Friday, June 7, 2013

Northsong - The Final Journey (2013)

We love to talk one man bands. We are infatuated with the concept, and obsessed with the results. But it wasn't always this way. When we began this humble vampire blog in 2011, we had no idea what we would find along the way. It was two men, hundreds of miles apart, that changed the way we looked at how much is made. Dan Klyne, the lone member of Appalachian Winter, and Cortland Runyon, who makes the gears move on Northsong, gave us reason to believe that while one is the loneliest number, it is certainly not the weakest. Their respective works stand as testaments to their talents, yes, but also to their singular resolve. And over the last two years or so, our site has grown. And they, in turn, have grown faster than we could have imagined. Klyne reached new heights with his latest effort, "Ghosts of The Mountains." And with the release of a new full length album, Runyon looks to have done the same. But despite the name, 'The Final Journey" is anything but. With his inspiration working overtime, and his talents growing stronger by the day, Runyon and Northsong are far from finished with us.

It seems odd to say that the first installment of the "Final Journey" trio makes a solid opening track, but it does just that. Runyon creates a very deep mix, allowing the music to speak for itself. With an assist from Hvile I Kaos cellist extraordinaire Christopher Brown, the stunning melodies that fill the track are both a testament to the forward thinking and strong melodic sensibilities of a musician at his prime. The music bends and sways, beautifully atmospheric and refreshingly rich. There is a clear and distinct evolution in both sound and structure, as compared to the debut EP some two years ago. The connection between parts one and two is seamless, which is important if not easily overlooked. Momentum has already been built, which gives the second installment a head start. Runyon's vocals emerge for the first time, subtle at first, but moving into the low growls he has mastered. The constant presence of double kicks is the driving force here, bolstered by a sweeping, if not hidden symphonic layer. It's the smallest touches that do the most good here, with every minor tone change and pluck leaving a lasting impression. Running a risk with a spoken word segment, which can either aid or stunt the growth of a song, Runyon chooses wisely. The German speech, provided by Wilbur Salisbury, begins what may be a highlight of the album. The instrumentation is at full strength here, with ringing guitar chords laying down a thick layer of distortion on top of the biggest drum sound you've heard from the album yet. The main melody, presumably provided via keyboard, can only be dubbed enchanting. This makes for a dynamic contrast between beauty, and the beast of a harsh, blackened vocal. An aura of triumph leads a rousing outro.

For the first time, though, the mix becomes a weak point as "Yggdrasil" begins with a slightly flat sound. The opening trio of drums, guitar and vocals merge together into one solid chunk. While their strength is undeniable, it becomes difficult to separate the three. This is only a temporary hurdle, however, and as the track begins to shift and change, so does the soundscape. The difference might be immediately clear, but as "Northern Blood" fades in, the inadequacies of the previous track come with it. There is a clarity to the instrumental here, despite multiple layers. It's what Runyon does outside of the guitar, bass, and drum realm that makes it so profound, and this is no different. Rolling kick drums can only go so far without proper accompaniment, something they get in spades here. Between the melodic, chanting vocals, and the intricate symphonic elements, there is a lot to take in all at one time. The much shorter "Trolls" is a complete 180 flip, as you are thrown into a black metal scream fest, bringing the element of evil and treachery back to the fold. The screeching vocals make your skin crawl, and also give you a reminder as to the range you are witnessing.

It would seem fitting, of course, that the sound of flowing water would open "The River;" but it is what follows that will become the lasting sound of the track itself. The intro music is very clean, very crisply delivered. The drum beat is sure to get a head nod or ten out of each listener, and it is only the base for what comes after. Beautifully plucked strings and synthesizers form the body of the piece, creating a perfect flow. The spotlight in the latter part of the album shines brightly on "MĂ­misbrunnr," which may best embody Runyon's viking and folk metal roots. It also captures him at his musical best, delivering some of the strongest guitar work on the album. Not only do his riffs burst through, but his vocals match them stride for stride. The breakdown, of sorts, that surrounds the four minute mark sets the table expertly for the remaining outro. But it is the epic conclusion to the "Final Journey" saga that will be most talked about here. The track, which clocks in well over the twelve minute mark, has the evolution of an entire album captured within it's walls. Not to be lost in all of the instrumental wizardry, the lyrical content is both enjoyable and easily dissected. The deathly growls come full circle here, hitting their most powerful levels. What stands out most is the way Runyon doesn't just tell you about the adventure, but the way he takes you along with him. It becomes a sort of first person experience, which is difficult to come across.

When you've been fortunate enough to see someone rise from their beginnings into a full fledged star, everything they do resonates just that much stronger. By no means can we take any credit for "discovering" Cortland Runyon and his Northsong project. In fact, he found us nearly two years ago. But it has been incredible to watch the growth over that scant 730 days worth of time. The four songs on "Winter's Dominion" were better than good; they inspired us to bring together a release a sampler in late 2011 in hopes of garnering some attention for some bands who had so much to offer. But the changes that have occurred since then are remarkable, to say the least. There is a maturity on display here that only comes through sheer dedication and commitment to one's craft, something Runyon obviously has. And that isn't to say that "The Final Journey" will be the best thing we get from the Northsong name; it would be safe to say things will only continue to get better from here. But the amount of time, blood, sweat, and screams that went into this album are worthy of praise.


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