Review Summary: In an era where talk of the occult and spooky monsters was popular in Heavy Metal, Northern Haze opted for a more sincere and earnest approach...
Metal is one of the most sonically and culturally diverse musical genres to ever exist. In the 21st century we have bands hailing from lands as distant as Aotearoa and the Faroe Islands. Lyrically, they honor vastly different histories, mythologies and cultural traditions, but under the veil of this feral musical styling, sometimes brutal and at other times profoundly beautiful they have been able to unite. Back in the 1980’s when metal was nascent and bands such as Iron Maiden and Venom were just starting to make major waves, this reverence for the ancestral and ancient (now an integral part of the genre) had not quite developed within the music. There were bands such as Bathory who paid homage to their Viking/Scandinavian heritage, but outside of Europe there was not nearly as many cultures and backgrounds represented in the genre as there are today. A unique and notable exception to this history is the Inuit band Northern Haze coming from a small town in Nunavut called Igloolik. While other bands of the era were penning juvenile lyrics about the occult and “chaos”, Northern Haze were way ahead of their time. In a world where music written in languages other than your lingua francas was not appreciated, Northern Haze bravely wrote in their native Inuktitut. While the band’s singular story and approach was definitely inspiring, I was curious to see if their music would live up to their rich lore. I’m happy to say that it definitely did.
The band unrelentingly and basedly (their music inspired me to conceive a whole new adverb!) pummels the listener with opener “Qailaurit”. The song, language aside introduces nothing new to the style with raw power chord doused guitars and bluesy riffage, but the pure passion and austerity the band demonstrates in their performance makes it an electrifying opener. Next up is a contender for my favorite song on the album: “Nutaraq”, a quick paced punk inflected tune with tasteful keys. The guitarwork though not necessarily virtuosic is uncompromising and exhilarating. There is even a short bit at the tail of the song’s solo section ornamented with tremolo picking, which was a technique not as widely used in the genre as it is today. The guitar playing across this album as a whole is superb. It’s not littered with sweeps or needless extended technique like a lot of metal music is today. Instead, the band opts for a more blistering punkish approach complete with that sharp and visceral tone that could only be captured on vintage records.
Another feature of “Sinnaktuq” that I can really appreciate is the band’s level of dynamism and attention to more sensitive and gentle composition. Directly following what might be the album’s most abrasive song “Anivunga”, Northern Haze flip the entire vibe of the record to one that is wonderfully delicate with “Trust”. Being that this is the only song in English and is a ballad of sorts, this song can at first give a listener the idea that this tune was some attempt at a hit or single. However, when you really dive into the sentiment behind the song and really digest its composition with consecutive listens, it becomes very clear just how special this song is. Singer, James Ungalaq reflects on feelings of nostalgia for childhood and a awe directed at the omnipotent force that is nature. Though the music is light and soft, the lyrics’ heavy message is compositionally translated perfectly. The keyboards, in particular are ethereal and howling like the powerful yet gentle arctic wind that the song speaks of. The singing is gorgeously imperfect, full of faults, scars and pain. With what could have otherwise been an attempt at commercial success, Northern Haze uses “Trust” and the album’s remaining two songs “Inusviut” and “Uvaguk” (also ballads) as an opportunity to escape from the aggression of earlier songs and to really speak to listeners’ souls in a graceful and uniquely earnest way. That is what I admire the most about this record and this band. There is nothing contrived about it. From the raw and punchy starters to the more beauteous closing numbers, Northern Haze is refreshingly sincere and this sincerity was way more rebellious, courageous and will ultimately prove to be infinitely more enduring than the half-hearted messages that their contemporaries were spewing out about the devil and spooky monsters in the 80’s.