Album Review: NORTH Light The Way
Because Wikipedia's definition of 'post-metal' did not quite fly with me, I'll establish my own interpretation. Referring to basic semantics, the idea of 'post' equating to 'after' creates an interesting answer and possibly similar to what the creators behind the term intended. What comes after the point when common traits of metal are formed? Observing the key players of the genre such as Neurosis or Isis, it seems safe to assume that the next step rests in experimentation or more importantly, a guideline which ironically institutes no-rules to dictate the overall direction of music.
For North, I would say the group mostly fits the above category with a leaning towards progressive, sludge, and post-rock as well. Regarding the background of the band, they formed in 2005 as an instrumental act and have since gone through multiple lineup changes. Light the Way marks the fourth overall LP and first official full length album as a trio consisting of bassist/vocalist Evan Leek, guitarist Matthew Mutterperl, and drummer Zack Hansen. Although the music remains stylistically consistent with past material, the expanded ideas appear to be their most ambitiously diverse yet. With the inclusion of longtime contributor/producer Dana Fehr, the mastering skills of Colin Marston (Gorguts, Krallice, Kayo Dot), and the backing of Prosthetic Records, the bar of expectations are set decently high.
The instrumental opener, "Moonswan," acts as the sludgy foundation for the LP. The doom-paced build-up adds suspense, but fades before transitioning to the next track in an almost anti-climactic fashion. On the title track, we truly see the genre-based comparisons begin to arise. Going into this record blind, I would've made the assumption that it was new Neurosis material. Heck, the first half of this album is very much so alike to the dynamics of the traditional post-metal sound. "Weight of All Thoughts," "Earthmind," and "Primal Bloom" all maintain a pattern of harsh vocals dividing down-tuned riffs into groovy segments. While there are plenty of moments that North parallels characteristics of the aforementioned band, it would be too basic of an assessment to settle on that notion. They certainly do not contain the jarring industrial aspects and quirky soundscapes that Neurosis has maintained. And furthermore, the serene post-rock atmospheres created develop a unique identity that exempts them from any absolute comparisons.
After five tracks leaning towards the beefy and bass-y end, "Rhef Anad" provides a break on the ears. The simplistic, yet grandeur aesthetic continues through "On a Beaten Crooked Path." Classic rock-like melodies give off a vibe similar to Baroness' most recent release, Purple. As the composition flourishes, it becomes apparent that there is much depth and hidden talent behind all the dense riffs coating the majority of this release. "From This Soil" inches back to the heavy-centric territory of the the first half of the album, where the conclusive instrumental "Relativity" takes the soothing route in finishing off the record.
Light the Way is strong and feels mature in its own right, however there seems to be an absence of a certain special ingredient. As I spoke of earlier, the post-rock and progressive additions allow North to possess a unique edge, but this slight genre fusion does not completely solidify the band as one considered incomparable. In some cases the influences and genre stereotypes overshadow the actual creativity, but I can foresee the diverse potential in this band being up there amongst boundary-pushing bands like The Ocean or Cult of Luna (talk about a touring package that would be). When speaking of specific songs, there is clear evidence and capacity of a fully developed group and with a continuation of experimentation and songwriting focus, I do not doubt that such a peak is imminent. In summary, the compositions and atmospheres that North brew on this record are increasingly immersive and I'm excited to see the identity of this band strengthen with further, expansive releases.