Review: Turbid North – Eyes Alive

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Tex-Alaskan mountain metallers Turbid North are back with their sophomore album.

Turbid North occupy a very special place in my grim heart. I absolutely fell in love with their previous record, 2010’s Orogeny. The seamless blend of Morbid Angel-esque death metal with sludge and progressive elements drawn from the hallowed halls of the Southern Georgia metal tradition (Mastodon and Baroness are key influences here) was a formula that immediately attracted me. The debut further upped the ante with some harmonized guitar dueling that would make Thin Lizzy proud and a number of genuinely poignant moments that could make even the most burly of cavemen weep. Pair these sonic attributes with a thematic concept about survival in the harshest Alaskan climes and it is no wonder how Orogeny and I became hetero life-mates so quickly.

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The Eyes Alive line-up: Chris O’Toole, Nick Forkel, and Jono Garrett

However, after five years without a new record and a significant line-up change (losing a singer and a rhythm guitarist), the Texan/Alaskan/British band’s future was in question. And just to prove how very wrong my doubt was, Turbid North came back with a goddamned vengeance this November with Eyes Alive, their third album released via the band’s own The Pyramid label.

Eyes Alive is, for existing fans, a perfect follow-up to Orogeny; and for new listeners, it is a great starting point, distilling all of the elements that made the debut album fantastic into a succinct and compelling listen. The album roars out of the gates with the aggressive death metal-oriented title track. Later in the same track, the sludgy southern breakdown recalls Crowbar or Kingdom of Sorrow — featuring a selection of prime riffage that would make Kirk Windstein jealous. The next track, “The Pyramid Drones,” really showcases the vocal prowess that the album puts on display. Guitarist Nick Forkel has stepped up to the plate for vocal duties (as well as being the group’s principal songwriter) out of necessity, but one would never be able to tell. His singing oscillates from pitched cavemen shouting to pissed-off death growls, to John Baizley-esque harmonies, to Phil Anselmo signature wailing throughout the album’s nine songs. Forkel executes all of these styles with admirable skill and swagger whilst still treading his own path.

Did I mention that this album is aggressive as hell? “The Destroyer of Worlds” is a standout track that is a veritable punch in the face and a kick in the balls with the pure ferocity of the riffs on display. Following, is the centerpiece of the album, the pairing of “Red Giant” and “The Burning Sky,” which provides a great point-counterpoint dynamic. Where “Red Giant” mellows out a bit and explores a twangy, post-apocalyptic guitar solo over acoustic guitar, “The Burning Sky” then comes in to take a sledgehammer to any notion of perceived gentleness that listeners may have felt in those previous quieter moments. And with this dynamic songwriting, there is always groove in plentiful supply. In fact, I believe Eyes Alive has fulfilled my entire groove quota for this year and the following year (not really; I always need more groove).

In addition to the riffage, the production on Eyes Alive is one of the best I have heard this year (tied for first with Cattle Decapitation; and yes, I do keep a running tab of productions I like because I am an audio engineering nerd). The mix is an expertly crafted slab of organic sludgy thickness with just enough precision and clarity for the faster death metal elements to be heard with intelligibility — a feat that is relatively difficult to achieve in this day and age of triggered samples and micro-polished sounds. As a result, the production quality on Eyes Alive absolutely smokes the production on Orogeny, and, for that matter, many other down-tuned metal acts today. Whereas they may merely be afterthoughts on other records, even the more atmospheric touches shine on this album. The twangy guitar elements are not lost me and are certainly appreciated: as the theme of the record and its artwork suggests, we have transitioned with the band out of Orogeny’s tundra wilderness to the sandblasted desert, necessitating a distinctly bluesy shift in tone. In the end, I think Eyes Alive is going to become my go-to example of the perfect matching of excellent riffs with superb production.

There really are no negative words I have for this album; it is, in my humble opinion, quite nearly flawless. If Turbid North were not on your radar before, they definitely should be now. Of course, we listeners are always looking toward the future with newer bands, thinking, “Wow, I bet the next album will be great,” or “I see real potential here; can’t wait to see where they go.” The later album slump is hard, even fatal for some groups. Turbid North is not one of these bands. They have proven without a doubt on Eyes Alive that they mean business, goddamnit.

Turbid North’s Eyes Alive: wake up and smell the dirt. This album is perfectly brewed to make a happier, sludgier you.

5 out of 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

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