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Sentenced evolve in dramatic style from the furious but standard early‑1990s European death metal of their Shadows of The Past debut with second effort North from Here, which displays a highly developed sense of composition, shaped by frenetic guitars coursing through frozen melodic streams in racing harmonic fury. Insane pace of intricate rhythms in complex patterns supports in parallel form the manic currents of lucid melody, framed by hyper drumming that is astounding in precision and speed within these involved constructions. Vocals now taken over by bassist Taneli Jarva are of a higher pitched, near-black metal scream with a scornful, gritty tone, ferocious and spiteful in distinctive, sometimes eccentric expressive character. His charismatic delivery brings a stronger identity to this music as opposed to the gruff, commonplace death growl of lead guitarist Miika Tenkula heard on the previous album. The soundworld of Sentenced transforms from its hateful but humble and sometimes clumsy origins of death into a violent race through bloodstained tundra.
"I want to be trapped under ice
within my peaceful glacial tomb
Far from the epoch of trend
In the Aeons of Frost ‑ In league with the North!"
Sentenced accurately execute in murderous yet finesse form at levels of blistering speed like lightning splitting into unexpected yet logical patterns in design of elaborate labyrinths voicing detestation and vengeance towards the plight and falsity of blind hordes, all the while screaming through a fury of existential alienation for harmony with universal forces in the lust for warlike adventure. There is an almost spectral coldness and hatred flowing and pulsing in this music that allies it with the emotional and atmospheric landscape associated with black metal, as well as the elongated guitar patterns that stream in melodic currents in a manner similar to the approach of black metal extended melodic phrases. This is most evident in closing track "Epic", which, if one had no prior knowledge of Sentenced, could reasonably conclude the band were wearing corpsepaint during the recording. Though not a pure black metal album in style, it shares a number of vital stylistic elements and a spiritual quality more related to black metal than death metal. However, the complex structure and technically accomplished instrumentation, not to mention a clear presence of bass in the sterile but appropriately frozen mix, prevents this from leaving the realm of death metal altogether, and instead hybridizes the two styles into a sound that would be expanded upon in the coming years, rising to acclaim in the middle 1990s with the growth of the Swedish wave of melodic death with blackened vocals. Listen to the neo‑classical lead work of Tenkula throughout this effort to hear the traditional metal guitar style that inspired similar playing in many NWOBHM‑influenced guitar-work of melodic death bands In Flames and Dark Tranquility, who are often credited with originally bringing this approach into a death metal framework.
"The goals I've set to myself are far beyond mortality
To dominate, desolate everything weak that cannot stand alone"
Innovative and entirely individual albums like this have been a scarcity in metal since its release, with very few approaching anything remotely similar in terms of the sheer imagination of the presentation, but perhaps most importantly, the overall feel of this music, which generates a sort of icy translucence in the grip of a rage‑induced blur. These blood‑on‑snow obsessed Finns would never visit these musical shores again, opting instead to carry on as musical shape‑shifters before settling into a sound far more conventional than what is on display here. North from Here is a rare work that epitomizes the vast and sublime potential of metal music when in the artistic capabilities of visionaries such as these.
What a strange bunch, this band, never very content to stick with one style until they settled into some kind of depressive heavy metal by their fourth album. You could very well listen to their first three records, loving one, hating another and being ambivalent to a third. It doesn't exactly make for something one can be fanatical about. Indeed, the gloomrockin of the later albums never worked very well for me, the debut was adequately heavy and featured nice riffs but nothing more, and the transitional "Amok" just left me scratching my head in perplexity.
What about "North From Here" then? My first exposure to Sentenced, this came to me at a time when I was first becoming acquainted with the soudns of metal that wasn't strictly heavy or thrash. Death metal was a new and fascinating beast, black metal a vague spectre at the edge of perception. I wanted metal that was dizzyingly technical, full of tempo changes, complex yet adhering to some vague idea of beauty that I had in my head. It's safe to say that "North from Here" knocked me flat from the very first note, and indeed, it was just the sort of metal album I was searching for at the time. The vocals were something new, with their snarly high-toned rasp, sounding much angrier than fellow Finns Amorphis, with whom I was already somewhat familiar. Indeed, I had this crazy idea that the two Finnish bands had some kind of rivalry going on, probably fueled by the "thousand fakes" comment in the lyrics to one of these songs. I knew about contemporaneous works by Death, but while I enjoyed their restrained melodic approach, they didn't have what this album has got in spades.
What is it that this album has got, then? Well, it is brash, as much metal ought to be. The compositions seems a little wild, especially in retrospect, as though the band had been practising their instruments excessively since that debut record and wanted to cram as many high-flying ideas into each song as possible. Often we ought to be a little wary of bands that hurl so many twists and turns at us, and indeed, Sentenced themselves would later criticise this album for a lack of cohesion and structure, yet I find myself so attracted to what the band was trying to do here that a certain amount of abruptness and clutteredness is tolerable here and even welcome. Besides, it's really not so random and crazed as all that; you will still hear recurring passages; some of these songs even include choruses, though seldom (if at all) will they repeat more than once. All I can say is that if you're looking for the pop hooks of later Sentenced, or the unhurried trudge and big, repetitive riffs of their younger days, neither are very much in evidence here, and while there's more than a hint of the un-hinged artist in some of these songs, there's an undeniable charm to what's going on. The reason for this, I think, is that the band sound as if they are playing their hearts out. Really, this couldn't be further from the dry and clinical nature of plenty of modern technical death metal, both in terms of sound production and musical delivery. When melodies surface with stark clarity, they are creative and often rather dark. Plenty of sections will induce enthusiastic headbanging, and whatever one can say about structure, it really sounds as if the band are working together with a seamless and unbeatable chemistry and that they believed, for a time at least, that they had crafted songs to take the metal world by storm. The lyrics, too, are far from the morose alcoholic haze of later recordings, preferring instead to deliver, with considerable conviction, variations on the tried and true themes of battle, bloodshed and the harsh Finnish winter in an age when the proud heathen still believed he could cleanse the north of christian lies.
The album opens with some strange, bending lead guitar melody, and right away anyone previously familiar with "Shadows of the Past" would have had to ask in perplexity whether this was really the same band. Everything about this beast is different. Not only has the complexity increased exponentially, the vocals taken on an altogether higher, angrier character and the sound been designed to bring out the sharp biting quality of those guitars, but the loping pup that gave us "Shadows..." has suddenly grown up to be a bounding lupus that can outrun its contemporaries. The heavy marching tempos that usually constitute verses here ought to induce purposeful movement in the listener, and the blasting moments will have an audience frantically trying to keep up with some very intense picking with their guitars, real or imagined. The rhythm section is hardly neglected, either, bass dancing with a compelling low and clear tone and drums...ah, the drums...don't they sound nice and booming? I love this kind of clarity in percussion when what's being played is interesting, and here there's no disappointment. Rolling double bass, crashing cymbals, interesting fills all over the place and a few neat timing tricks that keep me focussed on what this man is doing behind the kit. It's a sterling performance, and along with the unique guitarwork, makes me wish that Sentenced had found their niche here and refined their craft a little more.
I'll admit, then, that the album does tend to lose one at times, particularly during lengthy speed sections where the sharpness of the guitar sound, combined with playing that concentrates on the high end of the fretboard, leads to a sort of blurry catatonia, at least in this listener. However, I don't find my attention wandering that often, and usually I'm marvelling at the precision and enthusiasm I think I can detect coming from my speakers. "Capture of Fire" is an obvious standout, being actually a very well-structured piece of music with plenty of recurring themes, and at least four colossal riffs, each more captivating than the last. After each verse the band throws itself into a manic section where I swear that both guitars, while playing melodically, are trying to emulate the sound of a pneumatic drill, they're going at it with such forceful heaviness and speed. Tasteful keyboards spice things up just a little bit, especially at the song's conclusion, and in fact they are used in a similar way sporadically throughout the recording, sounding particularly effective when combined with ominous clean guitar.
Other highlights can certainly be found. "Fields of Blood" seems particularly furious and includes several thrumming repetitive rhythms that will ensnare your neck like a noose. I particularly enjoy the little bass breaks, during which drums and guitars will hammer away simplistically while Taneli Jarva plays a kind of propulsive melody on his instrument. "Epic" truly lives up to its name, being a rather complex and dizzying composition played mostly at incredible speed (they certainly never played this fast before, and sure as hell never will again) until a huge, bombastic melody creeps in around the half-way mark accompanied by slower percussion brimming with huge fills, cymbal slashes and stomping double bass. I could also mention "Awaiting the Winter Frost", which begins very auspiciously with a sweeping clean guitar/bass section with airy synth backing, which perfectly sets the stage for a song that simply howls with pent-up fury and is memorable throughout its many twists and turns, which is truthfully not something that can be said for the entire album, despite the fact that I've actually singled out much of it for praise here.
It's simply mind-boggling to consider how much the band must have worked to refine their craft to this degree of tightness and complexity. It's almost as though they wanted to be the Coroner of death metal, but thought they could inject a fine helping of grandiose melody into the mix. Mostly, they succeeded rather well. I've heard people criticise the solos, and indeed they aren't so memorable in themselves, but I think they add a certain charm to things, since these compositions seem so necessarily regimented that a little spontanaiety is certainly called for, which the wild and seemingly random flurries of notes wailing and searing their way through the mix at certain points do provide. The solos are concise bursts of energy that never really outlive their welcome, and are not much like the restrained melodic metal tributes found on later albums. The whole mixture of "North from Here" is just so different from what was happening in neighbouring Sweden at the same time, when bands like Dark Tranquillity were giving birth to a style that would later be praised and reviled all over the world as "melodic death metal", with all the misapprehensions and unfortunate associations that would result when the style moved so far away from its death metal roots, yet this material is unflinchingly consonant with old heavy metal and thrash sounds, only filtered through a sort of maniacal death metal frenzy that makes it so much colder and harsher than its contemporaries in Gothenberg. There's a lot going on here, and while at first you'll find yourself only intrigued by certain parts, certain arresting, threatening melodies and majestic riffs, you'll want to look long and hard at this little gem so that you can penetrate all the secrets it has to offer.
“The goals I've set to myself are far beyond mortality
To dominate, desolate everything weak that cannot stand alone!
And losers shall drop...
One after one…”
Sophomore efforts usually tell a lot about a band. So it’s always best to apprehend a band’s debut album as a display of raw ideas, simply put together for the sake of making music and/or getting the listener to generally identify what a band is all about. However, it’s perfectly obvious, that through Metal’s entire existence as a genre, there have been many bands that release pretty basic material on their first album, and then one or two years later, release a ground breaking record that has the potential to change the face of rock and metal music alike. A few famous examples of rapid progression from debut to sophomore album are as listed; Metallica (Kill Em All/Ride The Lightning), Iron Maiden (self titled/Killers), Mercyful Fate (Melissa/Don’t Break The Oath, although this is debatable to many) and Judas Priest (Rocka Rolla/Sad Wings Of Destiny).
In other words, the full dynamics and potential of a band are not often reached with their first release. Sometimes it even takes two, three or more records for the skills of a band to truly shine. Sentenced belongs in the group of names that I just listed above. If you’ve read my review for Shadows of the Past, you’ll notice that the overall point of the review states that although the record itself is good, it’s still pretty damn typical for Death Metal. This is definitely NOT the case with North From Here. To claim that the band had progressed in any way would be an understatement.
One of the more chief aspects of the album are the vocals. It was a wise choice for Miika to consider the band’s bassist, Taneli Jarva for the spot as the band’s lead vocalist. When it comes to performing harsh vocals, this guy seriously hits the nail on the head! It also gave Miika the opportunity to focus more on his guitar playing, as it’s quite obvious that his playing style on this record is nothing short of fantastic. There are various styles of playing to be heard here. You know, some of it even sounds a tad Black Metal-ish, both in the riffing style and atmosphere portrayed. I’d even go as far as saying that Jarva’s high pitched, rasping shrieks would perfectly suit an early raw Black Metal band. One thing that is particular about North From Here is its cold, bleak atmosphere. This even earned Sentence the tag “The Northernmost Killers”, for their deadly, blistering fast approach at melodic, yet extremely fierce Death Metal (and also because of the fact that they are from Finland).
Yes, this is considerably faster than Shadows of the Past, but more precisely executed. The riffs shift from fast tremolo picking, to thrashing, to shredding, to neo-classical and everything in between. This new sound, at the time, was a completely different entity than what was featured on the first album. Another new feature was the addition of keyboards to the music. But fear not, this only enhances the listening experience for an already cold and dreary record. While other Finish bands such as Children of Bodom use keys to underline (or overline?) the guitar work, Sentenced uses them sparingly, and even when upfront, they’re used solely for atmosphere, nothing more. Want proof that keyboards in Metal aren’t necessarily a pussy element? Give this a spin. I guarantee, your mind will change.
Production is top notch, superb for 1993. The instruments can all be clearly deciphered, particularly the bass. While the bass served as nothing more than a back-bone for the band at the time the debut album was released, it’s actually put to use exceptionally well, even earning some stand out points in a few of the tracks. Just check out some of the bass acrobatics heard in “Capture of Fire”, “Awaiting the Winter Frost” and the closing track, “Epic“. Others like “My Sky Is Darker Than Thine” and “Fields of Blood; Harvester of Hate” reign supreme in the riff department, outshining pretty much any other extreme Metal that transpired at the time. Oh, and one more thing. I can’t finish off this review without pointing out the album’s downright best song, hands down; “Northern Lights”! It’s an outstanding epic, yet malevolent track that alters from break-neck thrashing, to somber, dark melodies accompanied by barren sounding keyboards that lace the track with a coat of bitterness.
I’d go as far as saying that North From Here is Sentenced’s most extreme release. Yes, technically this is ‘melodic’ Death Metal, though not in the same vein as In Flames or Arch Enemy since the band doesn’t rely on recycled Iron Maiden riffs to construct their songs. Anyway, this album came out before the big Gothenburg explosion in Sweden, so that‘s that. Recommended to any fans of extreme Metal and/or to those who love the power of the RIFF!
“Taken by the North wind blow
Into the icy abyss of colours
As I fulfilled my true self
I knew your world is not for me”