Written By: Kronos
Steel Druhm has for some time been riding me to finish, or, more accurately, begin this review. Squeezed in before end of the year lists, I have rather wisely decided to comply with his request [As you should ALL of my requests! — Steel “Imperious” Druhm] and reveal my thoughts on the latest release from Stockholm’s Netherbird, a relatively unknown black metal quintet with a surprising taste for melody in the vein of their countrymen in Gothenburg. It’s been three years since the troupe’s last release, and fans have been kept placated by not one, but three EPs in the interim, making this short LP the end of a busy inter-album cycle. Sadly, this newest album, The Ferocious Tides of Fate takes a definite and unfortunate turn from previous material.
The Ferocious Tides of Fate casts aside the pied cloak of previous releases, opting for a simpler garb. Gone are the bombastic keyboards and orchestral overtones of Monument Black Colossal, discarded in favor of more straightforward, and sadly, much less interesting melodic guitar riffing. In fact, this album seems to dispatch everything really enticing about Netherbird’s previously used sound palette; their gothic melodic sensibility still remains, but stripped of the drama provided by additional instrumentation, save for the end of “Shadow Walkers” and a few other moments, the allure just isn’t there. Everything that made previous work stand out has inexplicably been thrown away.
Most songs here seem to take the form of a black metal Amon Amarth cover. “Along the Colonnades” provides almost 12 minutes of fun yet unremarkable tremolo-picked melodeath worship. “Ashen Roots” not only sounds like an Amon Amarth title, it consists entirely of riffs that are indistinguishable from anything off of Surtur Rising and rides on vocals that at times mimic Johan Hegg almost perfectly. These comparisons should be by no means unwelcome for any band, but I can’t say they bode well for the album overall; it’s just not really that memorable, and not quite as fun as the music they mimic.
Luckily, the fundamentals are still here; most tracks are built off of a prominent melody and even long songs don’t feel stretched out. Individually, all of the instrumentation is solidly performed. Prominent here are the melodic death metal staples: harmonized guitar lines, powerful chord progressions and smooth speedy riffs backed up by tight drumming. It’s nothing remarkable, but this gets backed up with equally good production, which highlights the guitar melodies while keeping the drums punchy and the bass alive. The vocals are strong, too and vary between deep growls, best exhibited on the short “Så Talte Ygg”, and raspy yet gruff midrange screams. There’s enough variety in the instrumentation to keep every song fresh, and if there’s one great aspect of this album, it’s variety. No two songs sound the same, though they all share a certain feel that’s true to older releases. Nothing on this record is bad or completely uninteresting, it just overall doesn’t quite meet the expectations set by previous work.
Overall, The Ferocious Tides of Fate reminds me almost overwhelmingly of frozen pizza. The box looks good, the name sounds respectable, and expectations are reasonably pointed at a meal which will taste decent and fill your gaping maw. However, much like frozen pizza, after forty minutes the album leaves you underwhelmed and wistfully remembering your last deep dish.
Netherbird prove themselves excellent at writing decent Amon Amarth songs, but what frustrates me about this album isn’t that it’s unoriginal, it’s that the band are obviously capable of much, much more than is being set down here. Previous albums prove that they can produce music that is compelling and interesting and has personality, but somehow that was all lost on this LP. Hopefully next time around, the gothic keyboards and orchestral atmospheres will return and provide the perfect condiments for a disc that I have an easier time sinking my teeth into.