Northern Oak - Of Roots and Flesh - (8/10)
Published on October 7, 2014
British Northern Oak label themselves “pioneers of the heavy flute sound” and while the claim to being pioneers might be difficult to prove, their progressive folk metal sound definitely utilizes the instrument in a somewhat different way than what the genre standard dictates. Of Roots and Flesh is the band’s third full-length album and one thing it definitely is not – easily digestible.
Folk metal itself does not necessarily have a big reputation of being a very challenging genre to listen to and the number of bands considered progressive is small, with even these chosen few taking vastly different approaches to the genre. Now Northern Oak do not take the easy way in (or out), giving the listener a quite bulky chunk of prog folk to gnaw on, demanding both attention and time to let their compositions unfold, with many of the tracks covering quite a bit of terrain in terms of tempos and rhythms.
Opener “The Dark of Midsummer” gives a good impression of what is to follow, with a slow and atmospheric beginning that gives way to a slow, yet crushingly heavy, atmospheric passages with the flute having its first appearance, as well as low growls, just to rapidly accelerate into a folk black metal attack and then to retreat again into the slower, more atmospheric ranges. And it is these tempo changes that we get quite a bit, from slow to blastbeats (“Gaia”) or with the inclusion of very calm passages into the songs, which happens fairly frequently throughout Of Roots and Flesh.
When Northern Oak focus on a straighter approach, as on “Marston Moor” or even more so the duo of “Of Roots and Flesh” and “Only our Names Will Remain”, they immediately get more accessible and also energetic, but even these tracks are anything but one-dimensional. A few songs, such as post metal influenced “Taken” and “The Gallows Tree” also incorporate some violin, which works great within the bands progressive sound, while the listener also is treated to some quiet oases, such as tranquil “Isle of Mists” or the closing outro.
Of Roots and Flesh might face the dilemma of being too progressive and inaccessible for the folk metal fans, but on the other hand have too many folk elements for the prog crowd, but whichever direction you are coming from, Northern Oak have crafted a very interesting, if at times difficult album, which shows their willingness and ability to take the genre standards and shake them up. While it will take a little to find the way into their at times fairly complex compositions, some effort will reward the listener with deep and layered songs that will reveal details for quite some time to come and puts many label releases to shame!