Amorphis & Dark Tranquillity Moonspell, Omnium Gatherum
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Rock and metal music have always been a haven for those who have bigger stories to tell; who have grander emotions to convey. For more than thirty years, Finnish figureheads Amorphis have done their best to carve their very own niche in heartfelt yet aggressive, melancholic yet soothing tunes. On “Halo”, their staggering fourteenth studio effort, the Fins underline their trailblazing status as one of the most original, culturally relevant and rewarding acts ever to emerge from the land of the thousand lakes.
In the past, mythology and legend took the role of today’s pop culture: Stories and a set of values uniting us by giving us a voice and a tapestry on which we can find each other and identify with something. By weaving the tales of Finnish national epos “Kalevala” into their songs and interpreting them in a timeless way, Amorphis combine the role of ancient minstrels and luminaries of the modern world, honouring tradition without getting stuck in the past.
The vibrant, lively, and touching beauty that is “Halo” highlights their musical and storytelling mastership on a once again soaring level: It’s a progressive, melodic, and quintessentially melancholic heavy metal masterwork plucked from the fickle void of inspiration by original guitarists Esa Holopainen and Tomi Koivusaari, bassist Olli-Pekka Laine, drummer Jan Rechberger, longtime keyboardist Santeri Kallio and vocalist Tomi Joutsen, the band’s long-standing lyrical consciousness Pekka Kainulainen and
a selected group of world class audio professionals led by renowned Swedish producer Jens Bogren. Considering the band’s prolonged journey in the forefront of innovative metal music, it’s difficult to grasp how Amorphis manages to raise the proverbial bar time and time again, presenting a more than worthy finale to the trilogy begun with 2015’s “Under the Red Cloud” followed by 2018’s “Queen of Time.”
“It really is a great feeling that we can still produce very decent music as a band,” says Holopainen, a founding member of the band. “Perhaps a certain kind of self-criticism and long experience culminate in these latest albums.” To the songwriter himself, “Halo” sounds both familiar and different. “It is thoroughly recognizable Amorphis from beginning to end but the general atmosphere is a little bit heavier and more progressive and also organic compared to its predecessor,” he elaborates.
Tomi Joutsen, the man with vocal cords capable of unleashing colossal, bear-like growls as well as singing soothing, mesmerising lullabies, adds, “To me, ‘Halo’ sounds a little more stripped down compared to ‘Queen Of Time’ and ‘Under The Red Cloud.’ However, don’t get me wrong: when a certain song needs to sound big, then it sounds very big.” He’s right, of course: By stripping down some of the arrangements, the monumental moments become even more monumental.
That’s of course also thanks to producing renaissance man Jens Bogren who harvested the thirteen final tracks from a batch of thirty songs Amorphis offered him. “Jens is very demanding, but I really like to work with him,” says Holopainen. “He takes care of the whole project from start to finish, and he allows the musician to focus on just playing. I may not be able to thank Jens enough. Everything we’ve done together has been really great, and this co-operation has carried Amorphis significantly forward.”
Indeed. Setting off with the stormy grandeur of opener “Northwards,” Amorphis take us on an epic journey through the lands of the north, their rich cultural and historical heritage and musical traditions. This is not only an album for fans or metal connoisseurs. It’s a must for every imaginative mind out there with a soft spot for cinematic soundscapes, triumphant melodies and breathtaking dynamics measuring
the borderlands of light and dark.
However, no Amorphis album would be complete without the imaginative and poetic storytelling of renowned lyricist and “Kalevala” expert Pekka Kainulainen. “From day one, Pekka has always been an enthusiastic and prolific lyricist for Amorphis,” says Joutsen. “It is a slow process of translating archaic Finnish poetry into English and adapting it our progressive rhythms. Fortunately, Pekka does everything on time and with great care.” Since 2007’s “Silent Waters,” Kainulainen has been navigating the mythological waters of his homeland with great skill and respect. For “Halo,” he outdid himself once again. “‘Halo’ is a loose themed record filled with adventurous tales about the mythical North tens of thousands of years ago,” he explains. “The lyrics tell of an ancient time when man wandered to these abandoned boreal frontiers after the ice age. While describing the revival of a seminal culture in a world of new opportunities, I also try to reach the sempiternal forces of the human mind.”
Thirty-one years after their inception, with uncounted global tours under their belt and fourteen albums deep in their career, Amorphis still proves to be the musical fountain of youth, an extraordinary band constantly reinventing itself without abandoning its mystical roots. With “Halo”, they deliver an astonishing album that deserves to be played everywhere, transcending the realms of metal and rock by its sheer profoundness and musicality.
The return of Gothenburg death metal kings Dark Tranquillity is more than a new full-length and another album cycle. Since forming in the quaint suburb of Billdal in 1989 (as Septic Broiler), the Swedes have imparted their melodic and aggressive sound-vision on a music scene unindustrious. With striking new album, Moment, they not only remind of their intelligent, canorous, and attacking designs, but also of a group wholly re- energized and ready to take on their 31st year. Indeed, four years separate
Moment from its Swedish Grammy-nominated predecessor Atoma (2016), but the Swedes never sat idle. They toured the globe, logging more miles, and playing more shows than ever before. The veteran death metallers also welcomed two new full-time guitarists in hotshots Christopher Amott (ex-Arch Enemy, ex-Armageddon) and Johan Reinholdz (Andromeda, Nonexist), replacing long-time guitarist and founding member Niklas Sundin, respectively. These events converged Dark Tranquillity positively. From vantage points new and yet with sage experience, they were able to approach Moment with a different mindset. They were electrified by not only Moment’s creation process but were also propelled by the results, which had Dark Tranquillity’s unmistakable DNA as well as an unflinching advance on the future.
“We have a level of confidence,” says vocalist Mikael Stanne. “We can pull off anything. We can perform anything that we write or have written. But we have a new musical perspective. Fresh ears, fresh ideas, fresh thoughts about what the songs could be. Johan’s been a fan of the band for a long time. He knows all the old songs, and he can play all the old songs. He pulls out songs that we’ve written ages ago, and goes, ‘more like this?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t even remember that song.’ So, that’s cool to have a musician with a fan’s frame of reference. With Chris, he’s very musical. He has a very cool sense of melody. The emotion he lets out while playing is awesome. To have them being a position to challenge what we used to do or have done over and over is great. They’re helping us change things up a bit.”
The origins of Moment were initially uncertain after the sophisticated aggression of Atoma. Starting in early 2019, ideas were shared, husks of songs were discussed and dissected, but it was drummer Anders Jivarp finally stepping into his groove—the song-master wrote half of Atoma, including two bonus tracks—when Dark Tranquillity’s twelfth full-length took shape. The band’s primaries—Jivarp, Stanne, and keyboardist Martin Brändström—then called in Reinholdz for his take. The deft player was able to call upon his vast array of influences (from Yngwie Malmsteen to The Sisters of Mercy) to color, add depth to, and arrange the music coming out of Jivarp and Brändström’s proverbial woodsheds. Unlike at any time in Dark Tranquillity’s history, Moment’s shapes, moods, and tones were afforded
unprecedented space, time, and consideration by the band anew. The balance had to be right. If songs “Phantom Days,” “Transient,” “The Dark Unbroken,” “Standstill,” and “Empires Lost to Time” are any indication of goals met and expectations exceeded, then Moment is another milestone for Dark Tranquillity.
“It was exhilarating to start writing with two new guitar players,” Stanne says. “They have great chemistry. The two of them, playing-wise, they’re amazing. They’re known shredders. But it was important to keep them on the melodic path but without the shredding thing. We’ve never really been about the shred. It would be weird to start doing that now because we can. I mean, Martin was the restraint on this album. He’d often say, ‘That’s too spicy. Too many notes.’ I think the most important thing is, though, is for the guitarists to serve the song. That’s what they did on Moment, I think. Chris’s interpretation was always to serve the song instead of playing over it. He listened to what we were trying to do. He was reacting to the overall vibe. That was the perfect approach. It was fascinating to be with them while they recorded the solos in the studios. I loved working with them. They were a highlight for sure.”
Moment is Dark Tranquillity’s eighth full-length with a one-word title. But that’s not the important thing here. That’s actually Stanne’s thought-provoking, philosophical lyrics. Over 12 songs, the seasoned lyrist contemplated “what if” scenarios, paths taken, journeys diverted, and revelations had, and the moments that defined them. The subtle changes in life’s rudder can be either positively awesome or disastrously awful. This is at the heart of Stanne’s reflections on Moment. There’s other compelling angles at play with the album title as well. In Swedish, the word “moment” is one element of an entire procedure. Similarly, in German, “moment” can be translated to “instant” or “momentum.” Indeed, the layers of Stanne’s lyrics and depth of the title, Moment, continue Dark Tranquillity’s worldly-wise reputation of intelligent, striking storytelling.
“I wanted the songs to be about different paths taken,” says Stanne. “The path that we take is where it leads us. A random thing, however, could change that path, and it could be the best thing ever or the worst thing that’s ever happened to you—that ‘moment’ I wanted to explore. Think about epiphanies. They’re a brief moment, an idea, but that idea could have consequences if acted upon. As we started recording, I began to realize the moment is ‘now.’ All the stuff we’ve been doing for the past two years is right here, right now, and we have no idea where it will take us. After we started recording, the pandemic was in effect, so it was a singular moment in our history. It made sense to keep the title, Moment, after that.”
Dark Tranquillity recorded Moment across two studios. As with Construct (2013) and Atoma, they chose Nacksving Studios (Opeth, Vampire) to record Jivarp’s drums and Brändström’s Rogue Music to record everything else. To mix and master the album, the Swedes yet again hired studio wizard Jens Bogren and his famed Fascination Street Studios. The thought internally was, “Why change a winning formula?” With two detail-oriented engineers/producers in Brändström and Bogren overseeing Dark Tranquillity’s newest contribution to death metal, the result had to be nothing less than perfect. Certainly, a check on the killer sonics of “Identical to None,” “A Drawn Out Exit,” “Failstate,” and brooding closer “In Truth Divided” proves out that Moment is a stunner in any format. In total, Dark Tranquillity spent more than 130 days in studios to realize Moment.
“The studio sessions were long but rewarding,” Stanne says. “But they were pretty easy looking back on it. We demoed the songs so many times. So, when doing the album in a proper studio, we wanted to make the most out of it. We were most particular about how things sounded this time around. We knew everyone was playing great, but we wanted everything perfect. We geeked out in the studio this time around. We didn’t rely on fixing things in the mix. Martin, in that respect, has grown a lot as a producer. He gets better as a producer with every album that we do. He also gets more comfortable with the title ‘producer.’ He affords us the luxury to go on forever if we want.”
With almost every Dark Tranquillity album, it’s been the responsibility of Cabin Fever Media’s Niklas Sundin to craft the visuals. Since the band’s pre-album days—check out 1992’s A Moonclad Reflection EP for incredible hand-drawn cover art—Sundin has provided an aesthetical platform like no other. From the digital composite brilliance of Projector (1999) and Construct’s creepy pointillism/high contrast layout to the arresting on-stage video compilations and must- have t-shirt designs, Sundin’s innermost understanding and commitment to excellence have provided Dark Tranquillity an attractive and recognizable brand. Informed by Stanne’s lyrics and visual cues—like submissions of Roger Dean (Yes, Budgie) art and stills from video game Firewatch—the artwork for Moment is another Sundin triumph, with its ‘70s landscape motif and otherworldly minimalism colliding exceptionally.
“I sent him some of the early lyrics,” says Stanne. “I wanted something hand-drawn. That kind of vibe. He sent me photographs of barren landscapes and a rough draft of a guy standing in front of a beam or ball of light. We started
talking about what that would look like visually, and if he could take the idea further. We wanted weird stuff in there too—like lunar photography. I wanted a wide cover for the gatefold vinyl. The cover’s been through many revisions, but the final version is something I couldn’t be happier about. It’s visually stunning. As usual, he surpassed our expectations. He came up with something that was beyond our ideas.”
Where Dark Tranquillity go from here is only up. They have the right in-band chemistry, the readiness to tirelessly circle the globe, and their spectacular new full-length, Moment, to do it. The time is now… “between knowledge and belief” to not let Dark Tranquillity’s superlative Moment pass you by.