Northward – Northward – Album Review

Northward - Northward - Artwork

Artist: Northward

Album Title: Northward

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 19 October 2018

I first heard about this new band back in February and of it, I remarked that “the names of Floor Jansen and Jørn Viggo Lofstad cannot be ignored”. I was right because here I am eight months later listening to the final product, the self-titled debut release under the Northward moniker.

Naturally, for anyone worth their metal salt, the names of Floor Jansen and Jørn Viggo Lofstad need little introduction. The exceptional Jansen is the vocalist with Nightwish, formerly with After Forever, whist Lofstad is the guitarist with progressive/melodic metal band Pagan’s Mind. However, far from their metal day jobs, the two have come together with a shared love of classic rock. ‘Northward’ is an album described by the main protagonists as having a ‘basic rock sound’, with Jansen elaborating suggesting that, “The music is melodic, but also in your face and kick ass rock. Cool riffs, good melodies and tasteful arrangements. We would simply like to call it ‘Good Music’”

It remains to be seen how many of their ‘usual’ fanbase the two artists bring along with them for the ride here, but it would be remiss of me to not check out the album to see if it is worth giving Northward a decent try. And, whilst this kind of rock music isn’t my usual fare, I cannot deny that this is a very striking record with plenty of positives that ensure that I enjoy the experience of listening to it. I’m not completely sold on every song, but overall, I like a lot more than I don’t, with a number of the tracks getting lodged in my brain. And, when faced with a choice of about seven or eight new records to listen to currently, I often find myself unexpectedly veering towards ‘Northward’ – that should give you an indication of my admiration of the album if nothing else.

Joining the primary duo on this recording as guests are bassist Morty Black, drummers Jango Nilsen and Stian Kristoffersen, as well as keyboardist Ronny Tegner. There is also a guest vocal performance on one track (‘Drifting Islands’) by Floor’s sister Irene Jansen for good measure.

I have come to realise that one of the key reasons I like this album as much as I do is the guitar work from Lofstad. It has a distinctive flavour of its own and is much more no-nonsense and riff-driven, but if you’re a fan of Pagan’s Mind, you will not fail to recognise Lofstad’s style and tones within the compositions, certainly his more recent output on albums like ‘Heavenly Ecstasy’ where Pagan’s Mind were arguably moving toward a more melodic and slightly less technical approach. On this record, Lofstad is able to metaphorically and literally throw his head back and rock out, using as much touch and feel as technicality. And the results are great.

It goes without saying that Floor Jansen is a powerhouse behind the microphone, a one-person tornado of huge notes and even bigger attitude. She brings an authenticity to the vocals that makes you think that she has always been a classic hard rock singer, demonstrating the necessary swagger but infusing it with a range of different deliveries, from all-out power, to a more sensitive and mellifluous approach.

Northward: Floor Jansen & Jørn Lofstad, 2018.
Northward: Floor Jansen & Jørn Lofstad, 2018.

Opening track, ‘While Love Died’ is a bona fide anthem, the kind of track that immediately gets the blood pumping. It goes on the attack from the very beginning, opening with a jagged riff and stomping uncomplicated rhythms, eventually producing a catchy-as-hell chorus that just gets stronger and more memorable with every spin. The guitar solos are equal parts cheeky and charismatic, dovetailing nicely with Jansen’s commanding performance and the whole thing comes together really nicely into an excellent four minutes of high-octane rock music.

‘Northward’ also demonstrates a nice amount of variety within their core purpose. ‘Get What You Give’ is a great example of inter-song pace shifting, between the slower and softer bridges, brief explosions of speed and groovy chugging riffs. There’s even room for a foray into country-like acoustic territory which I wasn’t expecting, but which works.

A personal favourite is ‘Storm In A Glass’, which actually surprises me because it is also arguably the most commercial-sounding song on the record. It mixes AOR with a modern radio-friendly alt rock approach but it’s the semi-acoustic hook-laden chorus that works its magic and draws me in regardless of any initial misgivings I may have had. And, unless I’m mistaken, the mid-section is pure mid-era Def Leppard territory thanks to the guitar tones. Jansen’s voice is simply exceptional here, with a vibrancy and a delicate edge.

The duet with sister Irene on ‘Drifting Islands’ gives this track an extra edge to accompany the mix of dirty, uncompromising riffs and quieter sections that allow the vocals to take centre stage. On the other hand, ‘Paragon’ is one of the most expansive and multi-faceted tracks on the record, moving between gentle acoustic ballad and dramatic, synth-soaked explosions of sound and unmitigated strength.

The echoes of Pagan’s Mind can be heard most keenly within tracks like ‘Let Me Out’ and ‘Big Boy’. The former allowing the bass to shine and then hits us hard over the head with another great chorus full of melody and style. The latter is dominated by some great riffs that are satisfyingly chunky and allow the song to stomp along with a commanding ease.

Tinkling piano notes flutter throughout ‘Timebomb’, a song that sounds like it should be big and heavy but after a classic Lofstad riff, reverts to more of a slower, ballad-like composition. Needless to say, the chorus is once again striking, designed to get lodged in the head and sung along to, although I doubt very much if anyone can replicate Jansen’s performance here.

A classic synth melody introduces the closing title track. At over seven minutes in length, it has a suitably large presence in keeping with the album as a whole, whilst the increased running time allows Floor and Jørn to experiment a little more and take their time making their required impact. As such, it is more of a slow-burner, but one that builds to a suitably eloquent climax.

I wasn’t altogether certain of whether I would enjoy Northward’s music. I began this little adventure out of a sense of duty more than anything else but have ended it by discovering a really enjoyable record, chock full of well-constructed and professionally-executed rock inspired by the greats of the genre both past and present. In essence, I agree with Floor that Northward’s music is simply ‘good music’!

The Score of Much Metal: 8.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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