By: Matt Butler
Turbid North | website | facebook | twitter |
Released on November 20, 2015 via The Pyramid
It is a big call to describe your music as epic. It is an even bigger call to compare your guitar-based epicness to a mountain. After all, they are huge, foreboding, cold and dangerous. It’s damn hard to convey that size, scale, temperature and danger through the template of heavy metal. But that is exactly what Turbid North have attempted. The band, which formed in Alaska but are based in Dallas, Texas, have described themselves as “epic mountain metal” since their debut, Orogeny. And in this, their second offering Eyes Alive, released after a five-year gap, they have produced something massive and crushing, a work that rises like a cliff face in parts, bursts open like a plateau in others, then crashes down like an avalanche. Mountainous, in other words.
The album is bound together by a concept, of the sun bursting into a red giant and sending all life on earth underground to escape its all-encompassing radiation – and one person ascending to explore the uninhabitable surface of the planet. In short, epic. And it is heavy as hell. If you liked Orogeny, you’ll like this more. This is more focused, with a crisper, less cluttered sound than their debut, possibly aided by the fact they are now a three-piece, rather than a quintet. And it has sharper songwriting than Orogeny, with elements of melody and acoustic passages to offset the heaviness, along with a dominant and satisfyingly thick bass throughout. And if you have never heard Orogeny (I hadn’t until I picked up Eyes Alive), then there is even more reason to get this album: because this band deserve a wider audience.
So apart from heavy, there comes the conundrum as to how to describe what they sound like. Well. At times they sound like Gojira covering Mastodon, with a keen ear for a hook (albeit one buried under tons of guitar and brutal drums), they are not shy of a doom-style riff-fest or stoner jam and they have enough complexity and progginess to keep things interesting, but keep these elements minimal enough to keep from confusing the hell out of the listener. Even if the previous sentence has left the newcomer none the wiser about the noise Turbid North make. Trust me, they sound a lot more coherent than when they are described in writing.
And it helps that Eyes Alive is designed to be heard as an album and the songs run into each other (with an excellently paced order, I should add). And they fit with the story: a quiet beginning of ‘Bring Home the Motherlode’ may indicate a lone venturer above ground, while the crushing, super-slow guitar work on ‘The Great Dying’ could be designed to accompany a period of mourning.
That said, the first three songs are frantic. The opening song – the tile track – veers wildly from pummeling black-tinged drums to deep pockets of doom and bolt-heavy groove in the four minutes it assaults our ears. It sets us up nicely for what is to follow. And what follows are ‘The Pyramid Drones’ and ‘Destroyer of Worlds’, which keep up the schizophrenic theme with more crushing grooves and double-kick wallopings, before ending with a sci-fi sound effect which heralds the beginning of the instrumental ‘Red Giant’. And this is where the album really gets into its stride.
A tom-tom heavy drum groove dominates the first couple of minutes of ‘Red Giant’, sounding similar to these ears to the phenomenal ‘Blindness’ from Decapitated’s 2014 stoner-tinged death masterpiece Blood Mantra, before things go all acoustic and Floydish, with a wailing guitar solo over the top. Then the riffs come – and crush – as the song fades into ‘The Burning Sky’, which is epic, even if it does feature a little vocoder among its Sleep-style riffage, which continues into ‘Black Sun Rising’. This song re-introduces some electronic effects (this band are definitely unafraid to experiment, that’s for sure) as well as another twisted slow dirge, like one of those 70s sunset ballads wrought through a party full of hairy fiends with motorcycles and loud amplifiers.
‘Motherlode’ comes next and at over nine minutes long, takes its time to show its true size. And when it does, it is worth it. Guitar and bass weave together some intricate melodies and riffs, before an extended instrumental passage brings to mind Kyuss or Unida except on stronger medication – aided by some more jaw-dropping (if a little proggy) guitar work.
‘The Great Dying’ is doom, pure and simple. And doom done well. In fact, if they wanted to, Turbid North could ditch all the other facets of the band, buy some flares and valve amps, call themselves something like Wizard Moon Acid or Plutonium Space Idol and give the hordes of slowed-down Sabbath clones that are a dime a dozen these days a decent run for their money. But we are lucky they don’t. Because there is far more to them than mere doom.
Anyway, I digress. ‘Eternal Sleep’ closes the album and it is quite a climax. It is similar to the opening three songs, showcasing the band’s ability to groove, crush and jam their way into our ears, in the space of a seven-and-a-bit minute song. And it is dystopian enough for us to hope that the sun doesn’t morph into a red giant anytime soon.
And it also sums up the fact that it is indeed a massive call to use terms like “epic” and “mountain” to describe your band. But it is a call that Turbid North are more than capable of backing up.