Turbid North – The Decline Review

When it comes to weather, I’ve got little to complain about here in my nook of sunny California. Sure we’ve got fires in the summer, and the few inches of rain that this area has graciously received recently threatens aging infrastructure—natural consequences (fallen trees) and manmade ones (sinkholes). But really these problems are few and far between compared to what some of this world experiences by virtue of position relative to sun, currents, and water. Enter Turbid North, a band whose humble roots began quite literally at North Pole, Alaska. The affable bunch of lumberjacks (again, literally) knew that success in Alaska has its limitations, so after a couple recorded outings, the band relocated operations to Texas to help find land-bridged success. Though only Nick Forkel remains of the original lineup, he’s met Chris O’Toole (Unearth) and Jono Garret (Shock Withdrawal) along the way to forge a formidable trio of sludge-kissed, core-slathered brutality. Will The Decline finally put Turbid North on the map?

If you’re looking for thick-stringed pummel somewhere on the heady but heavy spectrum between Anciients and Today Is the Day with a kiss of Machine Head, you might be in the market for Turbid North. I know that sounds like mouthful, but these extreme metal frontiersmen make it a point to switch from Southern rock drones to chug-led beatdowns on a dime (“Slaves,” “Drown in Agony”). Turbid North still makes a commitment to short-form rippers (“Patients,” “The Old Ones”) which lean on a blackened energy akin to their raging 2011 release Orogeny. Increasingly since Forkel took the mic for 2015’s Eyes Alive, Turbid North has injected segments of alt rock croon against their sludgier explorations, resulting in a feel not unlike the heavier side of Jerry Cantrellߵs solo work (“Eternal Dying”). This newest The Decline may be the best rendering yet of their many faces.

Despite their many faces, though, furious suits them best and propels the album forward. With scattered noise and down-tuned flexing, Forkel’s manic barks against O’Toole’s equally frantic rumble ensure that the first half of The Decline warps its wispier moments under the weight of hardcore fury (“The Oppressor,” “Life Over Death”). Similar to last year’s Labyrinth of Stars record, Turbid North wields groove and paranoia simultaneously to produce its most explosive moments (“Slaves,” “Patients”), rendering an intensity usually found in a genre like deathgrind. And though the second half of the album plays mostly with the sullen side of this trio’s sound, the languished closer “Time” ends with a full force kick assault to punctuate with a extra weight exclamation.

Forkel and co, regardless of what really works, try to seamlessly integrate a softer sound, but they still have work to do. First off, softer and spacious inclusions tend to work better when there’s, well, space, and the tight master doesn’t allow much of that for the ambience Turbid North hopes to float. Particularly on the longest track “A Dying Earth,” where much of the runtime holds a growing noisy ambience, the narrow stage feels hollow. In fact, most of the second half, which starts at “The Road,” suffers from this affliction, particularly after the fiery suite that tears through in a blink. Surprisingly, The Decline opens “Eternal Dying” with a similar droning energy, but it works better as a setup than a come down.

Admirably, Turbid North cannot stop pushing the boundaries of their sound. I want to like The Decline a lot more than I do—when it burns it blazes blue with the wild energy I value in core music and with groove and stomp I value in sludge. However, like a pit stoked only by twigs and leaves, Turbid North smolders away before even the weenies can get a nice char. While there’s some very good music that makes up the more throttled half of what Turbid North offers, there’s the unfortunate slog that comprises an almost equal run time. I can’t fault this wanting act for taking any path but the safe one, but I also can’t reward them for The Decline either.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self Release
Websites: turbidnorth.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/turbidnorth
Releases Worldwide: January 20th, 2023

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