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Whereas plenty of death metal bands from Europe made the switch to something softer and less metallic overtime, Sentenced remain unique in this category when taking into consideration that the band’s most extreme effort was not as expected Shadows of the Past, but in fact its successor. Had the debut lead into the more unconventional Amok before the band would embrace their inner gothic, their progression might not have been quite as bizarre as it turned out to be, but given the aforementioned information the band was definitely an oddball in this regard.
To my knowledge North from Here isn’t a concept album, but by reading along to the lyrics there seems to be some sort of tale carried onward as the album progresses (the fact that Pohjola gets mentioned hints such a possibility, too). “My Sky Is Darker than Thine” introduces the listener to a wrathchild, who inspired by a dream has the goal to dominate and desolate everything. Just like several epic poems, there’s a notable sense of guidance present; but not of a God of any shorts (who instead gets mocked with hate in the wrathchild’s heart and plays no positive role in the story whatsoever). Instead it’s firstly through a dream and on “Wings” through scars in the wind that guides a path to the dark. A series of bloodshed gets unfold on the following tracks (3-5) and it’s not until “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” where the realization of a coming death and the goal to master mortality take place. Unexpectedly “Northern Lights” marks the start a new chapter, as the war has possible taken its toll on the wrathchild and results into a possible madness; possibly hinted by the maniacal laughter during the composition’s break. At last “Epic” confirms this mental state has now taken over; the lust for dominance, to desolate everything and the goal to master mortality have now turned into a yearning for death with the hope of meeting one’s ancestors.
Musically speaking North from Here doesn’t feel quite as epic as its theme suggests, yet it’s without a doubt the band’s most complex and vicious offering with hardly any references to the two records that surround it. Those whose familiarity of early Sentenced ends with Amok won’t be surprised by the harmonized introduction of “My Sky Is Darker than Thine” – after all it opens up with some recognizable nods to Iron Maiden, but just when the introduction is finished, the track explodes into action – deceiving indeed! A lethal combination of whirlwind-y riffs, war cry esque vocals and a powerhouse of a drummer are constant in alliance, yet it is clear each instrument gets played with pure intensity; there’s simply no time for half-assed performances here. One might assume that North from Here has therefore more in common with Shadows of the Past, given its extreme features and all – but to me it really doesn’t, either. Sure, the typical death metal roars have been replaced by a “thinner” scream, but that’s about the only aspect that has changed in a lesser extreme fashion. Otherwise North from Here definitely feels like Sentenced at their hungriest – the frequent amount of blastbeats certainly adds intensity to this record that certain compositions benefit from. Just behold how “Awaiting the Winter Frost” turns into a blizzard after the tranquil keys have vanished – powerful stuff, indeed.
The real strength of North from Here lies obviously in its furious guitar work and while the riffing isn’t as gruff as that of the debut, North from Here consists of spiteful, yet oppressive riffs that hit faster and harder than ever before. The aforementioned “Awaiting the Winter Frost” feels like Coroner’s tech-thrash skills getting in hands of a black metal band; resulting into a calculated, yet unexpected tour-de-force of rapid fire riffs. “Capture of Fire”, too, is an excellent example of the band using their new skills to their advantage. From the hellish minor riffs that dominate the verses to the heavenly, choir-esque keys it’s a fantastic example of a contrastive track. Structurally North from Here exemplifies a sense of complexity that was already marked by records such as Soulside Journey and The Red in the Sky is Ours, yet I’d argue that North from Here is the most distinctive of these three. The folk-y textures of “Wings” are as melancholic as Sentenced get at this point, “Awaiting the Winter Frost” discovers a frenetic pacing that the band has never attempted to match again and “Epic” builds up its tension thanks to a fade in trick before the band plays their (northernmost) heart out one last time.
While not perfect (“Fields of Blood, Harvester of Sorrow” feels more like a collection of riffs than a proper track), North from Here is something to behold. It’s an unexpected, yet absolutely fascinating piece of work; so much in fact that I could even look past its vegetable-themed cover artwork.
Release date: June 1st, 1993
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