Nordicwinter – Sorrow Review

The erudite doctor known about these parts as Doom_et_Al recently wrote: “We can ramble on all day about clever technical flourishes, dissonant chords, and foreboding atmospheres, but when all is said and done, we metalheads respect the almighty riff.” Frankly, it’s pretty hard to argue with him but it does present a problem for those of us – including Dr Doom and myself – who are atmoblack fans, since this subgenre is not noted for being stacked with riffs. Typically, as the name suggests, it’s all about conjuring the atmosphere, often at the expense of those delicious riffs we all rate so highly. Those that do atmoblack well, manage to add something beyond a few flourishes to the atmosphere. Whether it’s a rawer edge, elements of melodicism or weavings of post-metal, it matters not, what matters is that it’s incredibly hard to build a compelling album on atmosphere alone. What does the Quebec one-man outfit Nordicwinter bring to the party on Sorrow, its fourth full-length and third since the beginning of 2020?

I don’t know how much the brand Ronseal means to people outside the UK but here, it immediately conjures an advertising slogan: “Does exactly what it says on the tin.” Sometimes, you come across bands that embody this. Nordicwinter is Ronseal. Despite being from Canada, it would appear that its very raison d’être is to deliver in audible form the desolate, lonely wastes of a single Scandinavian season – I’m not going to say it, you know, the one … traditionally between Autumn and Spring. Sorrow takes this to extremes, however, and as its haunted and hopeless depths pummel away, one has to ask whether, coming hot on the heels of 2020’s two albums, Requiem and Desolation (released after a 13-year hiatus, since 2007 debut, Threnody), even more misery is what is needed. Well, Nordicwinter is in no doubt as to the answer to that question, and indeed doubles down on it, introducing a far stronger depressive black metal element into the atmoblack sound that is Sorrow’s backbone. This is most notable in the shrieked and howled vocals but the overall tone of Sorrow is, well … it does exactly what it says on the cover.

Sorrow’s moods vary only subtly, shifting between melancholic, morose, mournful and miserable. These somber shades are sometimes brought to life in the stripped back form of acoustic strings and keys (sections of “Sullen Echoes” and “Somber Winds of Despair (Part II)”), at others through mid-paced atmoblack chord work (the ever-so-appropriately-titled “This Mournful Dirge”) and even, on occasion, upping the tempo to a thundering canter (“In this Darkness”), before the album closes with a Sorrowfully dull, DR12 acoustic outro (“Enshrined by Solitude”).1 Overall, Nordicwinter has devised the sonic equivalent of Unreqvited slowly smothering what little joy is to be found in Sunken and Swallow the Sun. The sound is everything that that image implies – heavily distorted guitars combine with synths and those tortured vocals to create a swirling pastiche of despair and depression, behind which drums move between murky blasts (“Sullen Echoes”) and altogether more straightforward doom-like rhythms.

There are two issues with Nordicwinter’s latest offering, however. First, it’s too one dimensional. There is nothing wrong with an album conveying nothing but desolation – entire sub-genres of metal comprise little else – but you need to find a way to do that, without sounding too one-note, something that Nordicwinter does not quite manage on Sorrow (but did on last year’s Requiem). The exceptions to this are “Dying Winters” and “In this Darkness,” which keep up the misery quotient, while introducing a little more variation into their tortured tones. The second problem for Sorrow is the production and the drums in particular, which are so muddy and so far back in the mix that it’s often hard to discern more than a general pummeling sensation (the back third of “This Mournful Dirge” is a particular offender). This lack of definition in the rhythm section only becomes more draining as Sorrow’s 53 minutes progress..

A mixed picture then for Sorrow. On the one hand, Nordicwinter accomplishes exactly what you would expect and, likely, want from a record like Sorrow. On the other, it does so in fairly pedestrian fashion, with little standing out from the rolling ocean of dejection and regret. Not much is needed, however, to move Sorrow from a slightly disappointing affair to an altogether more interesting but still unrelentingly bleak one. Just look back to Requiem.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hypnotic Dirge Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 26th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. The only thing that lifts Sorrow up to a DR6 overall.
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