There are plenty of bands with a three decade existence that have experienced an ebb and flow in the career. Times change, tastes alter and sub-genres come and go. Not that many manage to navigate the chicanes of the music world with a consistently high quality output but Amorphis is one of those bands. Maybe it is that the Finnish sextet does not necessarily easily slide into a box, instead ploughing a somewhat unique furrow with their mixture of styles. Melodic death metal to some, maybe, but equally managing to grab the attention of non-death metal devotees with the folk elements and the story telling with Finland’s epic 19th century national poem Kalavela providing an immense wealth of lyrical inspiration. Amorphis may not be grabbing the headlines but with a devout fanbase, that consistent discography and a reputation for being a formidable live act, Amorphis has earned both the plaudits bestowed upon them and their fanbase’s devotion.
A new album does invoke a frisson of excitement and trepidation because based on that discography, Amorphis is unlikely to release a dud which lacks depth – in fact it is likely to be exactly the opposite. The reason why previous albums may have stood the test of time is because they are not instant works that reveal their jewels immediately and Amorphis’ 14th album Halo is no different. Like previous records, Halo does not rush anyone from a dark hallway, there are no immediate curve balls to dodge nor tripwire surprises and Amorphis is not a band about to take a swan dive off a cliff change in style at this point in their career; they know who they are and what they do best but it is the taste to savour that Amorphis revels in. This is not to say that Amorphis just repeat themselves and throw out the same album, 2018’s Queen Of Time did have surprises but the point is that Amorphis freight train hit of beauty lives within the repeated plays over the instant fix.
Halo is indeed familiar territory, and its first listen is as expected in that it whizzes by with the hooks buried within a progressive framework just waiting to be peeled back. Albums such as 2013’s Circle, 2015’s Under The Red Cloud or the aforementioned Queen Of Time were not short of anthems although the latter took it to another level with practically clean vocals on tracks like Wrong Direction and to a degree gloss is removed in favour of a more strip backed approach to Northwards but the twist the Hammond organ elevating the song to an entirely new level of gorgeousness. First single, The Moon sweeps, the backing vocals are just astounding, a gentle fountain of sound that is truly intoxicating but the last third when the pace picks up into a gallop and those solos is truly beguiling. Seven Roads Come Together is gnarlier, the edginess in vocalist Tomi Joutsen’s growls still harbour that sense of dark colliding with the epic. Joutsen remains in fine voice, that juxtaposition of growl and clean vocals is one of the best in the business and is no more evident than on both Northwards and On Dark Waters, the shudder as one style moves into another for a soaring and infectious chorus. The rest of the band are not too shabby either with some excellent, clean drumming courtesy of Jan Rechberger and Santeri Kallio’s keys should never be understated. Guitarist Esa Holopainen lead work is never to be sniffed at, but it is on songs such as Windmane the apex being the twin solos sharing space with keyboards and strings where Amorphis rise above and truly shines. The only shadow on Halo is closing track My Name Is Night. One could be forgiven that the album ended on The Wolf as the final track takes an age to begin. In isolation, My Name Is Night is not a bad song, it is well framed with Joutsen’s softer tones playing a starring role, but it is something of a limp end to and album that has so many highs and feels like a waste. The irony is that Amorphis are still ready to experiment with songs such as the Eastern tinged War but as much as the band are not exactly known for ballads, My Name Is Night feels needless and somewhat cast adrift.
Amorphis does not release just comfortable or simply satisfying albums, Halo has all of the hallmarks of a great record that years from now will neither feel old nor stale and that is the magic of Amorphis. While it still seems incredible that Amorphis has been around for thirty years, it does not feel it and Halo gives the distinct impression that there is still more in the arsenal. Whether be a darkened room with headphones or the daily commute, Amorphis never fails to spirit its listeners away with a voyage of discovery. Halo is truly time well invested and proof once more that Amorphis are true masters of their craft.