(I had never heard of this band until Steve Earles sent a review in. Despite it being released more than two years ago now I thought it was worth running this review to help turn some more people onto to the band. – THE ED)
By Steve Earles
So many times when I review a release from a metal band, I invariably finding myself writing things like ‘if you like Slayer you’ll like this’, but every once in a while I find myself reviewing a recording that is stunning in its originality. Such a band is Sheffield’s aptly named Northern Oak. The first thing that struck me about Monuments is the beautiful packaging of the album itself. A download is not music, and the artwork and presentation is of paramount importance, and it’s laudable that Northern Oak recognise this. Music should not be disposable, indeed like an oak, it should stand tall and survive the tests of time. Thus the artwork has been created by Opeth collaborator Travis Smith. The six-piece band are smartly dressed in the album photo, as though in an effort to distance themselves from looking just like ever other metal band, and the finely wrought lyrics are displayed to optimum effect. All vey laudable, but can the cake match the icing?
Thankfully it can. Northern Oak combine metal, folk and progressive rock to pleasing and original effect (so many bands who try to combine such diverse elements often end up swamping the music and cancelling them out). Monuments has a loose concept of the final writings of a Victorian scholar on his death bed, and uses that framework to explore events in the scholar’s life or events that interested him, struck a chord in his heart so to speak, and thus the music is the soundtrack to his final reflections. They say that in the end a man’s life finally makes sense to him.
While all of Northern Oak’s playing is praiseworthy, I must particular compliment the flute of Catherine Williams, her gorgeous playing adds an air of distinct English melancholy to the band’s music.
Furthermore, so many metal bands play as though in competition with each other. But with an almost Victorian courtesy, all the players in Northern Oak give each other the space to shine (but never self-indulgently, the song is always been served), allowing the sounds to breathe organically to maximum effect.
The best music always comes from the heart, always takes you on a different journey each time you listen to is. Northern Oak have achieved this to lasting effect with Monuments and I couldn’t praise them more for it.