Halo North American Tour 2022 Amorphis Sylvaine, Hoaxed
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.
To speak to Sylvaine, the one woman multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, and composer born Kathrine Shepard, is to speak to some spirit that exists beyond the veil of convention and stereotypes. This is not a woman playing to the vogue dark melodic folklorist trope that has become so prevalent in the metal scene but rather, this is a woman who is a serious and classically trained composer and arranger whose songs, that originate on unplugged electric guitars in lavender and black bedrooms, end up exploding against the unlimited conventions of what modern music can accomplish.
For some time, Kathrine Shepard has been seen as the petite pixie of the Norwegian black gaze scene but her small eleven features and lightheartedness belie the woman warrior behind Nova, her complex and personal fourth release. Following her 2018 Atoms Aligned Coming Undone release, Sylvaine (a play on the name of one of her beloved French poets, Paul Verlaine) gives us Nova, an album that is both a musical and personal reawakening of a singer/composer finding her way in this world.
The Lord of the Rings type choir arrangement heralds in the opening of her latest release as we the entranced listeners follow her to the realm of Lothlorien. The creation of this ambitious release began in 2019, before the world changed before all of our eyes. Experiencing a personal loss in a time the world was suffering a collective loss, Sylvaine composed on her guitar and wrote in her notebooks, eventually leading her into the small rooms of Drudenhaus in early 2021. Sequestered away in the countryside of France, the Norwegian native and her musical cohorts would all contract Covid. Asthmatic since birth, our heroine isolated herself in a small room to score out the different soprano and alto melodies of an actual choir to make her vision for the opening track “Nova,” come to life. Sung in an imagined language, the syllables of NO-VA continued to emerge, suggesting to the singer something linguistically symbolic and important.
“I’ve been wanting to write a choir piece since my ‘Wistful’ days,” she says, “Just a purely vocal piece. I love harmonies and the most personal instrument you have is your self, your voice. I wanted to really show who I am this time around.”
Naked on the cover, which may raise some eyebrows, Sylvaine insists to her fans that this is a symbol of her own vulnerability and personal rebirth that transpired over these years of creating Nova. “Nova” in terms of language is connected to words such as nuova (Italian) or nueva (Spanish), meaning ‘new’ and speaks to a rebirth, to loss, the temporality of life, grieving as nothing lasting forever, but looking forward as new doors are forever opening.
Album tracks “Mono No Aware” and “Fortapt” are compositions in the 10-minute range, showing the progressive skills of the multi-instrumentalist’s musical mastery and magic. Taking the loud and quiet back-and-forth of the ‘90s a step farther, she manages to haunt every note with primal sincerity. “Fortapt” is a particularly unique track, paying homage to Sylvaine’s Norwegian roots. And while critics may want to pin a song like “Nowhere, Still Somewhere” in the shoegaze or dreampop category, her mysterious resonance adds something to the composition that makes Sylvaine’s work defy categorization.
Much like Joan of Arc, Sylvaine is not a one-woman army without her legionaries. Instead of enlisting members of the folk metal glitterati, she has been a bit more selective about her surprise guests on her album, choosing Scottish violinist Lambert Segura of SAOR and cellist Nostarion aka Patrik Urban, whom she met while performing a very special acoustic show in Belgium in 2019. For Sylvaine, it felt emotionally appropriate to weave classically trained instrumentalists into her work, demonstrated on the last track on the album, “Everything Must Come to an End.”
Unlike so many of the pixie dream girls haunting the American metal landscape right now, Sylvaine sings but also screams from the very depths. There is absolutely no one in the metal game right now who can match her vocal range, which traverses from the elvish sounds of Enya and Lisa Gerard to the black metal Ericthro screeches of her kvlt counterparts of the land of ice and snow.
In the U.S., we have a tendency to clarify bedroom pop as music that is composed in the feminine space of one’s bedroom confines. Although orchestral and incredibly composed, Sylvaine does not shy away from admitting her songs always start bare bones—almost all of her compositions begin with an unplugged electric guitar. “A melody and a chord progression should be able to stand on its own without any effects whatsoever. The song will go on to manifest itself in different ways but that main guitar part has to be solid enough to emotionally work just by itself “ she says.
But to this lover of Verlaine and the French Romantic poets (as well as a diehard Type O Negative fan), the written word is still paramount to her heart. After all, she explains, “Music is an attempt to avoid the words we can’t always express in life.”
Observe the power of two. Dark magic is simmering. Prepare to be Hoaxed.
Like all the greatest revelations, Hoaxed have emerged, seemingly from nowhere: an idiosyncratic and enigmatic two-woman force. With a sound that defies traditional description, vocalist/guitarist Kat Keo and percussive powerhouse Kim Coffel have used their lockdown months as a golden opportunity to pursue their true creative desires, instigating something exhilarating, new and brilliantly creepy in the process.
First unveiled on their self-titled debut EP at the beginning of 2021, Hoaxed appear to exist in a sonic world entirely of their own design. With musical references as disparate as crunchy modern metal, ghoulish gothic rock, twanging Americana and shimmering shoegaze, songs like the menacing melodrama of Dark Altar Magic and the windswept ‘n’ ghostly drone rock grit of Candle Master ooze shadowy charisma and disarming originality. Newly signed with the eternally open-minded Relapse Records, Hoaxed have conjured something with self-evident cult potential.
As the dust settles and the clouds disperse, Hoaxed are preparing their first full-length album and a full-scale assault on hearts and minds. Meanwhile, the spell has been officially cast. This is heavy music for heavy times, but with a lightness of touch and ferocious intelligence that sets Hoaxed apart from just about every other band out there right now. That, in itself, is some kind of dark magic.