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There is no point to this album. It has no reason to exist. Any sense of purpose was balled up and used for "Omen" on the last album, Till Death Unites Us. At this point, Norther have long overstayed their welcome, and they have no ideas to keep them grounded in the world of active bands. Each member here is dried up to the point where all they can contribute are their playing skills. There is no creativity with the members of Norther, nor under the band name Norther. Look no further than the cover art for lack of inspiration - the fucking album is titled N! That's just picking a letter out of the English alphabet!
Studio Fredman isn't a bad place to record an album. It's well-known in metal for being the recording hotspot for melodic death metal bands, so Norther had no reason not to use it again. Same goes for the engineering - they can't only rehash their sound! They need to rehash who helps produce it, too! All the production does is help Norther's simplistic, poppy formula by giving it a thicker sound with a lot of warm tones. There's no more chilly feeling that the earlier albums gave, even if the same type of music is being played. There's no chilly atmosphere, the leads don't have the same flare they did in the earlier albums, and the soul in every song is still mostly non-existent. It doesn't matter how increasingly trendy, melodic, and domesticated this music has become - the result is still the same. Also, what use did the new drummer add? It's the exact same pacing that Hallio did on the past four albums, and it has no other purpose than to support a rhythm. Such a well-produced, well-mixed kit and the drumming is very average.
Power metal influenced melodic death, much like early / mid era Children Of Bodom, had something to build off of. Norther, however, have kept the same sound - the same mediocre and lackadaisical sound - and tried to go real edgy and modern with it. The plastic, polished, modern melodic death accompanied by lyrical-diarrhea drags on and on, song after song, until it runs through itself over and over. It's the same boring ideas with no drive or passion. Even the last album had poignancy in "Omen", and that album is a complete fucking bomb. On the subject of poignancy, what the hell happened to Kristian Ranta? The man's gothic-leaning cleans are supposed to sound somber and soothing, but here it's still thrown into whatever chorus catches any attention until the next song kicks in. They sound way too awkward and forced into performing vocal lines that just suck. They aren't catchy at all on the entire album, so what the hell was the point of using them? Same goes for Petri's strained, arid screams, but that's been the same since he opened his mouth on the first band recording.
The writing style of all Norther songs is horrible and holds true to all metal-money-grabbing textbook rules: tame harsh screams, clean production, straightforward structure, and hooks! Gotta pad with those hooks! The rhythm section is pounding away and as verbal as they can be given the above parameters, but don't even let them get a little out of hand! It's all about... what? Chugging riffs, metalcore harmonies, sappy keys, and harsh / clean vocals, and it shows how little compositional prowess this album has. You can tell how much effort went into the album when the compositions themselves suck. For a band built off of soaring leads, an angst edge, and pop simplicity, it doesn't help when the band can't even accomplish any of that. Oh wait, don't forget throwaway electronics diluting all the aforementioned, lovable traits.
Only thing I'd give an ounce of nod to is "Always & Never" and maybe "Self-Righteous Fuck" (ugh, that title), and that's for Jukka Koskinen, not the songs. His bass moments in the song, when isolated, are pretty damn cool. There's Iron Maiden-esque grace with the bass going on at certain times, like in these two songs, but most of the time it's guitar-support. Koskinen's probably the only member of the band that could immediately go to another band and have some impact. His death growls, however, added nothing to the album (in the few places they showed up). Put Koskinen's bass lines in a song with competent writing, and something magical could come of it. It wouldn't happen in Norther, though, because the band is incapable of writing even one overall great song.
Despite all the jabbering, Norther is, and always will be, a third tier Children of Bodom clone. First off, they owe their entire career to Alexi Laiho, as he pretty much handed them all of their early success, so it's really no surprise that Norther play a watered down and easily digestible variation of Bodom's trademark style.
But the unoriginality alone isn't enough to warrant such a low score, it's the fact that even if Bodom or Kalmah or Skyfire or any of the other bands that play this style in a superior fashion never existed, this is still exceedingly shitty and poppish "metal". There is distortion, there is screaming, there is double bass, so I understand why people call this metal, but the crux of this fecal vapor gas chamber that some call a masterpiece rests solely on the fact that it's easily listenable. You could hear garbage like Frozen Angel or Tell Me Why on the radio with no resistance, it's fucking pop metal. None of the band members explicitly suck at their instruments, but the music that they create is just so.... bad. Down sounds like a throwaway from Are You Dead Yet?, and Always & Never is pseudo-gothic-vampira dance clubs you see in Blade movies friendly. What the hell guys? Wasn't metal supposed to shun those nu fang wearing freaks?
I think the most insulting part about this god awful album has got to be the rife techno overtones. Not "industrial" overtones like Strapping Young Lad are able to do, straight up n-tiss n-tiss tech-fuckin'-no. There was outrage when Daath did this with Dead on the Dancefloor, but this garbage is just as blatant but spans across the whole album, and nobody bats a heavily mascaraed eyelash (need more proof, check the intro to Always & Never)! Nothing about this album comes off as good except maybe some of the solos, but each (rare) one is completely overshadowed by alternative pop metal bollocks like the chorus to To Hell.
The term "modern" gets tossed around in a derogatory sense an awful lot, but the modernness of something rarely bothers me, here it smacks me in the face and simultaneously vomits on my couch. Listen to that light alternative bullshit called Savior. "She's my savior / she's the one for me *cue in a sequence that could be considered 'heavy' only in contrast to the rest of this Elton John light rock shit they call a song*". The only words I can find myself using to describe this are words like "light", "poppish", or "alternative", but they are really the most accurate descriptions I can think of. The riffs are mostly crappy midpaced chuggers complemented with boring drums. The drums don't have to be insane to be good, but here they do absolutely nothing and serve no purpose other than to just have percussion on the album. And I'll say these lyrics suck extremely hard, they fail miserably when it comes to the subject that a lot of the songs touch on. If you want to write a metal anthem with a romantic tinge, take some notes from Symphony X's Eve of Seduction.
In short, this is metal for the non metal fan. It's inviting and happy go lucky, something that isn't necessarily bad (I'm a huge power metal fan), but it is done in such a bad way that I want to reach into my speakers and jab a desert fork through Lindroos' throat. He has just lost any shred of integrity he may have had left with this bubblegum laden atrocity. If this isn't the album that launches this band into the stratosphere for Hot Topic shoppers, I don't know what will. This is one of the most radio friendly and inoffensive records I've ever heard (especially their pathetic attempts at quelling my complaints with song titles such as "Self Righteous Fuck"), and while happy and inoffensive isn't a bad thing when done correctly, N has essentially lain the blueprint for how to make shitty pop metal. If you want inoffensive and poppish, listen to Timeless Miracle or some band that actually has musical integrity.
I am very impressed with the way the band has matured over the past years. Thereâ€™s a few things littered here and there that could be improved, but overall it does something each Norther album I have listened to is, which I will start off with as my opening point:
Notice how each album they release... is full of great songs, but nothing ultra-mind blowing? That changes here. Certain songs just take melodic metal to the next level. See 'Savior'. If that was a single song on an SP, it would be my only 100% to ever go out.
Why do they excel here? There are no fillers in this album [almost]. Now I know some of you are going to read this review, and yes you will label some songs as fillers. To me though, all the songs on here flow well, and really outline what I call metal. From the start to finish, there is an array of soft, and fast songs. This makes the album feel full. What is worse then listening to an album thatâ€™s the complete same all the way through? Variety is good, and I'll describe that in my next paragraph.
Before I leave this subject, I wanted to take note of how well the instruments sound. They definitely had access to a good producer. The drums (particularly the china cymbal) sound top notch, and the guitar to my ears sound bang on-- though I'm not an elitist guitar player; thus being up to you to decide. The bass is prevalent and warm feeling, which is great for the general atmosphere.
As usual, Petri and the gang start off with a bang. Blistering double bass and in-your-face-assaulting riffs that many new bands only wish they could create. Now, they do follow their own formula as usual, but there is a deviation here that sticks out to me. This is Kristian's clean vocals.
Petriâ€™s voice is quite mature and Kristianâ€™s are quite appropriate for clean vocals. They are used appropriately and do not randomly appear in awkward places. Petri seems to have a deeper growl now thenâ€”for exampleâ€”Mirror of Madness. I think this is just due to constant touring or a shift in his general direction. Do not think that for a second this is easily noticeable thoughâ€¦ he is still making the same vocals. Either way, they fit the album perfectly; I would not ask for any change in it at all.
The location of everything in general is well placed overall, not just the vocals. I found the drums had a fluid feel to it. The transitions between various rhythms flowed so well it felt natural. The only other drummer I have seen do this is Sean Reinert (Cynic/Death/Aghoraâ€¦etc), and to achieve the fluidity here is really hard to do. As a drummer, making the strings attach just perfectly is very hard to achieve.
The solos are great and have great fluidity as well. Obviously there are scales galore, nothing but some nice shredding at the appropriate times with a nice Norther feel. None detract from the song (which is a benefit), but some even add to it in the way thrash solos did. Attending a concert you would get pumped waiting for that blistering solo, and that embodies the feeling we see before us on â€œNâ€.
Highlights on these tracks are tracks 1, 2, 5. Those are my top 3 choices. All the others are great, but I choose those three as my personal favorites. This is Northerâ€™s best album yet, and I expect it to hit #1 in Finland.
Pre-order this. Any Norther fan will not be disappointed. This is the true evolution of a great band. If you dare say something stupid like "They still sound like Bodom", you clearly need to jump off a cliff, they are not in competition anymore: Norther wins everything.
I'm just afraid about their next album, what on earth is going to top this masterpiece...?
My knowledge of Norther is very limited, I've never particularly liked Children of Bodom and upon hearing from numerous sources that Norther was little more than a poor CoB rip-off I found no interest in pursuing their music. However for some reason I felt I should try listening to their latest output, if they beared any resemblance to CoB's older output then they will be infinitely better than the current incarnation of the band they wish to mimic. It seems though that Norther caught the 'suck virus' too because this album is atrociously boring, somewhere on par with "Are You Dead Yet?". I'm going to stop the CoB comparisons at this point because I think I've made my point clear; monkey see, monkey do. "N" is not only shite in name but also musical quality; the riffs are unimaginative, the keyboards vomit forth insipid melodies and there are a multitude of questionable effects and industrial moments.
From what I can tell Norther have stripped their guitars down the bare bones being content to play ancient melodic death metal riffs when they're feeling adventurous but otherwise they chug out simple power chord based riffs that never progress. I think I heard an attempt at speed metal somewhere in there but I was probably distracted by the limp-dicked lead work meandering all over the top doing absolutely nothing. Conversely a few songs such as "My Antichrist", "Frozen Angel" and "Black Gold" have some technically well done solos but in the context of the songs it sounds like the lead guitarist is trying awfully hard to be Alexi Laiho, which is a person no one should aspire to be in any sense at all. Otherwise think of any cliché when it comes to modern metal and they abuse it at some point in their songs; pinch harmonics, dropping the guitars in favour of vocals, chugging riffs... It's all there in fucking spades.
The keyboards aren't actually that bad in light of the piss poor riffing; they're just boring if anything at all. The melodies are never interesting, and most of the time they seem to have them set to the 'Crystal' sound set found on those old Casio keyboards in high school music classes. When they do come out to the front all I can think is "They sound fruity" and then I completely forget about them because they've got the keyboardist hooked up to morphine drip. The industrial effects however are annoying; at least I think they're industrial? They're some kind of electronics and regardless of their classification they blow more sheep than a New Zealand farmer. "Down" is practically a techno based song with a simple riff and some lethargic death vocals put over the top. Somewhere around the middle there's a drum solo followed by the most perplexing section I've ever heard; the guitars play two repetitive riffs that accomplish absolutely nothing and then the song goes on as if though nothing happened. What the fuck? I want those 20 seconds of my life back!
The only competent figure in the entire band seems to be the drummer who managed to avoid making my blood boil further. Even the vocalists can't do anything right; the harsh vocals are fairly raspy and irritating whilst the clean vocals are from a technical standpoint 'good' they're excessively whiny making him sound like he's just been sexually violated with a broom handled dipped in 'Deep Heat'. Maybe that's what happened to all the band members because this album is just so utterly boring and sluggish, the band just don't even seem to be trying. To use an analogy it's like they're playing at -11, there is nothing imaginative or interesting about this album. When the album isn't boring it's despoiling your ears with poorly chosen electronics, emotionally retarded lyrics and lamentable attempts at metal riffs. Don't hate Norther though, it's not their fault for releasing what is easily one of the worst albums of the year. Pity them, because they apparently have no will or soul of their own.
To start things off, this album closely follows the formula that was experimented with on the "No Way Back" EP. Simpler guitar riffs (much to the chagrin of die-hard fans, I'm sure), flashier, fast paced drumming, and more clean vocals courtesy of Kristian Ranta. The latter should have been all but expected, ever since "Solution 7" EP they have increased in frequency. The good news is that his voice is substantially improved, actually adding another dimension to a lot of the songs. Petri still handles the harsh duties; bellowing about his typical topics: Despair, Hatred, Longing, etc. His better grasp on the English language has resulted in much better word choice, resulting in the most catchy Norther chorus ever: "Always & Never". You will not be disappointed.
On the guitar front, a more staggered, slower playing style has taken over, making us almost entirely forget the thrashy, melodic beginnings of the band. Now while the new style works well in most songs, It can become monotonous after a while, and some songs lack the means to hold your attention entirely throughout.
Percussion is certainly not to blame, the shadow of Toni Hallio's painfully generic drumming has finally been lifted from the band. Heikki Saari embodies a much faster playing style, with more inventive fills and beats. The production, as was the case on "No Way Back" brings the most out of his abilities.
Tuomas Planman delivers his most disappointing effort to date, stepping into an even more reserved role than "Til Death Unites Us". When he does take over, the results are some of the high points of the album, such as "Frozen Angel"; which is even better than the original, a good move by the band re-recording it...Back to Planman, his solos are also bland, showing little or no flair that made songs like "A Fallen Star" worth listening to, almost singlehandedly. Still, he manages to make "Down" a good listen, with epic string segments bringing the song to life. Lets hope he turns things around by the next album.
Overall, this is a very different sound in comparison to the band's older work, with techno beats taking over at times, and clean vocals persisting throughout. Also worth noting is the increase in songs pertaining to relationship struggles. Nothing coming close to the gem "Omen", however. "We Rock" is a silly but fun shout-along song in the vein of "Fuck You" from the preceding full-length. It feels more complete as a song, though.
Longtime bassist Jukka Koskinen has a few interesting breaks, and is audible at many points thanks to legendary Anssi Kippo's production. All of their youthful angst here, and Norther's trademark sound is still present and accounted for; just in a slightly more accessible form. Fans of the band won't be disappointed with "N", just accept that the band is taking a more mainstream path.
I've rather liked Norther for awhile now, though they've never really had a standalone great album (with the exception of perhaps Dreams of Endless War). The oddly titled "N" doesn't change that, but it does provide Norther fans with five new reasons to like this band.
Those five reasons are tracks eight through twelve.
When I first listened to this album, I was greeted with "My Antichrist." This song introduces a slightly altered Norther with more significant keyboard lines, heavier, more midpaced guitars, and clean vocals simmilar to older Norther songs like "Omen" and "Day Zero." Despite some much needed updates to their style, the song plods along and never does much to capture your interest. "Frozen Angel," "Saviour," and "To Hell" have some good moments, but other than that, the rest of the first seven songs trudge through banality and do little to justify your time.
Then comes "Always and Never." This song starts with a wonderful distorted keyboard line and breaks into some of the best music Norther has ever put out. The keyboards make this song, bridging the vocal sections with excitment and agression and never sounding the least bit cheesy. They accent the chorus perfectly, adding melody and brutality.
"Tell Me Why" follows with much of the same high quality songwriting and is nearly as good as it's predecessor. "If You Go" is a slowerer song with a bunch of clean singing, which it builds up from. This is a great step in a new direction for Norther, assuming that they decide to follow it. "Self-Righteous Fuck" is a thrashy one with a really bare guitar line. "Forever and Ever" has some great epic guitar leads and is overall very midpaced.
These last five songs make the album worth your while. Fans of Norther will find something to enjoy here, even if it isn't all the quality one would hope for.