NorthTale is a recently formed power metal super group that signed to Nuclear Blast records in 2018. The band consists of members Bill Hudson (ex-Cellador, ex-Power Quest), Patrick Johansson (drummer, Sabaton fill-in, G3 drummer and W.A.S.P.), Christian Eriksson (Ex-Twilight Force), Mikael Planefeldt and Jimmy Pitts.
Welcome to Paradise is there first album.
First things first, this album is fantastic. While it certainly has its moments of cheesy, redundant and over-the-top power metal, those aren’t prevalent as often as other power metal bands such as Power Quest. However, in regards to Power Quest, that over-the-top power metal playing is precisely the reason that I listen to them.
In Northtale’s case, there strength lies in the guitar abilities of Bill Hudson, keyboardist Jimmy Pitts and the high intensity vocals of Christian Eriksson, former vocalist of the epic power metal band Twilight Force. While the vocals carry the entirety of the album laden with positive messages (hence Welcome to Paradise (city?)), the album carries a strong neoclassical influence from the guitars and keyboards, and especially on the song “Siren’s Fall” where a dueling guitar and keyboard solo ensues midway through.
Taking nods indirectly from Stratovarius, “Playing with Fire” is another highlight track from the record. In fact, the entire album is one large fire of guitar solos and harmonies. The most damage from the song to your ears are the blisteringly fast solos, and I’m serious when I say that the album is one long firebending of keyboard and guitar solos.
The rhythm is incredibly tight on the album, with Planefeldt and Johansson carrying their duties diligently. However, I can’t help but feel that the rhythm section in most power metal bands are starting to become a weak point. While it’s understandable that it is essentially required to have a strong, consistent rhythm section for the melodic aspects of a power metal band to fall over, there is a certain redundancy in this aspect of the genre that gets carried on from band to band and album to album.
Still, NorthTale’s debut album is an ideal starting point for a neoclassical, power metal band. I hope that the band continues to expand and possibly take themselves in a heavier and darker direction than their first album, and hope that the guitarist and keyboardist continues to provide a neoclassical feel to subsequent albums.
To call this a review of an album would be wrong on my end. I’ve been listening to Nick Drake’s Pink Mooneveryday for the last eight months. Initially, I had no reason to listen to his music at all. It seemed too confessional and rural for my tastes. I felt that the music was incredibly simple and barren on Pink Moon, featuring only a guitar and Nick Drake’s vocals.
But while there was certainly a rural sound to it similar to his first album, Five Leaves Left, I began to realize that this album had more of a street vibe going on. You know, just a man singing and playing his guitar on the side of the road for passersby. Don’t get me wrong, Nick Drake doesn’t sound anything like an amateur street-player. He’s an incredibly gifted guitarist and songwriter, and playing his guitar parts and singing simultaneously is more like rubbing your belly, tapping your head, tapping your foot and milking a cow at the same time, and then some. He’s got a great sense of timing and a unique since of Rhythm within a flow-like state of tempo.
Songs like “Which Will” and “Place to Be” really have that rhythm I am talking about. As a result of only playing guitar and singing on this record, the guitar has to fill a large space, functioning as both the rhythm, the melody accenting the vocals, and the instrumental portions of each song. Better, still, is how Drake complements the intricate guitar lines with odd times to come in for vocals. The accent for the vocal melody in “Place to Be” and “Parasite” comes in at the 2nd beat instead of the first. Because of the way he phrases his vocals on this album, we’re given a sense of that existential unease. Rather than simply singing of his loss of direction or purpose, each song serves to elevate that unease. We never really get a break from that unease either. Even approaching the end of the album, “Free Ride” and “Harvest” have mysterious and beautiful rhythms and melodies playing with each other. And of course, the constant bass notes on “From the Morning” closes the album with a since of optimism and that uneasiness. Like I said, there’s never really a break in the songs. They aren’t necessarily directionless or constant, but they do give off the feeling of a directionless, yet hopeful man.
Every song on the album, while short in length, is introspective and relatable in a human sense. Which is part of what made this album so close to me, because much of what he sings about had the same feelings and thoughts I had last year after nearly two years of depression. The music I was writing at the time was very angry, yet my own music lacked that sense of loss and motionlessness. While minimal in nature, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon conveys a very human record with questions and issues every individual human encounters at some point in life. And this is also likely the reason why I fell so deeply in love with the album; because of the nature of the record, I had a companion of sound to my own bouts of depression and, because of it, I’ve survived to let others know that there is music from people who know what you’re going through.
There’s a calm in the air as I type up this review. I am currently listening to William Ackerman’s album Passage. There is a guitarist sitting under a tree and playing to the clarity of his heart and the rhythm of his soul. Sound-wise, the album definitely falls under the new age genre, although this doesn’t have the same ambiance as a record full of synthesizer and electronic effects. It’s mainly a steel string guitar record, but the album also features piano, cello, violin, and English horn on individual songs. The sixth song on the record, “Hawk Circle”, for instance, has the piano playing a beautiful melody that circles in on itself multiple times while remaining in unison with the acoustic guitar. It’s clear there is a sad quality to the song, with my guess being that the song is about clash of hawks battling each other in the forest, a sad moment indeed to see nature fight herself.
Songs like the second track, “Impending Death of the Virgin”, present the guitar as an awakening of sorts, bringing to mind all of the things we associate with virginal qualities, both sexually and metaphorically. It feels good to understand how things work in the world, but there is a deadly quality to hearing the guitar tell you what you’re gaining, understanding, and what you’re losing, innocence. It’s a coming of age within an instrumental context.
Passage is the closing track on the record, and it definitely feels like a continuation of the music journey at a later time. It constantly flows and features only the guitar, a fitting way to end a predominantly guitar-based record to begin with. In this song, I imagine crossing a river leading to a waterfall surrounded on both sides by two stone monuments… essentially this scene from Lord of the Rings, and just as cool.
Nick Drake’s second album might have been a distinct departure from the pastoral identity of his first album Five Leaves Left, but it is no less folk music because of it. While critics at the time described the album as an awkward mix of folk guitar and cocktail jazz, the record is more a folk album with pop dealings in today’s music terms.
The long dark is a quietly brutal and hellish game of survival. Abandoned towns, sparse farmland, and the withering trees of an unending winter dot the landscape. The ever-present danger of the wolves and bears of a harsh Canadian frostbite never really relinquish, and you’re continuously forced to scavenge for stale food and toilet water, wood for fires, medicine for treating wounds and illnesses, weapons to fend off the creatures of the land, and any other items that could increase your chances of survival in a town long-since abandoned.
What I really wanted to talk about, though, is the games music. While the soundtrack complements the games empty, yet engaging atmosphere, featuring the occasional lone electric guitar as you trudge across the barren white desert alongside occasional ominous strings indicating nearby danger, there’s another music artist in particular that would go really well with the game’s atmosphere.
Dan Caine writes music from the most inward depths of our emotional conscious. The music may be simplistic and lonely in nature, but the ambiance and gradual growth to each song creates the atmosphere to develop a slower, more mindful approach to thinking about one’s worldview. It’s like sitting by a river and putting your feet in the water. Just as the river changes constantly by its flow, your feet feel different as the water courses through your toes and adjusts to the water’s cold touch.
Music in video games tend not to follow a strict adherence to the genre or form of music they are trying to emulate, especially in video games with a real life cultural background. For instance, games like Skyrim use a more streamlined ambiance in each piece to have a surrounding atmosphere rather than making the music the focal point of the game itself. Although they use instruments from viking cultures and the landscape is that of Scandinavian cliffs and mountains, the music presents a welcoming warmth into the world itself, a place to get lost in rather than stomped on.
It’s usually better when a game’s music score follows the art, feelings, and mechanics of the game rather than try to take the forefront as a cultural standalone. Great video game scores accomplish both. However, I would rather listen to the ancient Nordic choirs with orchestral strings and clanging drums when fighting a dragon than listen to a soft Tagelharpa or Lyre in the midst of a fire-breathing dragon fight. The former music fuels the tension of the fight based on the need for it, not the want, which is exactly how the music should work.
Star Wars Score and Standalone Music
Imagine watching the lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan in Star Wars Episode III without the music. It loses its tension and grandiosity. Besides a few short cut-scenes for dialogue, the entire battle becomes a mish-mash of random grunts, lightsaber hits, and one force duel. Whether or not the force duel keeps its airy vibrations as the two force users try to knock the other down, it still wouldn’t have the same impact emotionally without the music.
One of the main reasons why music that stands alone is so effective is because it uses the creation and release of tension through sound to grab your attention throughout each part of the song. “Hotel California” wouldn’t sound the same without the Spanish flavored guitars, the single singer during the verse and then a harmony of singers during the chorus. Having a song feel monotone throughout its playback loses a song’s disheveled catchiness, wherein a song has different melodies, parts, and possibly key changes that both disrupt your listening experience and enhance it.
Progressive rock bands, which are a topic for another essay, are great at creating changes for the listening experience. It’s sort of like taking a vacation on a beach, closing your eyes and relaxing, then being transported to a medieval army where you have to fight an enemy with swords or think your way through a mental maze. Of course, you may eventually go back to the beach setting, but the building of the song creates a better experience than the lack of a build-up and remaining stuck on the beach.
Total War: Shogun 2
This brings me back to the soundtrack for Total War: Shogun 2. A well-placed composition within the heat of battle, just like the soundtrack for Rome: Total War, helps create and elevate the atmosphere in which it resides. Total War: Shogun 2 has a more unique identity that can stand on its own as opposed to Rome: Total War, which was innovative for its time, but had the usual medieval battles of most strategy games in 2004, beyond its mixture of turn-based campaigns and real-time battles. The use of samurai duels not just on a scale the size of an army, but also being able to zoom in to each samurai’s individual duel creates a unique perspective in the realm of gaming, where the player can see both the strategy and the blood shed for the victory of the clan.
When the main theme to a game opens up with a delicate series of strings and wind instruments, followed quickly by a big blast in sound by both drums and strings, then enters into a fast-paced samurai duel of a song, the music develops a whole new layer as the rest of the soundtrack plays during each piece of the gameplay.
Total War: Shogun 2’s opening song manages to accomplish the above and also sets the tone for the rest of the game. For a culture known greatly for peace, tea, and religions based on individuality, there has always been a time, like other cultures, where war went on for hundreds of years, with intermediary times of peace, and then more war to define the ruler, or in Shogun 2’s case, the shogunate. The music reflects both the peace of Japanese culture and the war-climate during the time period as well, specifically because it’s a video game, but also because it fits the paradigm of Japanese samurai, bowmen, and the taking of the title of shogun of Japan.
And that’s where music should take you. It should place an image in your head, whether it’s from the game or simply from the time or place it’s trying to depict. There’s a certain atmosphere created from Shogun 2, namely being that of a Japanese tea-drinking general leading an army of well-trained swordsmen into bloody battle and dusty death. Shouldn’t the music both create and enhance the atmosphere?
For the last five or six years, EA has become the butt of most jokes among players when it comes to publishing finished and immersive games. Franchises have been scrapped of their DLC, online shooters become wastelands, and other great games receive little to no development, including patching or love, after their release dates.