REVIEW: NORTHTALE – ‘Welcome To Paradise’
Born out of a love of blending joyous melodies with anthemic choruses, and a burning desire to form a fresh Power Metal band, guitarist Bill Hudson (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I Am Morbid, ex-U.D.O/Dirkschneider), vocalist Christian Eriksson (ex-Twilight Force), and drummer Patrick Johansson (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen) aligned in 2017 to become the core members of Northtale. The addition of keyboardist Jimmy Pitts and bassist Mikael Planefeldt soon completed their line up and, with that, a debut album was born: ‘Welcome To Paradise,’ heralding in Northtale’s own musical paradise. Yet if ‘Welcome To Paradise’ covers a lot of familiar bases, you could be forgiven for expecting paradise to have been a lot more exciting.
Take the albums opener and title track, “Welcome To Paradise,” which induces a playful spark with its galloping rhythms and duel soloing. Yet as its inceptive moments progress, what transpires is not so much a great Power Metal opening number, but something more like a slackened Dragonforce warm-up. If you are new to this beloved sub-genre and this means nothing to you, start with Rainbow, a journey to Hammerfall as well as our other Hall of Fame elites, and work your way forward. All will soon become clear. Yet if the opener doesn’t tickle your fancy, the slightly edgier “Follow Me” might just. Each guitar, bass, and keys note, every drum hit and vocal soar, are executed with passionate rigor. Just enough that you may find yourself following Eriksson in a singalong. But only just.
Yet there are moments to remember. No amount of “hashtags”, “sex appeal”, tenured “duck faces” or “vegan Happy-Meals” can deter Power Metal’s latest tangential child as Northtale take on pop and celebrity culture with their abnormally addictive “Everyone’s A Star.” Musically, this composition lays down a much more groove-based foundation, while lyrically it would come as little surprise if the band revealed they had jotted down buzzwords during a casual Instagram scroll and worked them into some delightfully catchy phrasing. Upon its first spin, “Everyone’s A Star” comes across as daft, naff and unapologetically corny, and not in the lovable, goofy Weird Al Yankovic kind of way. However, what this unassuming gem does is blossom from its initially negligible handshake into something you cannot help but crave, over and over. A work of brilliant genius or simply just a happy accident? We may never know. Either way, it works like a charm.
Where our Power Metal torch-bearers fall short is in failing to show any real innovation in taking the sub-genre forward. With hints of Scorpions, echoes of Iron Maiden, a sliver of Trivium’s ‘The Crusade’ and even a touch of keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) to name but a small handful; these trademark traits are already out there and have been for quite some time. All of which makes ‘Welcome To Paradise’ a Power Metal petri dish of recalled history and its heavy hitters, which is the very reason it is not the Power Metal powerhouse it should have been.
Northtale are, without question, talented musicians with an evident love for what they do. Determined to conquer your sound system’s and the stages of the world, and take Power Metal to those memorable heights; on the evidence of ‘Welcome To Paradise’ these gentlemen still have a long way to go. At the heart of Metal’s most merry sub-genre is a desire to infect audiences with simple, cheerful melodies, married with fast-paced, technical riffing and stadium erupting battle chants. ‘Welcome To Paradise’ does a respectable job at giving the listener just that. Yet given its quintet of stellar musicians; it should have delivered more. An entire album’s worth of standard Power Metal tracks leaves these recognized world-class talents sounding heavily diluted and disappointingly conventional. Here’s hoping for greater things next time.