Krautrock during the Saxon invasion
Review by Paul H Birch
Release date: 4 October 2014
The phrase “black metal” is spread liberally throughout the PR spiel before me and the genre’s growling vocalisations I find generally undecipherable, if not pretty tiresome. Such that are present, it’s true, I can rarely make out, but the way they’re enunciated make them work as effective rugged melody lines, rather than intrusive listening here. Thus ravens twitter and a bass throbs as dark Floydian chords cascade out during ‘The Dark Of Midsummer’ before a flute takes up its refrain. As I begin to worry we’re falling down the all-too twee rabbit-hole of Black Widow’s ‘Come to the Sabbat’ aggressive drums and guitar march in to save the day; then interchange with the proggier opening chords until the fluting solos, a violin and acoustic enter momentarily, and all is overridden by an electric riff that concludes in short fuzzed solo.
Next is the punkier metal of ‘Marston Moor’ followed by a couple about fertility deities: ‘Gaia’ has a loose bass and acoustic layered under the rough stuff while ‘Nerthus’ begins on piano working up to a guttural rant as pagan festivity, before a calmer violin and acoustic go medieval folk on us. There are some tunes that tick the box those disingenuous would refer to as Conan-knock-off movie soundtracks but there’s also a highlight in ‘Isle Of Mist’ with its flute, bare acoustic, and trickling keyboards all expanding slowly in inspired musicality.
Founded in 2006 by a group of Sheffield University students and a local rock society, Northern Oak have shed members (to pursue the careers they studied for) but still made two full albums and toured prior to this one; that was funded by a Kickstarter programme. Original guitarist Chris Mole remains as does long-term flautist Catie Williams, while more recent addition keyboard and violin player Digby Brown takes an understated but vital role.
It’s when Of Root And Flesh veers from individual rutting fertility rite mash-ups to a cycle of songs one might expect to be funeral dirges yet end up being a stoic shamanic musical exploration of time, space and eventual decay that it all comes into its own. From ‘The Gallows Tree’ swaying between raging Goth metal jig and The Horslips jamming on a reggae riff, onto the closing acidic frizzle of guitar over pagan drums within ‘Bloom’, and the title track itself opening in dark majesty; all big drum beats and chord progressions before William’s flute melody takes precedence, the deep vocals grow clearer and with added epic choir it flows between arcane Morris dance and cosmic procession until ending as narration. ‘Only Our Names Will Remain is even better coming across like PFM’s ‘Celebration’ with bursts of Jan Akkerman ‘Hocus Pocus’ style guitar, then pastoral folk trip-hops over narration, and finally a big anthemic ending with a fuzzy skewered slow-burning solo. If krautrock had been around during the time of the Saxon invasion it may well have sounded like this!
8 out of 10
- The Dark Of Midsummer
- Marston Moor
- Isle Of Mists
- Requiescant In Pace
- The Gallows Tree
- Of Roots And Flesh
- Only Our NamesWill Remain