Review Summary: North lost their candy and get stuck in a storm. No more candy.
Another post-metal album means another album of slow-to-mid tempo jams, so let's get that out of the way: North has the usual fetish for all things less-than 140bpm. But North is also a band in progression: earlier EPs were instrumental and vocals are featured for the first time on What You Were
. The screaming ranges from common growling to eccentric wailing and well suits the music. A new vocalist and a guest from Heavy Heavy Low Low naturally assume the spotlight from North's clever guitarists. Seven minute “Veiled in Light” showcases that rhythm section's easy mastery of post-rock dynamics while “Falling in Perpetuum” weaves metal riffs and shrieks with aesthetic chord progressions, the best example of what North offers here.
What You Were
is built to be a powerful album. Its lyrical themes are not clearly enunciated but we can be sure of some struggle, of “not knowing what to think," “blood running from my eyes”; “did I do this to myself?” “Haunted, left afraid, alone,” “sleep, bitter sleep,” and then the closer: “sorrow lingers on, accretion of the abyss, I close my eyes.” There are glimpses of hope, of seeing “behind this facade”, for the “first time in my life.” But first and foremost is the crushing weight of questions and sorrow.
Immediately following the record's two minutes of pensive intro we are hit with that weight on “Ghosts Among Us”. The production is the final strength of this album, making those moments effective: North play comfortably with grungy guitar tones, huge sound walls, reverb, and static fuzz. Nothing is especially pronounced and What You Were
thrives for it. North experiments and develops its sound without slipping up and moving too fast in any shaky directions. There is no visible faltering, but one can hope for higher mountains, deeper impacts, and more glorious melodies. North's shortcomings lie more in what it doesn't attempt than in what it does. Luckily there is magic in "Falling in Perpetuum" and throughout much of this record.