It isn’t always necessary for a band to reinvent itself in order to remain relevant. Finland’s Amorphis, for example, found its identity early in its career and had nearly refined it by their third album, 1996’s “Elegy.” Though the band began dabbling with prog-rock and psychdelia on the 1999s wonderful “Tuonela,” the band soon lost its sense of self – and my interest – about a decade into their run.
That changed with 2006’s “Eclipse,” the band’s first record with current frontman Tomi Joutsen, who was critical in the band’s decision to refine the sound they’d established as they explored the Kalevala and Kanteletar a good decade earlier. The band wisely streamlined their sound, restrained their exploratory tendencies, and focused on writing killer tunes. Amorphis has not released a single dud since.
“Halo” continues Amorphis’s longtime collaboration with lyricist and folklorist Pekka Kainulainen, and concludes a trilogy begun on 2015’s “Under the Red Cloud.” “Halo” kicks off with a predictably crushing opener, “Northwards,” whose droning keys, folk melodies, organ solos, and caffeine-fueled performances by drummer Jan Rechberger and founding guitarists Tomi Koivusaari and Esa Holopainen leave no doubt that this can only be an Amorphis record. Throw in some choirs for good measure, and you’ve expanded an already-perfect sound just enough to keep things interesting, but not quite enough to alienate the purist.
What follows is exactly what you’d expect from Amorphis at this stage in their career – folk-inspired progressive death metal with no shortage of hat-tips to the acid rock and prog elders of yore, hooks out the wazoo, moments that teeter on the edge of symphonic, and even the occasional blistering guitar solo. It’s a sonic identity decades in the making, refined over fourteen mostly incredible albums, and requiring only the subtlest of tweaks. Cuts like “The Moon” in particular rank among the finest in Amorphis’s lengthy discography.
At this point, I’d normally bitch and moan about the lack of innovation in the sound Amorphis have been retreading for some fifteen years now. One would have to be more intimately familiar with the last several records than most dudes are with their wives to be able to tell the difference between, say “Silent Waters” and “Circle.” Amorphis has been doing this for over thirty years now – why don’t they shake things up a bit more?
The truth is that Amorphis just don’t need to do that. They’ve not only created a sound all their own, they’ve also been on a f**king roll – seven albums over a decade and a half – of thoughtful and engaging excellence that’s produced zero filler. Not even the mighty Iron Maiden have ever managed to do that. They also manage to spice things up ever so slightly from one record to the next to keep the listener interested. Hell, we actually get a rare ballad to close out this record, with a surprise appearance from former Paatos frontwoman Petronella Nettermalm‘s mellifluent croon damn near turning the gentle “My Name is Night” into a lullaby.
But the real reason neither I nor you have any credible right to complain about the Amorphis stasis, is that it simply isn’t static. They admittedly came very close to losing their edge in the pre-social media era (ie, a long f**king time ago), but they quickly developed a focus so keen as to make wild experimentation completely unnecessary. And quite frankly, it’s that very consistency that spotlights the strength of these gentlemen’s songwriting. They simply do not lack in this, the most vital of departments, and they show no signs of losing steam. Not only do we have no right to complain about Amorphis basically sounding the same as they did twelve years ago, we ought to be grateful for it.
Released By: Atomic Fire Records
Release Date: February 11th, 2022
Genre: Death Metal
- Tomi Joutsen / Vocals
- Esa Holopainen / Guitar
- Tomi Koivusaari / Guitar
- Santeri Kallio / Keyboards
- Olli-Pekka Laine / Bass
- • Jan Rechberger / Drums
“Halo” Track listing:
Another reliably sublime effort from the Kings of Karelia, “Halo” further cements Amorphis as one of metal's most consistently excellent bands.