In the wake of The Ocean‘s highly successful Pelagial, a new strain of post metal was born, one which flirts with the antics of stoner and doom. Feeding off the latter of that seminal 2012 album, this style of music utilizes delay-ridden techniques in conjunction with fuzzy feedback and hoarse vocals to create its emotional impact, blending both atmosphere and visceral assaults. North, fresh off the tour with Intronaut and the aforementioned band (a tour being wrapped up next month), belong to the lower end of such a style. Their Light the Way attempts a blend of more ephemeral guitar lines that might echo So Hideous or Junius and feedback drenched chords that belong on a Earthship or Lo! album, or any of the sister projects that make up The Ocean Collective.
But does it work? Yes and no: every track, on its own, is a solid and well thought out unit, expertly weaving between the two styles. However, something about the album structure doesn’t click and the tracks tend to blend together. It takes several listens to tell them apart and, even then, one finds himself drifting into a a sea of sameness as lead after fuzzy riff crashes down upon him. Let’s start with the good however. The self titled track is all you need in order to grasp the initial charm that Light the Way holds. It begins with a melodic intro that quickly drowns in a towering riff backed by present cymbals and a powerful bass. The vocals are especially endearing, reminding us of The Atlas Moth‘s hoarse rendition of pain and confusion.
The track doesn’t bore as well: it quickly introduces three different guitar lines to mix things up. One continues the original chord progression. One executes a brief, brighter riff as if from Baroness while yet another adds a more ephemeral lead, hinting towards the post metal influences we mentioned above. Near the middle, the main riff goes even slower why the vocals go even higher, creating a truly sludgy passageway towards the end of the track. This end, in turn is an emotional return and resurgence of the post metal elements embedded throughout the track.
So far, so good. The issue that all the longer tracks on the album, like “Weight Of All Thoughts” that comes right after or “From This Soil” near the end, utilize the same formula. The track starts off at almost its heaviest, leads up to a heavier middle section, and then ends with a more emotional return to the original structure of the track. The shorter tracks are almost always transition tracks and fail to make a mark on this repeating diagram. Oh, except for “Primal Bloom”, one of the most interesting tracks on the album. Since it doesn’t have the runtime to perform the valley-like structure of the long tracks, it’s a faster, more direct track and presents the element which North should have introduced more of into the album: groove, tenacity and aggression.
All in all, Light the Way is not a bad album, to be sure. It holds its own in rotation just as long as you splice it with other, more varied music. When the tracks are taken by themselves in this way, it definitely scratches the itch which calls for the highs and lows of stoner influenced post metal. It’s a shame that when the pieces are put together the color pallette runs dry and bland. A little more groove would have elevated many of the passages into realms of memorability and, more importantly, garnered the album a dynamic it sorely needs. As it stands, we must make do with the tracks as they stand on their own, like dolmens hinting at what could have been and yet wasn’t.