rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. The Heatroot Rots (feat. Jeff Walker)
02. Vaka Loka (feat. Addi Tryggvason)
03. Whitebone Wind (feat. Marko Hietala and Petronella Nettermalm)
04. Värinvalhtaja (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

It seems that solo albums are like novels: everyone, the old adage goes, has got one in them, just waiting to be written. Obviously, there are plenty of examples of musicians that should probably have been discouraged from ever entertaining the idea, but that's the price of freedom, folks. Luckily, AMORPHIS guitarist Tomi Koivusaari can hardly be accused of rushing into the whole solo career shebang. BJØRKØ is the Finnish veteran's first one-man outing, and after more than 30 years of active service with his legendary band, he has earned the right to venture off and do something different.

"Heartrot" is exactly that, too. There are clear shades of AMORPHIS that bubble up from time to time, but an impressive array of guest vocalists and an otherwise freewheeling musical remit ensure that this has diversity and eccentric charm that separate successful solo escapades from regrettable follies.

Koivusaari has been quoted as saying "Heartrot" features songs from a variety of perspectives, both musical and lyrical. That idea makes perfect sense by the dying throes of closer "Reverberations", because rather than homing in on one particular conceptual or stylistic idea, the AMORPHIS man's vision contains multitudes, and an almost total disregard for expectation. The consequences of such a liberated mindset range from "The Heartroot Rots", which pitches furious, downbeat melo-death and sludgy doom against CARCASS frontman Jeff Walker's merciless rasp and acerbic poetry, to "Whitebone Wind", an elegantly melodic metal odyssey with theatrical overtones, sent into the stratosphere by Marko Hietala's startling duet with Petronella Nettermalm (from Swedish prog mavericks PAATOS).

At times, the day job's epic tendencies assert their dominance: "Vaka Loka" is a tense, gothic sprawl, with vocals from SOLSTAFIR's Addi Tryggvason (who always sounds like he is screaming into an icy wind) and a frisson of windswept '80s post-punk.

Elsewhere, "Hooks in the Sky" (featuring AMORPHIS frontman Tomi Joutsen) takes a slow and sober route, resists the urge to emulate the mothership, and takes a circuitous journey through big-budget black metal bravado with a huge chorus to match. "Varinvalhtaja" pairs Koivusaari's hazy chords with Finnish rock legend Ismo Alanko, conveying quiet defiance and stoned bliss in equal measure. "World as Fire and Hallucination" is the perfect, hellish cacophony for DIMMU BORGIR's Shagrath to do his haughty, hostile thing. Possessed by evil '80s thrash and early death metal, it feels like a sincere salute to Koivusaari's underground roots. In contrast, "The Trickster" pairs Koivusaari's dark trad metal grooves with former VELCRA vocalist Jessi Frey's half rapped, half sung polemic, resulting in a genuinely bizarre blend of spiky nu-metal and indulgent, frostbitten grandeur. Finally, "Magenta" is the one moment of true restraint on "Heartrot": a breezy, acoustic-led ballad with country rock ghosts in the mix, it's an earthy and soulful affair, tinged with sorrow.

Less a solo album than a splurge of collaborative ideas, "Heartrot" suggests that BJØRKØ could become anything Koivusaari wants it to be. As an opening statement, this is rich, fascinating and full of massive tunes. Well worth the wait.

Author: Dom Lawson
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