OK, so as this is the band’s debut, maybe I should just mention how Northtale (NorthTale or North Tale whichever you prefer) came to be. U.D.O. guitarist Bill Hudson decided upon his departure from that band that what he really wanted to do was form a new band emulating the Power Metal bands from yesteryear which inspired him on his own musical journey. Around this time vocalist Christian Eriksson left Twilight Force and was straight on board the Northtale train with former Malmsteen drummer Patrick Johansson. The line-up was quickly completed by bassist Mikael Planefeldt and keyboard player Jimmy Pitts. The bands musical direction and intention was clear, Nuclear Blast took them on and here we are!
Ironically, the fact that Northtale are citing what Power Metal was and meant to fans, rather than how it evolved and what it became is what sets the band aside really. Hudson names Helloween, Stratovarius and Hammerfall as influences and to be honest, it’s almost spooky how all three bands do genuinely seem to be evident…sometimes all at the same time! The vocals massively help – Eriksson has tones of Michael Kiske, Timo Kotipelto and Joachim Cans within his own style, and he apparently just lets whichever side of his voice he wants to step forward in the part of the song that he wants it to! It’s not a tribute or mimic, the sound is already there within his own vocal delivery, just enough that as you listen you think “Hey that sounds like…” but then you realize it isn’t really the same…just similar.
So obviously, if a band then writes songs that tend towards Eriksson’s vocal stylings, there is going to be some welcome familiarity. And of course those three aforementioned Power Metal Powerhouses aren’t all an astute listener will pick up on (‘Rhythm Of Life’ reminds me considerably of Freedom Call for instance), but it’s a pretty good reference point for whether you will like the album or not. It’s evident early on in the album that the songs are the stars, presenting full-on double-kick power tracks, through mid-paced Heavy Metal and even throwing in an epic “ballad” and a thoughtful (and equally epic) acoustic album closer. There are no personal ego-trips, everyone is working together to push forward each complete composition. There’s always a catchy chorus…ok, yes, at times a very catchy chorus, crafted by top notch musician-ship from start to finish – Powerful drums, driving bass, intricate progressive-tinged keys and striking guitar. It’s all in there.
Pitching your bands influences to be from the time Power Metal was totally taking off is preaching to the converted for me personally – Helloween laid the ground-work (with a few other great bands in the late 80’s), then later on Stratovarius, Hammerfall, Angra, Rhapsody and others took it in all kinds of different directions meaning it is now the multi-faceted genre it is today. But that means it has to be just that little bit better to impressive long-term followers of the genre like me as well as appeal to new fans. To capture the essence of the time and update it is a difficult thing, but Northtale do it and do it well. It really DOES have elements of Helloween, Stratovarius and Hammerfall, blended together, personalized and updated by Northtale. This is one impressive debut – it talks big, and actually delivers.
(8.5/10 Andy Barker)