Review Summary: Everybody's favourite Children of Bodom clones release a surprisingly decent album.
If the last couple years have shown us anything it's that the Children of Bodom standardized power-metal-with-harsh-vocals formula is going increasingly stagnate. Each of the genre's biggest bands – that being Bodom, Kalmah, and Norther, among others – have not been able to follow up early successes like Follow the Reaper or They Will Return. As result, painstakingly mediocre records such as Hate Crew Deathroll, The Black Waltz, and in Norther's case, Till Death Unites Us, have not really impressed this metal fan at all. Considering that Norther in particular never caught my interest apart from a couple songs here and there on their Mirror of Madness, I wasn't particularly looking forward to the group's latest record, N. So I was rather surprised when the album turned out to be a rather decent effort on Norther's part.
Musically, N isn't a particularly ambitious output. The music is a little less keyboard based, instead revolving itself around heavy, mid-to-fast paced riffage from guitarists Perti Lindroos and Kristian Ranta akin to –sigh– Children of Bodom's later works. But I guess you'd be setting yourself up for disappointment if you expected anything different. Fortunately, it isn't musicianship which makes N listenable. The album is a step up from the likes of Till Death Unites Us and Mirror of Madness because the band as a whole has improved on pretty much every front. The melodic wankfests are toned down for the most part, paving way for a more balanced, mature musical assault – see Frozen Angel. The keyboards take on an atmospheric role in a way which at times reminds of Dark Tranquillity, particularly in Tell Me Why and My Antichrist.
If N had a standout track, it would be the amusingly egotistic We Rock. A fist pumping anthem, the track will definitely be a crowd pleaser in the near future, and considering its quality, hopefully for a rather long time. One of the stronger numbers in Norther's discography, We Rock is built around chugging riffs that, though quite simplistic, maintain an energetic atmosphere that outshines the rest of N's material. The lyrics – "We rock! / The way we live is our way / So lets get loud and say what we say" – isn't quite as inspiring as Norther probably intended. But it fits the rousing feel of the song well enough that I'm not complaining anyway. Also notable on Norther's fifth album is the ballad, If You Go. Making Children of Bodom's token ballad Angels Don't Kill look silly, the song is a tranquil offering which gives listeners a welcome change from the aggressive overtones of the record's other tracks. Keyboardist Tuomas Planman does an exceptional job in this track, producing a sound which gives off both an atmospheric flare as well as a lead role which, along with Kristian Ranta's clean singing, controls the flow of the song.
Norther's latest album isn't without fault, however. The record falls into the same pitfalls that its predecessors and contemporaries fail to overcome. N is extremely repetitive, with nearly every song following a similar structure. That many of the songs sound the same, coupled with the fact that N is forty-eight minutes makes for a somewhat difficult listen at times, as do some of the record's unfortunately stale riffs (see Self-Righteous Fu
ck). But overall, N is a good album for what it is. The strongest recording Norther has released over the last few years, arguably ever, it provides listeners with a decent slab of thrashy power metal. Nothing more, however, so don't get too excited over it.