By the time a band reaches their third album, it is not unreasonable to have a certain set of expectations about what it will deliver. Sometimes, the band will stumble and fail to meet them. Others will rise to the challenge and comfortably surpass them. And a third group, to which Port Noir now belong with the release of The New Routine, confound those expectations entirely and head in surprising new directions.
It was 2016’s Any Way The Wind Carries that really brought Port Noir recognition outside their native Sweden, with a sound that blended the rich seam of Scandinavian progressive metal with more alt-rock influences, to create a sound that was delicate, melodic, atmospheric, introspective and often stately in pace. However, whilst many of these previous influences are still evident, their proportions in the recipe have been altered dramatically.
Whilst the sound of the Any Way The Wind Carries material could most succinctly be described as Leprous-meets-Muse, The New Routine sounds rather more like members of Agent Fresco and Rage Against The Machine collaborating in a synth showroom. The New Routine retains the hooky melodies and bombast of its predecessor, but wraps them up in an altogether bolder, brasher and brawnier package. In turn, this change in the band’s proposition lifts them out of a rather over-populated corner of the progressive metal world and shifts them into a space where there is considerably less competition.
The band’s already strong songwriting chops have continued to mature, resulting in a well-balanced collection of immediately accessible songs which fully explore the possibilities of their newly refined sound. They’re even comfortable enough in their own skin to throw a couple of more overt nods to their influencers in the vocals. A line plucked from Beastie Boys classic “Sabotage” finds its way into the lyrics of album opener “Old Fashioned”, and shades of Michael Jackson‘s “Billie Jean” sneak into “Blow”.
An immediate stand out track is “13”, complete with a Tom Morello-esque vocoder hook and a real slammer of a main riff, with the band to reasserting their own identity with a gargantuan anthemic chorus. Interestingly, the increase in the number of Rage-inspired big, groovy rock riffs is matched by a similarly increased reliance on thick and fuzzy synth tones. Often, with “Young Bloods” being a particularly well-executed example, a riff will jump fully formed from synth to guitar and back again.
There is, however, something of a mismatch between mix and mood. Despite the rawer, more confrontational attitude in the songs themselves, the tracks have been given a crisp, clear and contemporary studio treatment. It’s possible that a few more rough edges would have given the album a bit more of a savage bite. It is entirely plausible, though, that the songs will gain that rougher, tougher quality when they are played live.
For all the numerous Rage and Beasties-inspired moments, we are fortunately spared the potential ignominy of any awkward or cheesy outright rapping, even if vocalist/bassist Love Andersson gives his lyrics a more rhythmic treatment, but even then his vocals have more of an R&B feel to them. And, naturally, he still has the capability to launch an angelic melody soaring over those memorable choruses.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about The New Routine is how Port Noir have proved that it’s possible to draw influences from both sides of the digital/analogue divide, and especially from rock and hip-hop, without ending up in a baggy trousers and backwards baseball cap nu-metal throwback. There is still this slightly stiff-limbed feel that means the album stops just a step or two short of being a completely unqualified success, but in the main the risks Port Noir have taken have paid dividends. Previously, the band has run the risk of being somewhat lost in the pack, but that is considerably less likely now.
Ultimately, The New Routine neatly bridges the transition from wintery wistfulness and summery optimism, making it the perfect soundtrack for these seasonally lengthening evenings and gradually raising temperatures. The songs might be just a little bit too tightly shrink-wrapped by their production, but in turn that helps to highlight the quality of their concise, no-nonsense songwriting, ready for their full force to be unleashed, we believe, on stage. Proving that a change really is as good as a rest, Port Noir’s New Routine sets up a particularly promising future.
The New Routine is out now on Inside Out Music.