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I had half the mind to review this album right away, in my heightened state of excitement after obtaining it. Regardless, I decided to give it more time to set in. As an avid Norther fan, I wanted to review this release as thoroughly as possible.
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.