any one sound or feeling. Then there’s “Varinvaihtaja” featuring famed Finnish musician Ismo Alanko which leans right in to those 90s goth metal vibes (think the likes of Moonspell, Tiamat or To/Die/For), with it’s heavy use of electronic melodies, simple, rhythmic riffs and drumming that make me ready to break out the leather and fishnets, and paint my nails black all over again. It’s an extremely catchy track, too – one that had no problem getting stuck in my head almost immediately upon first listen.

All-in-all, despite its somewhat confusing packaging (it looks more fitting for a sort of psychedelic, stoner rock project than anything), I actually really enjoy the collection of ideas Tomi Koivusaari has put together here. His selection of guest musicians is absolutely spot-on, to the point that it almost feels more like he chose a group of artists he just really wanted to write music for, as opposed to just having them just show up and lend their talents to his ideas. It all seems very intentional and meticulously curated, and I can’t help but come away impressed with it all. This probably isn’t for everyone, but whatever, the point is it seems Tomi and fellow Amorphis guitarist Esa Holopainen (who released his own solo effort a couple years ago) have succeeded in working out whatever creative juices they needed to purge, and in doing so have both given the world something worthy of enjoying apart from their regular gig (albeit in very different ways). This is a quality release from one of metal’s most consistent and brilliant guitarists, and it’s absolutely worth checking it, even if just for a curious glance.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
January 15th, 2024

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