I’d like to think that AMG writers listen to an album many more times than the average music critic before penning a review. We all own records that grew on us exponentially, whether through casual or critical listening, and we know full well that it’s impossible to decipher the full scope of a work upon first exposure. Except, of course, for the times where that’s totally possible. From the very first notes of NorthTale‘s debut, their mission statement of resurrecting power metal’s glory days is laid plain, with multiple rotations failing to unearth compositional complexity or deeper motives. This lack of pretense is admirable, but even with a sort-of supergroup of talent and Nuclear Blast money behind it, Welcome to Paradise does little to differentiate itself from the glut of C-tier copycat acts clogging the scene.
Just because Welcome to Paradise is derivative does not mean NorthTale is not passionate about their craft. In terms of sheer gusto, the band puts their best foot forward with the opening title track. Soaring hooks defined by elongated lead guitar notes represent power metal at its most heartfelt, recalling the best moments of Veonity‘s recent output. Speed-cheese is largely the name of the game here, with “Follow Me,” “Shape Your Heart,” and “If Angels are Real” being obvious derivations of Stratovarius‘ quicksilver rhythmic personality. Even so, Welcome to Paradise isn’t starved for diversity. With thirteen pop-length tracks, NorthTale tries its hand at sounds ranging from Hammerfall-ish stompers (“The Rhythm of Life,” “Bring Down the Mountain”) and even a pair of ballads (“Way of the Light,” “Even When”); again, fashioned in the Stratovarius tradition. None of this is novel, of course, but the material is handled adequately across the board.
And therein lies the problem with Welcome to Paradise: it’s adequate. It’s fine. It manages to meet the baseline of what makes power metal enjoyable. But as recent releases from bands like ShadowStrike and Thornbridge have proven, tired concepts can be molded and revitalized with proper care. NorthTale, meanwhile, is perfectly content with beating a dead horse. They are good at it, to be sure, but even when Welcome to Paradise is operating at its most energetic and melodically effervescent, there is an inescapable feeling that I’d be better off revisiting the classics. At this early stage, NorthTale doesn’t have any signature strengths, opting instead for a hodgepodge of borrowed sounds while excelling at none of them. This means that Welcome to Paradise is enjoyable enough in the moment, but fades from memory the moment it’s over. A week from now, I’m not sure if I’ll remember what most of it sounds like at all.
I say “most of it” because NorthTale does manage to eke out a pair of winners in the aforementioned title track and “If Angels are Real;” I especially admire the latter’s chorus, as it reminds of Vision Divine in their prime. Yet odd decisions mar other cuts. “Playing with Fire” kicks off with a lightning round of high-speed riffage before abruptly cutting the tempo, resulting in the record’s dullest overall cut. “Everyone’s a Star” tries to subvert glam metal tropes and ends up embarrassing itself through meme-laden lyrics1, while “Siren’s Fall” has a confusingly truncated chorus which amounts to little more than Christian Eriksson belting the phrase “Siren’s Fall!” Eriksson, who previously served as vocalist in Twilight Force, does a good job with NorthTale‘s material, though his new band affords him less dynamism with which to stretch his range. The other members, including guitarist Bill Hudson (ex-every power metal band you’ve ever listened to), drummer Patrick Johansson (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), and keyboardist Jimmy Pitts (Equipoise) all play the hell out of their instruments, but again, the confines of the material kneecaps their talents.
It almost hurts to fault NorthTale, because in terms of what they set out to achieve, Welcome to Paradise is an outright success. It’s a fast-paced, melodic record that exudes enthusiasm around every corner, but some of that enthusiasm should have been siphoned into crafting a sense of identity. Something – anything – sounding remotely new might have elevated this debut above its peers, as NorthTale almost certainly possesses one of the most prolific pools of talent in the genre. Until I hear that talent making music that separates them from the ceaseless flood of Stratovarius clones, NorthTale is a tough sell for all but power metal completionists.