Album Title: Eternal Flame
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 12 November 2021
I came into this review with very low expectations. I have to be really in the mood for a blast of Euro power metal exuberance, but in an effort to listen to as much music as possible before putting together my Top 30 list as I do every year, I took a cursory listen to ‘Eternal Flame’, the second full-length release from NorthTale. One listen then turned into a second and over the last few days, I have almost subconsciously gravitated towards it when unsure of what to listen to next. I can only assume, therefore, that it is worth my time penning a review of it.
As much as I hate the term ‘supergroup’, there is a strong argument to say that the description fits NorthTale quite well. At the helm is Bill Hudson, a Brazilian-born American virtuoso guitarist of some repute, although I’ll freely admit I had to Google his name to discover the bands with which he has been associated over the years. Apparently, Circle II Circle, Jon Oliva’s Pain, and Cellador feature amongst others. Joining Hudson within NorthTale is bassist Mikael Planefeldt, keyboardist Jimmy Pitts (Fractured Dimension, Scholomance), drummer Patrick Johansson (Stormwind, Malmsteen), and vocalist Guilherme Hirose.
Musically, NorthTale have put together an album that is classic fast-paced European power metal at its core, but have gone on to lace the music with a touch of prog not dissimilar to the likes of Angra. Mind you, given the Brazilian influences within the band, the touches of Angra are relatively unsurprising to a degree. Neither are the neoclassical elements that feature, as this seems to be a general go-to for many virtuoso guitarists, Hudson included it seems. But if I’m honest, there is a slightly surprising amount of variety within the songs that prevents it from largely becoming a snooze-fest of relentless double pedal-driven tempos and blistering solos. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of these to be heard, but not exclusively.
At around 64 minutes in length, you already know what I’m going to say, don’t you? Yes, it’s a long album, arguably too long. There’s no denying the quality on offer on ‘Eternal Flame’, but as I’ve always consistently said, you can have too much of a good thing. Being this long, I lost a little interest around the mid-late stage of the record, regaining it again towards the end via the one-two of a cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘Judas Be My Guide’ and the double-digit epic, ‘Natures Revenge’. No-one can out-do Iron Maiden, but these guys make as good a job of it as possible. And ‘Natures Revenge’ is an ambitious, rousing affair that covers just about every base within the NorthTale armoury; it’s arguable whether it justifies the eleven-minute length, but overall it’s a powerful statement.
The album delivers a thunderous opening barrage of ostentatious and speedy power metal in the shape of ‘Only Human’. It offers nothing new to the genre, but it does a great job in making an early positive impression. The rhythms and tempos are unrelentingly quick, whilst the guitar work is, as you’d expect, full of fancy licks, leads, and embellishments. If you were in doubt about the driving force behind NorthTale, this song immediately puts that doubt out of sight.
‘Wings Of Salvation’ follows and is markedly different from the opener, thus demonstrating the variation to be heard. A delicate piano duets with the voice of Guilherme, joined in good measure with rich orchestration. I’m fleetingly reminded of Shadow Gallery before the song veers into a more mid-paced symphonic power metal track, with an almost West-End Musical-tinged chorus. I disliked it to begin with as it sounded too ‘nice’ and cheesy, but not I can’t help but love it, for those very same reasons.
I immediately warmed to ‘Future Calls’, another ferocious, pacey dose of power metal exuberance, principally because of the inclusion of power metal great, Kai Hansen, alongside his son Tim. The Helloween and Gamma Ray guitarist/vocalist plays a prominent role, lending his unmistakeable voice to the bombastic song, one that features yet more six-string histrionics as well as layers of bold orchestration, neoclassical intensity, and bruising rhythms as all members pull out their best skills.
When I was speaking of variation earlier in the review, I had one song at the forefront of my mind, namely ‘The Land Of Mystic Rites’. Whilst there are some noticeable prog tendencies within the record, I had not expected to hear the African/South American/Tribal sounds that hit you out of the gate within this song. The chugging stop-start riffs that accompany the orchestration and the tribal chanting are incredibly catchy, and although the song moves swiftly between the tribal elements and the more classic power metal approach, it is the tribal influence that makes this song the unforgettable number that it starts to become with repeated listens. ‘Holy Land’ by Angra springs to mind, although, this isn’t quite the carbon copy you might think.
So far, I have focussed upon the first four songs of the record and that only helps me to justify earlier comments about losing interest mid-way through ‘Eternal Flame’ – the album is front-loaded with some of their very strongest material, so it was always going to be tough to maintain the momentum across twelve tracks.
In fairness, ‘Midnight Bells’ is a decent track, showcasing a slightly edgier, heavier, thrashier side to NorthTale, whilst ‘In The Name Of God’ blends a strong chorus with more pronounced prog leanings, including a keyboard solo. But the clutch of songs around them don’t have the same presence about them in my humble opinion.
Regardless of this criticism, it is difficult not to like large portions of ‘Eternal Flame’. It is certainly a lot better than I was expecting it to be before I gave it its maiden spin. The guitar work is delicious, the songs are properly heavy unlike some power metal I could mention, and the band comes across as a tight and professional unit. If you like your power metal fast, melodic, and with a hint of prog, then I would definitely recommend that you check out ‘Eternal Flame’.
The Score of Much Metal: 85%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: