North by North North. I am consumed by the upward direction.
I happened to find North on a “Discover Weekly” playlist that Spotify puts together based on your listening habits (a truly accurate and excellent band-discovery tool). It chose a song off of the yet-to-be-released Light the Way, and I was instantly both hooked and disappointed that I didn’t have access to the full album. While I waited patiently for the 18th to come around, I checked out some of their back catalog, which to be perfectly honest, made me second guess my excitement. Some of the stuff there was good, like all the ingredients were there, but I was anticipating an epic release. I wouldn’t be writing this review if my expectations weren’t exceeded. If music gave out the semi-backhanded compliment award that is “most improved” I would hand it to North.
Light the Way starts with a two-minute intro track that assures you that what is coming is undoubtedly sludgy post-metal. The second song, the album titled track, starts with a melodic intro then gets right to business with a monstrous slow-and-steady riff. Almost immediately, you can pick out resemblances to ISIS with the punctuated and booming vocals that match perfectly with the heavy drone (one of the areas that I see as a massive improvement over their previous work). Over the top of this base layer, the lead guitar takes a more melodic approach, which ISIS tended to save for the apex of their songs, but North keep as a staple throughout the whole album. The 8+ minute track (the perfect length for most great post-metal songs, if you ask me) has three distinctive sections that give you you an idea of the range of this band. “Light the Way,” as the true opening track for the album, is the perfect guide, in a sense.
“Weight of All Thoughts” and “Earthmind” keep the pace of the album slow, heavy, and loud. “Primal Bloom”, the next required listen, opens with one excellently catchy riff that just keeps growing with the rest of the song. Short and sweet, this song picks up the tempo and even includes something resembling a guitar solo, though I am hesitant to call it that since it still heavily relies on the weight of the bass and drum. It makes sense that North started as an instrumental group. You can tell they have great experience at making their more melodic side fill the requirements of vocals in creating a memorable tune. With vocals added, they thankfully kept this habit as well.
Smart album structuring has them give our ears a break with an interlude song, which leads into “On a Beaten Crooked Path,” one of the more stoner-doomy tracks on the album with fuzz playing a key role. “From this Soil,” the second longest track on the album, again takes you past the oft-narrowed range of post-metal on all sides.
With Light the Way, North have jumped up an unthinkable amount in the ranks of their doom/post/sludge metal peers. By no means are they reinventing a genre here, but it is the definition of a solid genre-album. With a 46-minute run time, the album has perfect pacing and feels complete without anything being overdone. In one album, North seem to have refined their sound and figured out exactly how to incorporate vocals into it. I don’t believe I have ever given a rating on a review before, mostly because I would have to explain my reasoning to feel justified in doing so, but in short, North put themselves toward the top of the scene with this album and so deserve
4.5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
North are currently on tour with Intronaut and Scale the Summit, check dates here.