It’s at times like these—wherein I pick up something from the promo bin of a genre which I haven’t visited in a while—that I am reminded of my indiscriminate taste in metal. In this instance I have selected Northernmost, the fifth installment of atmospheric death-doom from Minneapolis quintet Cold Colours. This will be my first foray into their music, and my hope was that Northernmost could light a fire within me to check out everything the band released over their over-20-year span. Alas, t’was never meant to pass, for this album is but a cinder compared to the conflagration I anticipated.
Northernmost constitutes 52 minutes of mid-paced plods across a frozen lake of atmospherics sparkling with a melodic luster. The pacing and the overall gloom factor is cribbed from Novembers Doom’s abundant arsenal of a discography (which I still haven’t completely explored), whereas Omnium Gatherum vibes come through in Cold Colours’ application of melodies. The band opted for a minimalist approach to songwriting here, again closer to Novembers Doom in feel, though here it borders on simplistic. They also saw fit to add four instrumentals—three interludes and the intro track—and while all are pretty and relaxing, they also feel superfluous.
The lead guitars and the drums, however, are highly successful and save the record from consideration as a treatment for insomnia. Matt Hamilton gives tracks like “A Life Forlorn” and “Spirit” a much-appreciated injection of verve with some short but emotive solos and leads. Similarly, Mike Andrie provides excellent performances behind his kit to push songs out of ruts and maintain proper circulation in my cardiovascular system (see “Terminal Winter” and especially the cymbal-work in “From this Pain”). It’s also worthy to note that the production of Northernmost is satisfying and pleasant, almost mellow even. This isn’t an aggressive record for the genre, and the production reflects that admirably. Additionally, every instrument benefits from delectable clarity and depth without losing their gloomy character thanks to a great mix from drummer Mike and yet another successful master courtesy of the one and only Dan Swanö.
Unfortunately, this is where the positives drop off. Riffs, while capably performed by Brian James Hubler and Matt Hamilton, are predictable and uninteresting (“Nightmare” and “The Parting” being the only notable exceptions). Even the competent bass work from Jaden Adair is too nondescript to bolster these riffs. Jon Rayl offers Northernmost tons of surface-level buoyancy with his keyboards, but they fail to add much substance, an effect most directly observed within the four instrumentals placed throughout. Finally, both harsh and clean vocals tend towards the monotonous, with Brian and Jaden both giving a lethargic and indifferent performance (especially on “Terminal Winter”), which only further exacerbates the blandness of the songwriting as a whole.
Nothing on Northernmost is outright bad. Not even close. At the same time, though, none of the material possesses a sense of conviction or of that deeply affecting spark that spurs the best death-doom records around. Cold Colours give me the impression that they are mailing it in for this fifth drop, and that bums me out more than the record’s empirical flaws. The performances are competent, but only the drums and the lead guitars exceed expectations. Ample atmosphere is present and accounted for, but not elevated or glorified in the way I need them to be to get engaged. And perhaps most damning of all, the songwriting is timid, as if unwilling to bear its soul the way death-doom should. For these reasons, I hold back my recommendation to the public until such time as Cold Colours deliver a sixth record with every ounce of soul and chutzpah that Northernmost deserved.