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Norilsk : The Idea Of North

Delivering on all the promise of last year's EP: Norilsk's excellent debut full-length.

Well, there's a thing. I had some engaging contact with Norilsk last year when reviewing the very promising 'Japetus' EP, which was recorded simultaneously with this debut full-length, and self-released in advance as both 'taster' and 'first chapter'. Now, 'The Idea Of North' has finally surfaced as a label release through Hypnotic Dirge Records, in the form of a quality and beautifully-illustrated digipack...and, browsing through the informative lyrics-and-more booklet, I was pleasantly surprised to find my name amongst the many in the 'Thanks' section. Definitely wasn't expecting that, but it's certainly a cool gesture - the band have gone to the trouble of acknowledging what must be every Doom outlet and source which gave them any support. Classy.

I'm going to guess that list isn't about to get any shorter any time soon: 'Japetus' was worth setting expectations over, and 'The Idea Of North', without a doubt, delivers on them. At close to an hour long, you not only get a full quantity of material, but the chance to finally appreciate the full scope and variety of the Norilsk sound. Which is also, for want of a better word, very classy.

Retreading the 'taster' parts of the EP means that the album kicks off with the familiarly thunderous rumble of Death/Doom of 'Japetus', and takes a later detour through the cold and eerie spaciness that is 'Potsdam Glo', but misses out the Voivod cover, 'Negatron'. In exchange, there are seven other tracks (including the CD-only bonus 'Coeur De Loup'), covering a considerable diversity of musical ground. That shouldn't come as a surprise, nor, indeed, should the pleasingly hefty soundscapes that the duo produce to house that.

For those as yet unacquainted: the line-up is just Nick Richer (drums) and Nicolas Miquelon (everything else), but it genuinely sounds like there should be more of them, not least because of the unusually prominent bass, frequently trading up towards almost an additional lead or rhythm guitar. Old folk (like, erm, me) will remember that being pioneered as part of Wishbone Ash's secret of success - though I'd suspect it's perhaps drawn more from Morgion's similar approach, in this instance - but it's infrequent to find it used to such good effect by a single musician. Aside from that, there's a commendable willingness to simply experiment with anything suitably Extreme Doom-orientated. At the core of that are Death/Doom aesthetics, but expect to also encounter Sludge/Post-Metal textural work, Blackened/Ambient/Funeral parts, and, even, for a few minutes - the guest solo on 'Planète Heurt' - a galloping Epic Metal-style workout. Equally varied are the vocals: whether delivering cleanly ('Potsdam Glo'), in atmospheric whispers ('Nature Morte') or as fully-fledged, rasping growls ('Throa'). Just to round off the breadth of it: the lyrics are in French or English, as desired, and sound just as disturbingly, venomously good in either.

It isn't enough to just have a polymath ability to throw together eclectic building blocks, of course, otherwise jazz would be far more listenable than it actually is. And one of the great strengths of 'The Idea Of North' is that it never sounds like a collection of ideas in search of a home: quite the opposite, in fact. There's a completeness in the way it grabs initial attention with the rousing, sludgy stomp of the first half, then evolves into a more chilly and thoughtfully introspective atmospheric beast (in places, even reminiscent of Dolorian); like a snow-fanged apocalypse avalanching across the world, leaving the last survivors huddled in the frozen wastes of its wake. The band call it 'crafted for the winter season', but by the visceral and lonely conclusion of the title track it seems quite possible that winter will be eternal. It could have ended there, for my money: though the bonus track doesn't sit too badly as an epilogue, it might have fitted better into the earlier part of the album, and I wouldn't actually have been disappointed if it were omitted, as on the download version.

You can see where the band's coming from, with listed influences of Thergothon, Celtic Frost, Morgion, early Peaceville and so on: picking the more innovative yet now-classic inspirations for melodic and funereal Death/Doom. Adding the clarity of modern recording and production, and some of the brutal edges and cold atmosphere of Isis-type Post-Metal has given Norilsk a very contemporary character. It may recognise and reflect a broad section of those pioneers, but still stamps its own personality on top in a layer bleak and cold as glacial permafrost. To return to that word: classy, in the extreme. A definite early contender for my 2015 'most essential' shortlist.

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Reviewer's rating: 9/10


Tracklist :
1. Japetus
2. Planète Heurt
3. Throa
4. La Liberté Aux Ailes Brisées
5. Nature Morte
6. Potsdam Glo
7. La Grande Noirceur
8. The Idea Of North
9. Coeur De Loup (CD bonus track)

Duration : Approx. 55 minutes

Visit the Norilsk bandpage.

Reviewed on 2015-03-08 by Mike Liassides
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