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Norilsk : Le Passage Des Glaciers


Norilsk manage to capture the icy, oppressive landscape of winter while crafting songs that stay with you long after the album is finished.



So there I am, huddled in a tiny rustic cabin, trying desperately to keep warm while the wood fire oven slowly warms the room. We are surrounded by squirrel shit, mice, the frozen clearwater river, and a expanse of snowed-in spruce trees. It's dark by now but the candlelight illuminates the only table in the room. Bored, my fiancee opens up to one of her favorite poems 'The Cremation of Sam Mcgee' by Robert W. Service ... So you can imagine my smile when the opening dialogue of 'Midnight Sun' slowly crawls through accompanied by a harsh, heavy dirge of icy guitar chords. The melody that shows up during the second half can only remind me of that time standing out in the freezing expanse of a Canadian winter, realizing how terribly powerful winter really is... Norilsk, named after what is considered the coldest and most polluted place in the world (seriously, look it up), manage to conjure up images of isolation and winter while still writing songs that work. This is no small task considering there are no interludes or filler that are just there to try and set the stage. Just a constant unifying vision of a lonely, harsh winter.

For those of you who haven't experienced a Canadian winter lemme break it down for you: it never seems to end. Ever. Once it shows up it's here to stay, and just when you think its gone you're locked in for another deep freeze. Two hours south of where I live they had to keep Siberian Tigers inside for fear of them dying in the cold. Siberian tigers! Clearly, Norilsk understand this. Every instrument gives off that cold fog that follows us into winter. There's even a breath that starts off 'La Voie Des Morts' that you can almost feel the wintry chill through the speakers. I gotta say though the clean guitars especially gave me that tuned outside in the cold feeling to them. 'Namolennye' opens with some very nice sounding cleans where you can almost imagine someone looking out seeing the snowflakes starting to fall and finding joy. The tone is cold and joyous which is a nice juxtaposition for when the the tremolo guitars find a way to strip away that moment of joy and reiterate the melody ominously. The song slows down before bringing that original melody back but with a sense of urgency attached to it. I can't stress how impressive it is when a band can take a theme like that and have multiple variations in mood and tone. This particular track is the longest of the bunch and is sprawling in its scope. It hits multiple different transitions and yet manages to be perfectly brisk in execution. I never once felt like its near nine minutes of length was too much. In fact, I hardly noticed the length until I looked it up. That's impressive songwriting folks!

The rest of the tracks follow suit similarly being well written and varied... So lets talk about sounds! Initially as far as sounds went I wasn't blown away if I'm being totally honest. Everything sounds very dry with only the occasional effect thrown in sparingly. The guitars aren't massive sounding and the bass isn't the hugest… But after my initial listen it all made perfect sense. Everything here is sitting perfectly in the mix. You can't make any one part of the picture bigger then the rest. There are far too many layers of work going on here to have, say, the rhythm guitars overpower everything else because generally there is something else that requires your attention as well. Whether it be the melodies that are almost always there, or even when the bass has a few moments to pop out and shine. Don't get me wrong, when the band decides to get down to the heavy business they deliver. There is a heavy, HEAVY, guitar breakdown during 'Ghosts of Loss' that really stands out (I always have to turn it up here!). Not because of an artificial focus on sounds or anything but because the song was arranged with that moment of heavy delight in mind. What I'm trying to say is that the song writing is very organic and flowing. The focus is in the writing not with the arbitrary thought of making it heavier than the last guy.

It's such a breath of fresh air to hear something that is just focused on the songwriting and not on the little things, like having a big solo because they want to show off, or having a heavy sound because we play Doom, or something like that. There's a little bit of everything sprinkled here but it's added with great care to the overall structure. There's a nice guitar solo at the end of 'Noirceur intérieure' that never gets overly fancy but adds to the atmosphere (loved that blues-pentatonic lick, really made it pop), some excellent bass and guitar interplay in 'L'erosion' and an excellent mix of lyric from both themselves and outside sources. I need to mention that the drum performances and vocal performances are both excellent as well. The passion with the death growls are perfect whether in French or English and the lyrics were written with great care as well. I suggest you listen and read them together to really get the whole experience. The drums are performed with the arrangements splendidly as well, never overwhelming any of the intricacies within the songs yet never becoming stale. This is a huge feat and something many drummers struggle with.

I have to mention the fade into 'Ellesmere' as well. The song starts with some minimalism with the drums playing a simple beat to the spoken word while the rest of the instruments slowly trickle in during the second half . I really love the way the drums sound here. It's almost as if the drums were set on a hill during a particularly harsh morning and recorded through the cold air. In fact all the instruments sound like this during the outro. Remember when I mentioned how Canadian winters never seem to end? That's what this sounds like. You've just realized you're socked into another deep freeze… You look up at the blotted sky and waver at the tremendous wintry grip displayed before you. Winter is harsh, unforgiving and indifferent to anything you might know, want or care about yet also displays a raw beauty for those willing to venture it. Norilsk understands and Norilsk delivers.


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Reviewer's rating: 9/10

Information

Tracklist :
1. Midnight Sun
2. Le Puits De L'Oubli
3. Namolennye
4. La Voie Des Morts
5. Ghosts Of Loss (Passage Pt. 1)
6. Noirceur Intérieure
7. L'Érosion (Passage Pt. 2)
8. Ellesmere

Duration : Approx. 44 minutes

Visit the Norilsk bandpage.

Reviewed on 2017-11-11 by Eli Elliott
Frowning-Extinct
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