NorthTale – Eternal Flame (Album Review)

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A new flame sets the north ablaze.

A veritable force of nature was born in the closing years of the 2010s in NorthTale, a formidable super group co-founded by Brazilian-born virtuoso guitarist Bill Hudson, Swedish drumming speed machine Patrick Johansson of Stormwind and Malmsteen fame, and then recently former Twilight Force helmsman Christian Eriksson (aka Chrileon). The resulting colossus of a debut that was 2019’s “Welcome To Paradise” brilliantly distilled the fast-paced, heroic musical exploits common to such Northern European heavy-hitters as Stratovarius, Power Quest and Eriksson’s own former band in a somewhat less overtly symphonic light into a series of compact and highly infectious anthems. Sadly, the aforementioned vocal gymnast would exit stage-right soon after, further establishing the opinions of some that he’s the front man equivalent of an SRB rocket and also leaving this exciting new fold with the daunting task of replacing a formidable front man and potentially reinventing themselves in the process.

A little over 2 years to the day that this outfit’s bona fides were established, lightning has miraculously struck twice with the entry of their sophomore outing “Eternal Flame,” accompanied by a new soaring voice from Hudson’s own stomping ground in Sao Paulo and a revamped approach to boot. In many respects, the classic northern European stylistic template that adorned the debut remains within the shorter and faster offerings found within, but along for the ride is a sizable share of more technical and stylistically eclectic influences from the progressive side of the Brazilian power metal coin. In short, the Stratovarius and Freedom Call trappings have met with a healthy dose of Angra and Shaman influences, hearkening back to the glory days when Andre Matos (R.I.P.) was fronting both bands. As a result, Hudson has upped his shred game significantly, Johansson is exploring some more nuanced beats, and a far more expansive role has developed for bassist Mikael Planefeldt and keyboardist Jimmy Pitts, to speak nothing for newly recruited front man Guilherme Hirose’s crackerjack performance.

As with any second round by a brand that is still establishing itself, there are plenty of familiar moments to be found here for those who fell in love with the debut. The opener and riveting speed anthem “Only Human” exemplifies the Helloween-infused majesty that dominated the lion’s share of “Welcome To Paradise”, though the game of riffs occurring underneath Hirose’s high flying, Matos-like wail is noticeably busier, and the noodling lead passages between Hudson and Pitts are more frequent. Similar stories are told in the more Neo-classically charged cruiser “Future Calls”, which also features a brilliant guest vocal slot by Gamma Ray and Helloween’s own Kai Hansen and a correspondingly enthralling solo by son Tim Hansen, alongside highly infectious up tempo bangers like the title song and “Ride The Storm”, each sounding like throwbacks to the turn of the millennium power metal sound that many might end up checking their calendars just to be sure.

“Eternal Flame” Album Artwork

All that considered, for every reaffirmation of existing precedents in NorthTale’s short history, there is a blatant left turn into different territory. Some of the time this divergent approach is somewhat subtle, as in the darker Primal Fear-like speed metal crusher “Midnight Bells”, which sees Guilherme’s usually smooth swagger traded in for a grittier tone closer to a classic Halford growl, not to mention a thrash-infused riff set when the keyboard solo enters. But for the most part, this album’s partial foray into Brazilian power/prog is heavily pronounced, with the 7-minute traveling epic and semi-symphonic grower “Wings Of Salvation” reminding pretty heavily of the more adventurous numbers heard on Angra’s “Angels Cry”, while the tribal rhythms and trappings of “The Land Of Mystic Rites” listens like an outtake from “Holy Land.” Coupled with a chunky, bass-heavy partial nod to Symphony X dubbed “In The Name Of God” and a massive epic homage to late 90s Stratovarius in “Nature’s Revenge”, it’s pretty clear that labeling this album ambitious would be an understatement.

This veritable explosion of brilliantly executed power and progressive metal tropes showcases that neither sub-genre is anywhere near being played out, and bucks an unfortunate trend of super groups failing to make the sum equal to its parts. Even the peripheral offerings, namely the jazzed up rendition of Iron Maiden’s 1992 deep track “Judas Be My Guide” is masterfully realized, though the vocal interpretation is notably cleaner and Johansson can’t help but throw in a strategically placed double bass passage during the bridge segment, to speak nothing for the Hollywood-inspired symphonic instrumental curtain call “Ivy”, which could easily be mistaken for something off a recent Jordan Rudess solo album or even the credits music from the last Chronicles Of Narnia film. Fans of power metal, be they followers of the saccharine-steeped European mode or the cerebral South American variant, will find a new classic here that is sure to hold up even when the current and still young decade draws to a close.

Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: November 12th, 2021
Genre: Power Metal

Musicians:

  • Guilherme Hirose | Vocals
  • Bill Hudson | Guitars
  • Mikael Planefeldt | Bass
  • Patrick Johansson | Drums
  • Jimmy Pitts | Keyboard

“Eternal Flame” Tracklist:

  1. Only Human
  2. Wings of Salvation
  3. Future Calls (feat. Tim and Kai Hansen)
  4. The Land of Mystic Rites
  5. Midnight Bells
  6. Eternal Flame
  7. In The Name of God
  8. Ride The Storm
  9.  King of Your Illusion
  10. Judas Be My Guide (IRON MAIDEN cover feat. Jonas Heidgert)
  11. Nature’s Revenge
  12.  Ivy (Outro)

Order “Eternal Flame” here.

9.1 Excellent

Undaunted by the loss of their charismatic front man and co-founder, recently minted multi-national super group and power metal extraordinaire outfit NorthTale pulls a rabbit out of its hat with a riveting new vocal impresario and a more progressive gloss adorning their infectious and kinetic sound on their second studio outing

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 10
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 9
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