Norther - Circle Regenerated

Finland’s NORTHER recently released their first album with new singer Aleksi Sihvonen in the form of Circle Regenerated. For me personally, I always felt NORTHER and KALMAH are two bands that picked up the torch where CHILDREN OF BODOM left off around the time of Hate Crew Deathroll. No disrespect to COB, but I felt they strayed a bit from their original sound and I have always been happy to pop in a NORTHER disc to appease my Scandinavian metal appetite. With the release of Circle Regenerated, I was eager to hear what Sihvonen brought to the table and how the band has progressed. Well, to be honest I gave the album one full listen and I couldn’t bring myself to write a review right away. I was shocked – good or bad – see below for that answer.
The album starts off with the track “Through it All” which has some solid classic heavy riffing and atmospheric keyboard parts to match. The vocals kick in and I’m looking forward to hearing the rest as it seems to pick up right where they left off. After some heavy metal ass kicking, the chorus comes in with an epic-esque sounding chord progression that comes off as pretty confident and well played. In comparison to their previous efforts, this album seems have some different song structuring as the chorus plays an even more prominent role, but they do it well. The band immediately kicks things back into gear with more of the aggressive guitar playing. Enter surprise #1. There is a very brief clean vocal part that sounds almost like a chorus of higher ranged singers and/or a children’s choir. It quickly disappears, so I let it slide by. Once again the more prominent chorus enters which is once again followed by the “children’s chorus” singing “I remember”. I really don’t know what to make of this as it is the last thing in the world I was expecting. Granted this “surprise” is not the main feature of the song, so I chalk it up to the Finn’s spreading their wings and trying something new.
Next comes in the song “The Hate I Bear” and this title threw me for a loop, but I admit, it was entirely my fault. For a few minutes I’m trying to figure out what they mean with the word “bear” because for some reason I kept thinking of the animal. I then put my glass of whiskey down for a minute and I realized I was the idiot and they didn’t mean the animal. Continuing on, this song consists of classic NORTHER guitars and leads which I like. Again the chorus comes in and it is clean and more epic, almost 80’s sounding. It fits the song fine and doesn’t sound bad, but I never expected this from my beloved NORTHER. Overall I continued to enjoy the song as it certainly retains all the classic elements that made me first get into this band – killer lead guitars, aggressive rhythms, and pounding drums.
The song “Truth” is up next with a unique brief programmed into; I’m always a sucker for cool sounding electronics. These guys continue to pound away with melodic leads and chugging rhythms that help define their sound. Once again enters a surprise again, but at this point I won’t call these clean vocal passages surprises because it seems this is the route they are going. All of these clean passages give me the vibe of an 80’s band with touches of more progressive metal. I can’t quite wrap my mind around it because this doesn’t sound like the NORTHER I know. At the same time, I personally hate when people give bands a hard time for evolving and not sticking to their “roots” i.e. MetallicA – call me a hypocrite here, but I won’t degrade them at least. The music off of Circle Regenerated is definitely classic NORTHER as they have certainly maintained that staple in their musical diet. Whenever these clean choruses come in, I keep having to remind myself that this IS NORTHER.
“Some Day” is another track that has very simple, yet effectively written and played keyboard parts that add a unique element. I’ll always be a fan of Tuomas Planman even if he isn’t the flashiest and most technical player. He knows the role of his keyboards and executes them well. “Some Day” pounds away with fast paced rhythms to keep your head banging. Then, as expected at this point, enters the slowed down clean chorus. So far they are 4 for 4 in the new clean chorus approach, so I’ll stop beating this dead horse and have to just accept it – this is the new NORTHER.
For a breath of fresh air, slap on the track “Believe” which is a bit closer to traditional NORTHER as it consists of all screams. Musically, it is certainly in line with the rest of the album, although the song doesn’t particularly stick in my head. At least it’s good to hear they can still throw down with full aggression.
The rest of the album follows suit with the same “new” formula these guys have settled upon; excellent key work, great guitar leads, heavy rhythms and drums, and the ever present clean choruses. To be honest, I am a bit disappointed because I was expecting the same full of aggression insanely heavy music mixed with solid melodies. For the most part, they hit that nail on the head, but the new vocal direction can be a hard pill to swallow. I will give these guys credit for evolving and adjusting to the new talents Sihvonen brings to the table, but in my heart of hearts, I wish Petri Lindroos was still screaming for them. Unfortunately there are no memorable tracks that stick out to me like “that song kicks some serious ass”. It all flows very well together, but is too similar and I’m still trying to adjust to all of these clean vocals. In the end, Circle Regenerated is still a solid release; however, for me personally, to get my NORTHER fix, I will be listening to everything prior to this record. The album is still worth a listen and who knows, maybe it will be your thing, but I don’t think I’ll be finding this on my iPod for a week straight like their previous work. (6.5/10)

Devin Walsh

Band info:
For fans of: Kalmah, Children of Bodom, Mors Principium Est