I’ve been a huge fan of folk metal, Scando-Germanic mythology, and related themes for many years, but there has been a tendency for this type of metal to get stale over the years. Can the Swedes in From North show me something new on their self-titled debut, or will it be another trip across familiar oceans?
If the scores above haven’t given it away, From North breathe new life into the sea of “by the book” folk releases. From North take the standard formula, incorporate traditional folk instruments, mix the clean and harsh vocals, and use non-traditional song structures to create something familiar but fresh.
Opener Volund the Smith is mostly standard Viking/folk metal, featuring a martial tempo and harsh vocals, but mix some cleans and something akin to a whistle or bagpipes supplying the background melody. This is a great opening as it lures the listener in with certain expectations, but then teases something new.
He Who Hates, as you would expect, kicks the aggression up a notch, but then switches to a slower, melodic interlude just past the halfway point before finishing as aggressive as it started.
Just in case you were seeing a pattern, From North kick that to the side with Last Appeal, which stays mostly clean with some beautiful vocal harmonies. Conversely, Ship’s Tale opens clean but switches into aggressive builds leading into a melodic refrain.
Other album highlights include the near-ballad The Sacred Oath, sing-along track Sworn Brotherhood, and the epic-feeling closer, From North.
Any faults I try to find with the album are minor. Some of the songs feel a tad too long, despite most of the tracks running under five minutes apiece. Additionally, while Håkan Johnsson’s vocals are great, there are a few instances where he doesn’t quite reach a note he’s trying to hit or sustain. Honestly, these are mostly nitpicks, and considering this is a debut album, I would expect much worse.
From North have put out a spectacular debut. Their unique approach to songwriting in a frequently stale subgenre is a welcome kick to the hindquarters. If the album cover made you think this was just another Amon Amarth or Ensiferum clone, then reset your expectations and give this a listen.
Special thanks to Against PR for the complementary review copy.