Review Summary: With competent instrumentation ultimately being overshadowed by sub-par vocals and horrendous choruses, Circle Regenerated shows just how badly Norther miss Petri Lindroos
Petri Lindroos may not be on the level of say, Mikael Akerfeldt or Peter Tägtgren when it comes to frontmen in metal, but he was Norther’s image, sound and persona in human form. So when he left the band in early 2009 to fully concentrate on his other and now only band, Ensiferum, the guys in Norther were left with a big hole to fill. Unfortunately, they did a rather lousy job on it. Not only is Aleksi Sihvonen a weak replacement when compared to Petri Lindroos, he is a feeble vocalist in general.
The reason why I brought that up right away is because Sihvonen’s appalling performance on Circle Regenerated
is the album’s greatest downfall. The instrumental side of things is still competent enough here, even if it doesn't hold a candle to the band's first three records that were all excellent melodic death metal pieces filled with lush guitar work. The music on Circle Regenerated
sounds safe by Norther's standards, true, but there are a few select memorable riffs throughout the album and Heikki Saari can very well throw in an interesting drum fill or two. Also, when there are solos, they are still in the old fashioned Norther goodness. Alas, all this isn’t enough to save Circle Regenerated
, only to soften the blow of the downfalls.
Coupled with Sihvonen’s dreadful vocals that lack range, are grating in tone, and shadow the instrumentation way more than they should, there are also the cheesy synth lines and abhorrent choruses that bring down the overall quality. When on earlier Norther albums the keys were constantly used to emphasize the cold atmosphere of the records, they now bring the cheese more often than help with that task. There are moments where they succeed, like in "Breaking Myself Away", where they complete the sound, on "Falling", where they serve as a nice introductionary tool, and on the final track "Closing In", where they finally truly help out with the atmosphere, but too many a time they sound like they were put in for the sole sake of keeping Tuomas Planman occupied at their live shows. But hey, at least the keys worked on a few occasions, because the same can not be said about the choruses. Plain and simple, there isn't a worthwhile chorus on this album. From cheesy to uninspired to completely out of place, they only break the flow of competent verses and sound even worse than choruses you might find on a mediocre rookie melodeath outfit’s debut, and remember, we're talking about a group that has five full-length albums behind their backs here, so execution and songwriting this weak is in no way excusable.
Believe me when I say that it’s in no way fun for me to rag on Norther here. Dreams of Endless War
was one of the first heavy albums I got into and these guys have held a special place for me ever since. But after Petri left and the first demos with Sihvonen surfaced, I knew things were never going to be the same. Petri didn't only took with him his vocal- and songwriting talents when he left, it now seems, because Circle Regenerated
isn’t only the worst Norther album, but a one that doesn’t even sound like it came from the same band. That’s not Sihvonen’s fault either, mind you, because the whole feel of this record is much different to that of any other Norther album, in a negative way. On Circle Regenerated
, Norther don't sound special anymore. Even though they have been accused of being Children of Bodom and Skyfire clones and what-not before, anyone with even half-an-ear for musical nuances could tell that they had their own sound going for them. Now though, Norther sound just about like your average melodeath band. Only the individual performances by drummer Heikki Saari plus guitarists Daniel Freyberg and Kristian Ranta save this album from being just another nameless generic melodeath record, but in truth, being a weak record from a good band – is that any better?
Kristian Ranta as the main songwriter is still here. Heikki Saari as the talented drummer is still here. Besides Lindroos, the core of Norther is still here. Yet, what isn’t present is the quality we can find on releases such as Dreams of Endless War
and Mirror of Madness
. The songwriting is a lot safer on Circle Regenerated
than it is on any other Norther record, even on the straightforward N
, the vocals are sub-par at best (I noted no more and no less than one good scream throughout the whole record: it was about 2.35 into "Believe") and the choruses are dreadful. I can't see or hear the flame that should be burning inside these guys. This is the album where they were supposed to show that the loss of their frontman isn’t going to stop them from writing great music, and they failed. Circle Regenerated isn’t a terrible album musically, but it is a very, very mediocre one. With their next effort, Norther better bounce back, because as of now, they seem to be as lost as their brethren in Children of Bodom who released an equally unspectacular record this year – an album that I expected Norther to easily beat. Sadly, they didn’t.