Review by Julio on January 28, 2022.
I listened to this album very attentively three times before sitting to write about it. It is one of those albums. A demanding one, rich, intricate, full of little details that escape your ears on the first listening. And I am sure that with more sessions this record will grow even more, unfolding much more hidden secrets, revealing creative gems cleverly placed to be found after a dozen visits. A rewarding to efforts of patience and diligence.
Over the years Amorphis cemented a deep-rooted identity in all things pagan, the spiritual connection with their Finnish and northerner ancestry, the old magic that after millennia is still resonating and is riveting. Something I fancy to understand and describe as “Shamanic Metal”.
And Halo does with grace and majesty its share to cement this identity further. Right away from the start we get this distinctive feeling of being invited into a mystical journey to the far North – this place which is more spiritual concept that necessary geographic and physical – with the opening track ‘Northward’. Peppered with slightly oriental insinuations the track promises a different adventure as we had in the past, and delivers it, being a journey full of surprises that span everything we came to expect from Amorphis and quite some more. It’s heavy, aggressive, intense, yet also melodic, hopeful, almost delicate, a proper display of the conceptual duality of light and darkness that the album it’s based on.
Another aspect that catches the ear on Halo is the absolute unashamed trend to flirt with more accessible metal – what some people like to call ‘pop’ but I don’t agree with that terminology, not at all. ‘On The Dark Waters’, ‘The Moon’ and ‘When The Gods Came’ are good example of this, single material that doesn't demand much of the listeners, easy going tunes, catchy melodies that are inviting to heartfelt sing along. All of that without losing sight of the deeper, darker undertones of the band usual sounding, without giving away the essence and the spirit. Those songs also highlight the better-than ever voice of Tomi Joutsen, that achieve insane levels of range going from the most crystalline cleans to the most vicious growls in a matter of seconds.
On the other end of the spectrum there is plenty of old school heavy-hitting metal. The kind which is more inviting to head bang than to sing along. ‘Windmane’, ‘A New Land’, ‘War’ are just like, unapologetic heavy and hard, almost bitter and sparing no punches. Sure to please the fans of the darker side of Amorphis adventures. And then we have something of a third side of this record. The songs that are companions to the opening track ‘Northward’, the ones that are truly shamanistic and deep dive into the light-dark dualism. ‘Seven Roads Come Together’ feels like a journey onto itself, huge, larger than life, hymn-like, one to become a classic. The title track ‘Halo’ is another one with a life of its own, beautiful, mystical, plenty of symbolism careful crafted.
‘My Name Is Night’ is a climatic sendoff that encapsulate the stylist aspirations of the record. A huge ballad-like duet, stunning, emotional, a tribute to the symbiotic relation between Men and Land, the intertwining of its spirits. The perfect way to cap things.
I said in the start of this review that Halo is a demanding album and I double down this affirmation here at the end. At a first glance it can sound too much like its predecessors Under The Red Cloud (2015) and Queen Of Time (2018), if they were all constructed with the same melody, the same guitar work, the same keyboards lines. Stick with that early, inaccurate impression would be tremendous shame, and sadly unfair to the band’s efforts put in Halo.
Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari guitar work are refined and full of soul, displaying a nice range of emotions reflecting both the lyrical themes and the feelings we all felt in this strange and fearful pandemic times. There is anger, fear, anxiety, buy also a lot of hope and wishing of better, more luminous times.
The keys of Santeri Kallio provide a solid base and structure for the songs and many times are powerful enough to shine on its own and be the star. Olli-Pekka and Jan deserve their share of praise too, bass and drums always top notch, giving their own layer of base and structure so the rest can be massive. And there is something else that can be pointed as pivotal to the triumph of this record: the maintenance of Jens Bogren into the producer’s role. The whole experience gets a sense of naturality and continuity, chapters of a longer story, each and every one of them complementing the others with care and balance. A match made in pagan heaven that should keep going as long as possible.
Halo is familiar and excitingly new in equal parts, a keen reflection of the current human experience navigating times of darkness and light, a proposal that we all can find sooth and peace looking back to our deepest roots.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10236