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Bjørkø - Heartrot review


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Band: Bjørkø
Album: Heartrot
Release date: December 2023

01. The Heartroot Rots [feat. Jeff Walker]
02. Vaka Loka [feat. Addi Tryggvason]
03. Whitebone Wind [feat. Marco Hietala and Petronella Nettermalm]
04. Värinvaihtaja [feat. Ismo Alanko]
05. Awakening
06. World As Fire And Hallucination [feat. Shagrath]
07. The Trickster [feat. Jessi Frey]
08. Hooks In The Sky [feat. Tomi Joutsen]
09. Magenta [feat. Mariska]
10. Reverberations [feat. Sakari Kukko]

Entering the 2020s, Amorphis weren’t necessarily the band from which I was expecting to see multiple members break out as solo artists, but evidently their star guitar duo had other ideas.

First it was Esa Holopainen who made his mark with Silver Lake, taking advantage of disruption from Covid to pursue some unused song ideas outside of the confines of Amorphis. The resulting self-titled debut in 2021 played reasonably well to my tastes, and Holopainen clearly enjoyed the experience too, as album number 2 is apparently already being assembled. Perhaps this successful debut inspired his bandmate Tomi Koivusaari to pursue his own long-standing ambitions, as his newly announced project Bjørkø’s first outing apparently represents the culmination of a 15-year journey. Heartrot follows a similar template to Silver Lake, but whether it delivers similar quality is perhaps up to debate.

Like Holopainen, Koivusaari has opted for the ‘different guest singer on each song’ strategy for this album, inviting a plethora of vocal talent to join him and his studio band (which features the likes of Lauri Porra (Stratovarius) on bass and Koivusaari’s Abhorrence bandmate Waltteri Väyrynen on drums). Also like Silver Lake, Bjørkø’s vocal roster is predominantly Nordic, albeit with Jeff Walker from Carcass also involved, and like Silver Lake, Koivusaari has recruited a one-time guest singer with Amorphis, reuniting with Petronella Nettermalm after her appearance on Halo last year. The one other common factor between Silver Lake and Heartrot is the presence of both guitarists’ bandmate Tomi Joutsen as a featured vocalist.

However, as many similarities as there may be, there are some discrepancies to navigate as well. Joutsen was the only vocalist to contribute extreme vocals on Silver Lake, but on Heartrot, he is joined not only by Walker but also Dimmu Borgir’s Shagrath, and this serves as something of a segue into one of the things that more fully distinguishes Bjørkø from Silver Lake. The latter’s debut album stayed fairly consistently in the world of Amorphis-adjacent melodic rock/metal, but while Amorphis fingerprints can be detected all over Heartrot, Koivusaari encompasses a wider range of genres and subgenres on this album. At one extreme end of the spectrum, Koivusaari and Shagrath venture into blackened death metal territory on “World As Fire And Hallucation”, while the other extreme sees Koivusaari try his hand at a folk pop song on “Magenta”, featuring Finnish rapper Mariska.

On the one hand, this variety in writing approach is admirable from Koivusaari; on the flip side, I feel there are repercussions in terms of the flow and feel of the album. Without wanting to keep harking back to Silver Lake, something that I felt was a strength of that project as far as ‘one guitarist, many vocalists’ albums go was how naturally the songs fit together in terms of vibe. In contrast, Heartrot suffers from whiplash in a few places, probably most egregiously with the shift from the ‘extreme’ portion of the album (“World As Fir And Hallucination” through “Hooks In The Sky”) straight into “Magenta”.

As far as the actual contents of the songs go, I find them to be a bit of a mixed bag. For me, the two standout cuts are Walker’s appearance on “The Heartroot Rots” and Joutsen’s feature “Hooks In The Sky”. The former has a clear chuggy death metal slant to it early on, but gradually evolves into something more impressive, first as keyboards add a touch of grandeur to the hyperspeed blasted sections and then subsequently as it takes a turn towards a more melodic death/doom sound. For “Hooks In The Sky”, Koivusaari evokes recent Amorphis albums for a proggy, extreme-tinged cut crammed with elaborate, contorted riffs, complex rhythms, and a healthy blend of mean growled verses and soaring choruses.

As for the remaining tracks, many of them have positive elements, but also have something holding them back. In some instances, it’s partially a matter of vocal preference; for example, I’ve never been particularly keen on Sólstafir’s Aðalbjörn Tryggvason as a vocalist, so I may be more negatively affected in my assessment of the melodic rocker “Vaka Loka” than most due to his performance. Similarly, I’m not particularly keen on Ismo Alanko’s crooning performance that adorns “Värinvaihtaja”, nor Jessi Frey’s (Velcra) half-rapped delivery on “The Trickster”.

This latter song is otherwise quite nice instrumentally, with some signature Amorphis guitar leads popping up. Another song that feels eerily familiar to an Amorphis fan is “Whitebone Wind”, whose intro has a very similar tone to their mid-era classic song “Alone”. It would have been interesting if Koivusaari could have recruited another Amorphis alumnus and got Pasi Koskinen to feature; instead, Nettermalm duets with Tarot’s Marco Hietala, who in contrast to the last paragraph is a vocalist that I do enjoy. I’d say “Whitebone Wind” is one of the better songs here; still, I do have some reservations with its composition, as the chorus feels like it belongs to a different song to the surrounding material.

Overall, I wouldn’t regard Heartrot as a failure; there are some good songs here, and good elements within other tracks too. However, it’s much more of a mixed bag than the Silver Lake debut, so if Koivusaari plans to continue with Bjørkø in the way Holopainen is doing with his own project, there’s a bit more work required in terms of album design, songwriting and vocalist selection to make Bjørkø worth paying attention to long-term.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 7
Songwriting: 6
Originality: 6
Production: 8

Written on 03.12.2023 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments: 3   Visited by: 55 users
04.12.2023 - 21:09

I wasnt blown away by silver lake, so this might also just pass (me) bye... bye...
05.12.2023 - 19:18
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
Still can not decide to listen of to not listen this, I am on crossroads here.
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''
I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
11.12.2023 - 21:02
A Nice Guy
This album has moments where he shows some slight glimpses of his Amorphis work, but the songwriting is still a really long way off where I believe it could be, it often seems to be all over the place, and maybe he should stick to one or two guest vocalists, I find a different vocalist on each track kinda disruptive tbh. Saying that, there's definitely some potential for his solo career to work here.

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