Written By: Gothmog
Oh no, not another folk metal album! Time to sit through tales of drinking, paganistic pride, the majestic Scandinavian forests, and- Oh wait, that’s not the case here? Okay, false alarm. Jokes aside, I do enjoy a healthy dose of folk metal. Sure you’ve got your standards like Ensiferum and Korpiklaani that are among the bigger folk metal names, but deep down inside there’s some really well-hidden gems in the scene. Unfortunately, it seems that with every decent folk metal band you find, there’s at least five mediocre ones. South Yorkshire’s Northern Oak falls in the middle of the greats and the wannabes, and it leaves them in an interesting place, considering how small of a band they are judging by the Facebook likes. Playing their own brand of “progressive folk metal,” Northern Oak have delivered their third LP, Of Roots and Flesh, and show a more serious, no-bullshit approach to the genre. After four years of waiting after 2010’s Monument and a Kickstarter campaign to go along with it, there’s a lot of hype for this album.
And hype there should be, as there’s a lot going on here. For one, the band definitely lives up to the “progressive” aspect of their music. By the time you reach “Gaia,” the album’s third track, you’ll know damn well these guys practiced their asses off to be the best they can be. Bassist Richard Allan impresses the most, with constantly moving, melodic basslines that sit nicely and don’t distract from everything else going on. Guitars are extra chunky and the flute-work by dedicated flutist Catie Williams is an excellent addition to every song, never overstaying its welcome.
The band never gets lost in the “progressive” element, either, and plays with passion and rich dynamics throughout the album. Many of the songs are, in fact, more enjoyable simply because there’s a brief period of time where they give you a break and cease pummeling you a face full of distortion. In particular, “Taken” is more enjoyable and interesting with the bridge added in, letting it progress into one of the strongest moments on the album. But even still, when the band isn’t focused on being progressive, they’re throwing you songs like “The Gallows Tree” with a tight groove and juicy riffs to go with it.
I can’t deny that this serious, progressive approach to folk metal is a great change of pace. It’s definitely a relief not hearing a song about drinking more than Oden in Asgaard, yet Of Roots and Flesh isn’t perfect because of these absences. One drawback is the production choices taken. The most noticeable issue appears on the album’s opener, “The Dark of Midsummer,”where the guitars seem to be louder than the vocals. This doesn’t happen constantly, but it takes away from the music when it does. The vocals become an issue again when the band introduces backing vocals, and they come in, louder than the instrumentalists.
Another minor gripe is that the album could have benefited from one or two more transition songs. The majority of the songs end up being about four or five minutes and they run together a bit. The band makes a smart move on “Taken” by having the soothing instrumental “Isle of Mist” prior and a shorter interlude afterwards, but in the string of songs between the opening and midway point, a little breath of air to change the pace would have been welcomed.
Regardless of this, Northern Oak’s third offering is enjoyable and one of the stronger folk metal albums in recent memory. The production flaws can’t take away from the great moments and the musicianship truly deserves the “progressive” brand. If it takes them another four years to deliver an album like Of Roots and Flesh, I’m positive the hype will be worth it.