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Thursday 10 February 2022

Reviews: Amorphis, Cult Of Luna, Near Death Condition, Lesoir (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Amorphis - Halo (Atomic Fire Records)

Amorphis have never been a band to shy away from their melodic side. As their career has progressed the usage of folksy power metal elements and clean vocals have become more pronounced. Under The Red Cloud and Queen Of Time, the two albums before this have been very determined focussed on telling more tales from the Kalevala heritage of their native Finland. Halo is the third act in this trilogy, closing out what has been a musically fruitful period for the band. Fourteen albums into their career and on the last two (as well as this one), they sound as if they have discovered the band they have been aiming to be since their formation over 30 years ago! 

Halo casts yet more mythological and historical magic, all delivered by the outstanding versatility of Tomi Joutsen's vocals, growling like a beast one minute then becoming a poetic bard the next. A track such as War, displaying this fantastically, the marching, stomping verses, full of rage and fury changing into the clean sung chorus where the refrain "While my house burnt to cinder, burnt to cinder" really just hits home. Joutsen's voice carrying, Pekka Kainulainen's lyrics brilliantly. The band consider this album to be stripped back, in comparison to previous releases and it's plain to see why. It's still full of progressive and arty flourishes but it feels a bit more deliberate and direct, most of the songs built around the choruses. In fact I've not come across an album with as many anthemic, sing along choruses for a while, you'll find yourself humming the title track and Northwards for hours if not days afterwards. 

There are still orchestrals but Santeri Kallio's keys are used much more for some Jon Lord like organ solos than the 'symphonic' sound, though some electronics pop in on tracks like The Wolf. Olli-Pekka Laine's persistent bass is the heartbeat, as Jan Rechberger's drumming style is broad and dextrous. If say Halo features more classic and power metal sounds than any previous Amorphis albums, not a bad thing as they're plenty heavy enough for fans but there is a lot more interplay between guitarists Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari, lots of lead breaks, solos and acoustic interludes. Culminating in the beautifully melodic finale My Name Is Night

They may be sacrificing more heaviness than they did on Queen Of Time, however it feels as if the time is right, the band is in it's 32 year and as someone who is 32, you try to do things with much more conviction but not as aggressively as you may have in the past. A new Amorphis album is always met with anticipation and on Halo they have delivered once more in their own unique way. 9/10

Cult Of Luna - The Long Road North (Metal Blade Records)

Cult Of Luna are a band who command a fanatical audience. If you love the band then you will absolutely love them no matter what anyone says. It doesn't matter about the opinions of writers such as myself, they will always support the band on every release. Thankfully then I won't invoke the ire of these fans by criticising The Long Road North the Swedish post-metal originators' 9th album which, in a theme of albums reviewed here is the end of a journey that began on 2019's A Dawn To Fear, through the 2021 EP The Raging River and culminates with The Long Road North. The entire lyrical meaning behind all these albums was the emotional and mental journey vocalist/guitarist/lyricist Johannes Persson went through after their Mariner release with Julie Christmas in 2016. 

It was this that inspired their trio of records and the closing, acceptance is on this album. To that end there were even some unfinished recordings from A Dawn To Fear brought to the studio before the recording, to add to that continuity between the three albums. Recorded in a few studios but as with a lot of bands the rest of the recording was done in their own studios at home, this isolation meaning that the 8 tracks on this record are brooding, dark and ominous, the lengths of them all extended, into sprawling, multi-dimensional musical landscapes. 

There's huge moments of outright savergry on the title track and opener Cold Burn both tracks undulating between periods of ferocity and shimmering atmospherics. The band describe the record as cinematic, perhaps more so than any of their other albums and you can hear this almost grandiose style presented across the album, the tracks are built on dynamic layering, the instruments all creating a cacophony as Magnus Lindberg's production makes the album sound colossal. 

On the raging Blood Upon Stone, Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz of French band Phoenix add their own unique guitar sound to Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg's titanic riffs. The middle section of this track gets very insular and echoed Andreas Johansson's bass the hook here. Elsewhere though there are experimentations, Cult Of Luna are a band constantly adapting their sound, due to the gigantic nature of some of the tracks, there's lots of musical influences that creep in but nothing is ever too indulgent. Thomas Hedlund's percussion adapting to whatever style they wish to explore. 

The throbbing The Silver Arc is brimming with shoegaze, repeating guitar riffs, though Kristian Karlsson's keys are brought in as a way of making these songs denser, on Beyond I and Beyond II especially the former featuring the dark, jazz vocals of Mariam Wallentin on a twinkling synth backing, the latter meanwhile features soundtrack artist Colin Stetson, who also adds drama to the Tom Waits feeling An Offering To The Wild. The Long Road North is the end of the beginning for Cult Of Luna, after two decades they came to the collective consciousness they are still reinventing themselves. 9/10 

Near Death Condition - Ascent From The Mundane (Unique Leader)

Switzerland has a history with bleak, blackened heavy metal. The mountainous tax haven is of course the home to Tom G Warrior, who has single handedly spearheaded the extreme metal scene in the country. Near Death Condition are intent on carrying this Swiss extreme metal bastion with some of the most angry evil sounding music I've listened to in a while. Ascent From The Mundane is Near Death Condition's fourth album overall but their first since 2014. 

Dealing with the duality of good and evil, the record sounds as if it's a raging indictment of the world but the band explain that the record is "a hymn to the spark of light trapped in the darkness of the world." It's essentially about embracing the darker parts of the world to let the light shine through brighter. Not that you'd get that from this record unless you really focussed as Ascent From The Mundane is a blistering blackened death record, built around production techniques that mean the instrumentals are very much in the background and the vocals are right up front. 

This means that when there is instrumental breaks such as in Wisdom Of Meaning, unless there is no singing it's difficult to focus on them. I understand that they are going for the wall of sound technique, (it's an album that certainly suits headphones) however to me it feels like Patrick Bonvin (guitars) and Tony Petrocelly (bass) are left in the background a little no matter how intricate the compositions are (also it seems like there's no drummer either), Magnus' frenzied, unhinged vocal dominates. There are things to like about Ascent From The Mundane you can hear the influences of Obituary, Nader Sadek and Sinister but the production and vocals throw me a little, though if nasty, dissonant yet melodic extreme metal is your thing then Near Death Condition will be as desirable as a Swiss watch. 7/10

Lesoir - Babel (Glassville Records)

Now we are about to break a rule here at Musipedia Of Metal, as many will know we don't review singles. However I wouldn't really consider Babel, the new release from Dutch art rockers Lesoir, as single. Yes it is one song but that song clocks in at 20 minutes and 20 seconds. "That's a number I never want to see again!" I hear you say but as it turns out this run time is deliberate as Lesoir don't want to to remember 2020 that fondly either. Due to the numerous lockdowns in the Netherlands in their home country, the idea of a new album was shelved instead ideas were forged for this 'interim project', which has now been brought to light fully formed as, labyrinthine, progressive rock track that encompasses everything that Lesoir have been delivering since their formation. 

These long form compositions are not anything new to prog fans, so it is sure to be met with excitement, more so as the track/EP itself will be released on vinyl, handmade and limited to only 250 pcs. It is a sonic exploration that builds on the use of melody from their previous album as we set out with keening synths and electronic beats, from Eleën Bartholomeus (guitar/synth) and Ingo Dassen (guitar/programming) who are part of the guitar trio along with Ingo Jetten (bass/pedal steel/guitar), forming the main body of this epic number. It's based around the Tower Of Babel, but makes it an atmospheric exploration of the year 2020 where the pandemic took hold but also the influence of humans was diminished meaning nature was allowed to flourish again. 

In the early part of the song, and really throughout, there are influences to King Crimson abound, from the deft fragility of Bob Van Heumen's drums/percussion to the extensive use of flute from vocalist Maartje Meessen, it's like you're in 1970 all over again. Meessen's voice again is a brilliant, full of fragility along with a sense of romance, but it's another instrument in the bands arsenal. A track that started as a way to keep them occupied, has morphed into the foundation (I hope) of new material from Lesoir. 8/10 

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