Artist: The Northern
Album: Imperium (EP)
Have you ever contemplated going on an Arctic expedition? Hiking and wandering through mile after mile of ice-covered wilderness, climbing dark mountains as a way of making your mark on the world? Most people haven’t–or at least not seriously, at least. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to feel the same exhilarating rush and climactic moment of triumph: Ontario-based progressive deathcore act The Northern have you covered with their debut release, Imperium. Packed full of stunning, soaring soundscapes and jarring, hard-hitting heaviness, Imperium has moments as calm and serene as a snow-capped peak, or as gritty, chilling and devastating as a full-force blizzard–and every possible setting in between.
As with any great journey into the unknown, you set out well prepared–all stocked and supplied, armed with security, knowledge and ample ability to improvise. Imperium is no different. “Alpha” surreptitiously provides the listener with a subtle introductory sequence which gives hints at what The Northern have to offer, but is far from forthcoming. Progressively heavier and more technical instrumentation builds on top of itself, so that by the time the minute-and-a-half introduction is over, the listener finds themselves on thin ice. The first real step into the Great White Abyss then begins with “Purgatory,” a track which lets loose with the full instrumental devastation that the EP has to offer. Laden with lacerating, jagged riffs and vicious, labyrinthine polyrhythms, the listener finds themself lost in a blizzard of ravenous, furious instrumentation. While “Purgatory” is aggressive and up-front about it’s supreme technicality, the entire EP doesn’t follow the same tracks. Rather, it takes a truly intrepid traveler to follow the side-winding, jazzy interludes found throughout “Midori,” and many segments of the epic, winding “Imperium.”
So, you’ve survived your first fortnight in the wilderness; only to find you were, most likely, woefully under-prepared for the voracity with which it responded to your intrusion. Imperium, again, is hardly different. Only, once the listener finds themselves able to get joyfully entwined in the marvelous musicianship, the vocals ensnare their claws deep within the listener’s eardrums. “Purgatory” and “Imperium” do this particularly well. The punctual, intense “blegh” let out at the climatic breakdown of “Purgatory” is absolutely skin-rending and serves as a neck-breaking, head-banging catalyst the likes of which is rare in such technically proficient music. “Imperium” makes use of a similar vocal push–where, at the apex of a lengthy, intense build-up, the harsh shouts of the vocalist force a complete and total avalanche on the listener, burying them alive in ice-cold, powdery brutality. As the grooves and lacerating, pummeling percussion pour into their lungs, the vocals continue their stampede, forcing even more dense ice onto the listener’s corpse.
But, say you’ve dodged the vocal onslaught, and survived the intense instrumental attack. You’ve bested the absolute intensity that The Northern have to throw at you. Your prize? Complete enjoyment of the unique dynamic that Imperium has to offer. It’s truly rare that such a brief collection of songs truly manages to encapsulate the entire journey from the base of a mountain to the tip of it’s peak. The trials, tribulations and pitfalls which lie abundantly in wait for the listener make it all the more worth while to have gotten through it. Whether it’s the subtle beginnings of “Alpha” that launch haphazardly into the brutalizing storm that is “Purgatory,” or the subtle, serene beauty in “Midori,” Imperium is an experience which begs to be had–a journey which needs to be completed to truly appreciate it. And once the listener does it once, they are back at square one, armed with only more experience and will-power to do it all again.
Pack your bags, dress warm and sharpen your intellect: Imperium is a daunting, dense and creative debut from a band which is nothing short of prodigal. The Northern demonstrate not only instrumental and vocal mastery, but a true mastery of song and album writing on this short, but beautiful EP which has all the makings of a year-defining release.
For Fans Of: Structures, Between the Buried and Me, The Contortionist, Veil of Maya, Nexilva.
By: Connor Welsh