From North - From North - (8/10)
Published on December 29, 2017
Given the highly expansive nature of metal music, it goes without saying that its various offshoots will inevitably overlap with each other to some extent. Truth be told, changing one or two peripheral elements is all it takes to turn one of metal’s many sub-genres into a completely different one, and when this occurs there will often be many signs pointing to where a band’s original stylistic inclinations lie. The newly birthed Swedish Folk/Viking act From North is among the more blatant examples of this to come about is recent years, sporting a keyboard rich and tuneful variation on the style that Quorthon pioneered a little under 3 decades ago, but with a very modern and punchy character that is a bit more indicative of some of the more recent developments in metallic expression. In contrast to the various releases out of similarly billed Swedish acts like King Of Asgard or the more symphonic tinged German outfit Black Messiah, the eponymously named From North debut sounds like a groove metal band with some metalcore trappings emulating said style.
Though it might be a tiny bit of a stretch to liken this band’s sound to something that Dimebag Darrel might have dreamed up had he’d ever attempted a Viking metal album, the degree of influence that his heavy-ended minimalism and syncopated rhythmic tendencies is all over the guitar work on here. If the dense keyboards and melodic flute and piped instruments that chime in and out like the droning leads of a melodeath guitar break out of an early In Flames album were removed from the equation, much of the chunky grooves could pass for Pantera, particularly the grinding verse riff of “Volund The Smith” and the driving principle guitar line of “The Hail”. True to form, the vocals sound like the same sort of morose barking and growling that Phil Anselmo was launching into the microphone circa The Great Southern Trendkill, and the occasional cleanly sung parts have a fairly gravely and baritone quality to them, though the lyrical content is closer to Blood On Ice than the lame pseudo-tough guy posturing of Pantera.
Although largely a mid-tempo affair that trades simple guitar lines and beats with an assortment of Celtic and Germanic folk tunes in the keyboard backdrop, there are a few occasional variations that keep this from sounding like a Soilwork album with flutes. The intro of “Mead Of Poetry” features an epic landscape of acoustic guitar and flute sounds that goes into full out folk mode after the Ensiferum tradition, and even upon ending up in a down-tempo stomp the image of a haggard band of Norsemen making their way across a snow-steeped landscape is all the clearer. An even folksier story plays out in the strings rich, all acoustic and cleanly sung “The Sacred Oath”, which could almost pass for a soundtrack offering to one of The Hobbit movies that came out a few years back. But the ultimate mixture of epic goodness that reaches almost to the level of Equilibrium-styled pomp yet manages to keep the tempo slow and somber is “Ormr Inn Langi”. Generally speaking, the greater the emphasis on clean vocals, the better the songs tend to be, and the aforementioned song sees vocalist Hakan Johnsson sounding more like a traditional Gothenburg screamer rather than a Phil Anselmo tribute singer, and the result is all the better for it.
In spite of the fact that this band ultimately comes off as something of a niche project that tends to repeat a lot of similar ideas from song to song and resorts to the same stereotypical instrument sounds, to speak nothing for the generally slow tempo, From North manages a very respectable offering here that will work fairly well for anyone with a soft spot for the exploits chronicled in the Poetic and Prose Eddas. It presents a very different musical package than the fast-paced power metal tendencies of Equilibrium and the thrashing melodic death metal of Amon Amarth, yet the dense atmosphere’s of the former and the aggression of the latter are comparable to the respective features of this album. It mostly draws its strength from good songwriting and consonant melodic content, as it generally avoids overt technical showmanship in either the guitars or any of the other instruments. It’s well rounded, it’s slow, and it is about as cold as the bitter winters of the land that birthed it.