There’s a shimmering, spectral beginning to Light the Way (Prosthetic Records), the fourth full-length from Arizona trio North and the first to feature bassist Evan Leek as lead vocalist. Its gently stirring sound suggests no little emotion or drama ahead, and that’s certainly what unfolds. The stark, Post chimes of opener ‘Moonswan’ carry through into the title track and penetrate the heart; whilst Zack Hansen’s Doom-paced drums and Leek’s gravelly Stoner-Sludge roar, appearing less strained than that of long-time predecessor Kyle Hardy, deliver both ferocity and weight.
There are elements of both Kowloon Walled City and Black Sheep Wall here, but with a more noticeable pain and sadness: the plaintive, desperately sad music polarised by the brute force and slow pace of the rhythms, and the vocal nastiness. The sinister bass and wailing guitar opening ‘Weight of All Thoughts’ lead to a pulsating riff which at times hops and crushes with gay abandon, seemingly at odds with the soaring, emotive leads puncturing it. Similarly the Low-end, plangent hostility of ‘Earthmind’, again dictated by portentous tub-thumping and Matt Mutterperl’s colossal riff, is gradually invaded by heartfelt undercurrents.
The switches in tempo of the bruising ‘Primal Bloom’ display the band’s skill and versatility, whilst not straying far from the template. The gentle beauty of the nevertheless ominous ‘Rhef Anad’, however, does show a willingness to depart from a sound which would have proved wearing if unbroken for a full album. Indeed there’s a certain tedium in the oft cumbersome nature of the aptly-named ‘On a Beaten Crooked Path’, and the staccato ‘From This Soil’ which, although seismic and lively, loses a certain amount of impact from that unflinching vocal.
In spite of this, the juxtaposition of suffocating heaviness with sparkling, introspective chords emits attractive shards of light and shade which does win out overall. The gorgeous yet melancholic thrum and jangle of the instrumental closer ‘Relativity’, harking back to North’s earlier days, shows the band in its true light. Its delicate anger finalises a listenable set, showing enough of the invention and emotion of old to offset the intermittent chunks of flab.
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