Power of Metal.dk Review

Northern Oak
Of Roots and Flesh
Style: Folk Metal
Release date: 4 October, 2014
Playing time: 57:58

Hailing from the University of Sheffield, Northern Oak is a progressive folk metal band on its third record with “Of Roots and Flesh.” The band showcases a naturalistic found intended to represent a love of nature and the English countryside – having never been, I can't see how successful it is on that front, but it's certainly a great listen regardless! This album is funded by the band's fanbase on Kickstarter and is a compilation of songs from the last three years of gigging. The end result is an album that is great to listen to and has some truly fantastic moments. It is worth noting that this album is definitely a grower, and I find myself liking it more and more with each listen.

The primary musical identity of this band, which is left intact on this album, is that of combining English folk melodies with heavy metal guitars and grunting vocals. In some cases English folk melodies are directly used in these songs, which certainly adds to the authenticity of the work. If pressed, however, I would say that the dominating music soundscape of this album is heavy guitars of a sort that acts more as a constant distorted noise than particularly melodic or inventive. Over this riffing the melodies typically come in the form of the flute and recorder by bandmember Catie Williams, with the guitar rhythmically following suit. Every once in a while, however, there is an opportunity for the guitar to fly solo, although these moments are brief and its use is primarily in constructing the heaviness of the album and not as a major creative driver in the music apparent to the listener.

The vocals by Martin Collins are very brutal and very well executed, and every once in a while send chills down my spine. I contend, however, that the vocals are at their most engaging when Collins isn't grunting at all, but rather engaging in spoken word and clean vocals. These moments only happen literally a handful of times on the album, however (six times by my count) and are extremely fleeting. But those few minutes of content spread throughout the album work best for me, as Collins is a great clean singer and has a unique voice in that mode, whereas his constant growling eventually blends into the sound elsewhere on the album and the impact of his viciousness becomes somewhat overdone. The clean melodies are often very creative and delightful, as well, and his spoken word towards the end of the album was certainly welcome and skillfully executed.

The flute and folksy elements to the music are done very well, and, when given time to really shine, are done brilliantly. Like the dirty vocals, though, the flute is often left to just add to the atmosphere by playing the root note of the chords during the measures, which lessens its impact and takes away from its folksy magic. Still, the flutework is at times phenomenal and work well with the other instruments meant to evoke nature, such as the strings, recorder, and acoustic guitar. Taken together, with the background of heavy guitars, one can say that this album truly represents what it may mean to be of “folk metal.” With each listen I'm finding more and more to appreciate beneath the sometimes deceptively simplistic surface of the music, and I look forward to further repeated listenings. This is a great album from a band with a lot of promise, and I can't wait to see where they go next.

01. The Dark of Midsummer
02. Marston Moor
03. Gaia
04. Nerthus
05. Isle Of Mists
06. Taken
07. Requiescant In Pace
08. The Gallows Tree
09. Bloom
10. Of Roots And Flesh
11. Only Our Names Will Remain
12. Outro
Label: Independent
Distribution: Future PR
Artwork rating: 80/100
Reviewed by: Frank Mondelli
Date: 12 December, 2014
Website: www.northernoak.co.uk