Thursday 3 March 2022

Amorphis - Halo (2022)

Country: Finland
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 11 Feb 2022
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I guess I'm more out of date than I thought I was with Amorphis. I remember their early albums in the death or death/doom genres. I also remember how impressed I was with Am Universum, that took a very different approach, into what could be called hard rock, melodic rock, electronica and gothic rock, among others. However, that was 21 years ago—holy crap, how the time flies—and it may well be that the only album I've heard from them since is last year's solo Esa Holopainen disc, Silver Lake, even though Halo is their ninth or tenth album on from Am Universum. I have catching up to do.

I'm pleased to discover that, rather like Paradise Lost, whose career changes they have somewhat parallelled, they're currently exploring a sound that combines all the various sounds they've gone through to get here. Even on the opener, Northwards, there's an Am Universum melodic side but also earlier death/doom components and presumably plenty from the years I haven't heard, that I'm now assuming got progressively progressive. If I was to pick just one genre to label this, I think I'd have to go with progressive metal. It's not always that and it isn't even always either of the two halves of that, but it's that more than it's anything else.

Northwards is a good opener. It trawls in a great deal but it coalesces into a single style that could be called Amorphis. It's heavy when it wants to be and lighter when it wants to be that instead and it shifts between them effortlessly. Each of the eleven songs on offer runs four or five minutes and change and that feels like a very comfortable length for the band in 2022. They clearly don't want to get epic and use their progressive metal mindset to explore their ideas beyond easily chewable chunks, but nothing's simple enough to be a radio friendly single.

What I think this will translate to is an album that takes multiple listens to fully appreciate. It's an easy statement to make that I like this music, which consistently feels interesting while songs are playing, but equally as easy to say that not a single one of them stood out on a first time through. As I listened through again and again, I found that it was parts of songs that began to emerge and impress, rather than the songs as complete entities: the middle eastern melodies in On the Dark Waters, the punctuation by keyboards and the haunting backing vocals in The Moon, the flutes in Windmane and the jangling guitars midway that lead into keyboard runs.

What's notable there is that those are tracks two, three and four and that mindset remains valid throughout the rest of the album. From one angle, this album has a very consistent feel so that it almost plays better as a fifty-five minute slab of prog metal than as eleven individual songs, but it doesn't repeat itself much, those highlight moments being different from one track to the next. It all underpins that initial thought that it's going to be a grower of an album that we need to hang out with and figure out what makes it tick.

The riffs and hooks are there but often more elusive than the more unusual elements. It took me a few listens through to firm up a decision on which song does those typically obvious components best. I'm plumping for Seven Roads Come Together, but I may well change my mind on a next time through. War is already trying to take its crown and it may well succeed. So, is Seven Roads Come Together the most accessible song here or is it merely the first to emerge on its own merits from a solid and consistent album? I haven't made my mind up about that yet.

What's clear is that this is a good album. What isn't clear is just how much I'm going to like it when it finishes growing on me: a lot or a heck of a lot? Only time will tell.

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