To the antecedent generations built up by the promise of the industrial age and voided by post-industrial society perseverance is the proven curative, the key to an earned spot at top of the heap. Sheer determination is seen as exemplar, a type of perseverance very much in line with the dominant will of the great apes to work against adversity, and nowadays the collapse of vital societal structures, in order to achieve personal goals. To the up-to-date psychiatrist the distinction between ailment (perseveration, or perseverance behaviors) and a goal-oriented personality (a perseverant person) often relies upon personal distinction of results gained from repetitive behaviors. A modus of modulation, or, adaptation is seen as normative response to negative stimulus rather than brute forced crushing away at goals with unchanging fervor. With existence offering its deepest punishment nowadays as Death piles his fodder up higher than ever there’d be no more natural response to grief than the cathartic, chest-bellowed roaring and introspective spiriting of Milwaukee, Wisconsin-borne quartet Northless‘ return with their own, still-evolving brand of progressive yet continuum conscious sludge metal. ‘A Path Beyond Grief‘ does not find the band basking in better days or hoping for a better future as they present their fourth roundabout, instead landing in the thick of present day tumult as a terrifying heap of brutal yet beauteous sledging away at an glorious ‘best’ representation of their dysphoric self. Insane as it might seem to press on, to barrel through and clobber away at it harder than ever the end result is an album which makes good on the original spark of the band a decade ago while still representing an insightful, skilled-up reaction to what is happening today.
Northless‘ history is a fairly typical case study exemplar of sludge metal’s existential crisis of the early 2000’s, split equally between atmospheric sludge metal’s post-rock/post-hardcore influenced rebirthing process ’til post-metal and the concurrent post-‘Remission‘ bar-raising unto progressivist aptitude. Eh, well, we can at least hear shades of the 2007-formed band’s taste by way of ‘Oceanic‘ and perhaps a hint of Cult of Luna‘s pick-and-choosing from the classic abstractionist post-hardcore and ultramodern sludge metal continuum on their first demo (‘Northless‘, 2008) and debut full-length ‘Clandestine Abuse‘ (2011). Those two releases (well, mostly the LP) represent the point where I’d personally felt they’d found one of the better in-betweener takes on actual aggressive sludge metal paired with spaced post-music influence. A prominent but not overwhelmingly infuriated headspace which didn’t try too hard to interject the dead air of post-rock and kept their music riff-based. They were onto something and they’ve kept it up ’til (and including) today.
As far as I understand the line-up for that first album held steady enough ’til 2018 as the band released a somewhat darker, more densely crushed-out follow up (‘World Keeps Sinking‘, 2013) and their most sonically extreme cathartic burst ’til today ‘Last Bastion of Cowardice‘ (2017) where we’d get a more patiently directed focus on their sludge/doom metal element. It’d been the second time they’d created a sort of lens into the aforementioned continuum of sludge and made sense of several mutant generations, appealing to the kid in me who’d first discovered Crowbar back in the early 90’s but also the adult whom appreciated breakthroughs from bands like Neurosis as a crucial point of evolution otherwise (see: “What Must Be Done” for parity of intent today). The major takeaway I’d glean from revisiting Northless‘ discography is more-or-less that they’ve done fine job of upholding the primordial promise of sludge metal without sidestepping its many evolutionary tributaries yet none of what they’d done until 2017 had necessarily felt like their own major contribution beyond a collection of well-curated stylistic forms. The main argument for ‘A Path Beyond Grief‘ today is that it not only extends the hi-fi vision of all-encompassing ‘progressive’ sludge metallic traits but crafts an appreciably fine listening experience from it, one befitting of the extreme existential dread and frustration the sub-genre (and all of its forms) should rightfully express.
All they had, they gave. — In terms of what is literally new here on this fifth Northless album the focus on vocal harmonies, “group” vocals, and tuneful use of gathered presence makes for a somewhat unique register to present these somewhat more technical, or, untangling compositions with. This will be most prominent in notice on “Carried” and the introductory piece “Nihil Sanctum Vitae” but features as a descending mood, threaded through the full listen. With a largely new line-up save chief songwriter Erik Steinglen (Syrictus, ex-Ara) I couldn’t necessarily determine which of the other members sensibilities might’ve crossed over from Lungs (and Obsolete is certainly something else entirely) but it would be fair to say that these are talented and proficient musicians, each performance clearly articulated no matter where their stylistic flourish might abound. The extreme edge of “Of Shadow and Sanguine” should do a fine job of highlighting not only this altogether balanced production/sound design but also its versatility as the band wheels into some extreme death metal and hardcore influenced movements which’d probably have been a massive grinding blur on the previous album. The only bit I’d missed about the previous album’s boosted sound was the more percussive, scummed-up bass guitar tone though the trade-off into the cleaner tone is one of parity, and arguably more appropriate when considering regular listening at high volumes or at least closer to an imagined live presence/performance.
A dynamic production value can only enhance a work which is inherently varietal in mood and presentation, there’ll be no doubt ‘A Path Beyond Grief‘ certainly is just that as we press on into the Pallbearer-esque intro and classic Crowbar style chunk n’ vaunting of closer “Nothing That Lives Will Last”, wherein the band present one of the most thrilling mood swings on an album already full of ’em, creating a cyclic point of interest which bookends the album’s tone alongside opener “A Path Beyond Grief”. The full listen here is perhaps their most evenly distributed in terms of interest while also managing a dynamic, listenable sound which doesn’t rely on ‘of the moment’ production values to catch the ears of modern sludge metal fandom. You couldn’t accuse the band of turning out a ‘trendy’ record here, or anything short of their best all things considered. I’ve found this fourth record from Northless as the ideal sort of return from the band wherein they’ve pulled back into some of the more fluid notions of their first album while keeping up the masterful fidelity and aggression found on their previous record, it fits beautifully in their discography without sounding like “just another” release in line, even extending themselves into newer territory here and there. Bold in some ways and traditional in others, what matters here is that these folks have landed upon an appreciably fine sound, brilliantly personalized style -and- songs which bear repeating. A high recommendation.
|TITLE:||A Path Beyond Grief|
|LABEL(S):||Translation Loss Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||July 22nd, 2022|
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