Album review: NORTHWARD – s/t

NORTHWARD

Nuclear Blast [Release date 18.10.18]

The cover art image of the two main protagonists here – Nightwish vocalist Floor Jansen, and Pagan’s Mind guitarist Jørn Viggo Lofstad – photoshopped head to head, jaws agape and bawling at each other, offers only limited clues of what to expect from this Dutch/ Norwegian hard rock, cross border collaboration.

Dating back to 2007, with the songs written in 2008, but left lying under a dusty layer of conflicting schedules, the project was finally resurrected last year and recorded using a backing ‘band’ including TNT bassist Morty Black, and drummers Stian Kristoffersen (Pagan’s Mind) and Jango Nilsen.  There’s also a cameo appearance from Lofstad’s Pagan’s Mind keyboard player Ronny Tegner, and a duet between Jansen and her sister Irene.

As a more accurate signpost, the video for the lead single – ‘While Love Died’ – gives a pretty good picture of what Northward offer.  Visually, featuring just Jansen and Lofstad, both clad in back with her baring her teeth and he in a Motörhead tee with Gibson Les Paul slung low, and both with Marshall amps turned up to 11, it’s a veritable powerfest of screaming guitar and vocals.

Vocally, some distance removed from Nightwish, with almost no symphonic elements on show, and sonically less overtly metal than Pagan’s Mind, it’s actually a blast – high octane, fun fuelled, no frills, rock ‘n’ roll – taking both artists outside of their normal environment, with Large Hadron Collider size results.

There’s some magnificent singing, and some wonderfully unrestrained guitar playing.  If there’s a parallel to be drawn, it’s with Slash’s recent effort Living The Dream.  Both albums are hewn from the same granite but, while Slash struts like a show pony, Northward is incomparably febrile; bristling and bucking with vitality.

‘Storm In A Glass’ is the best piece of power ‘pop’ you’ll hear this year – impossibly catchy, and ‘Drifting Islands’ – Jansen’s duet with sister Irene -  doesn’t lag far behind with a real heavyweight chorus riff.  ‘Paragon’ is a rush of AOR with a dark underbelly, ‘Let Me Out’ simply erupts, ‘Big Boy’ is a monster with soul and funk elements, and ‘Timebomb’ is simply irresistible.

There are subtleties – some Spanish guitar amidst the maelstrom of ‘Get What You Give’, and the acoustic ‘Bridled Passion’, although the latter just leaves you aching for the next guitar fuelled adrenaline rush – duly delivered like a shot in the vein by the closing paring of ‘I Need’ and the title track.

An album that hits this hard while being so accessible is a rare thing. There’s an energy and accessibility here that is just impossible to ignore, and for fans of female rock singers and unfettered guitar playing, Northward is a no brainer.

And 100% guaranteed to remove even the most stubborn of ear wax.  *****

Review by Pete Whalley


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