Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Northern Flame - Glimpse Of Hope
   
Musical Style: Power Metal Produced By:
Record Label: Nokternal Hemizphear Country Of Origin: Finland
Year Released: 2014 Artist Website:
Tracks: 10 Rating: 90%
Running Time: 60:35

Northern Flame - Glimpse Of Hope

Northern Flame took the power metal world by storm with the June of 2014 release of its full-length debut Glimpse Of Hope.  The problem, however, is that Angelic Warlord did not become aware of this until early 2017 due to the album falling beneath our radar.  What led to such a delay?  Was it due to the albums release on a small independent label (Nokternal Hemizphear) and/or lack of promotion by the band?  Or perhaps it attributes to the clueless reviewer who either was not paying attention or dismissed the band without second thought?  Latter is more than likely the case due to the fact A) that the group has a name like Northern Flame (the logo gives it away), and B) it hails from Finland (Vaasa to be exact), I disregarded it as another random hang-out-in-the-cold-dark-woods-and-sacrifice-cute-furry-animals extreme metal band.

Obviously, nothing could be further from the truth in that this ‘clueless reviewer’ overlooked a potential album of the year candidate.  I first learned of Northern Flame when perusing some press material for the Rainbow Rock Festival (held April 7-8 of this year in Stockholm, Sweden), I saw it listed among the performing bands.  Again, I initially shrugged off the group - ‘do we need yet one more cookie monster vocal band?’ - until I read further and noted how it plays ‘heavy power metal on the progressive side’.  My first thought is that they must actually mean ‘heavy extreme power metal’, but that ‘still small voice’ inside strongly suggested I check Northern Flame out, and I am glad that I did because it took just one listen to the lyric video to the Glimpse Of Hope track “Starlit Sky” and I was hooked! 

Upon further research, I discovered that Northern Flame, drawing its moniker from Malachi 3:1-3 in that Jesus is NORTH of us in Heaven, and He cleanses us with His Holy FLAME, traces its origin to 2003 when it recorded a self-titled demo after being founded by guitarist Niclas Buss, vocalist Simon Granlund and bassist/keyboardist Emil Stenros.  A second demo, White Winternight, followed in 2005 before Northern Flame combined nine re-recorded demo tracks with one new song to make up the Glimpse Of Hope track listing.  Originally self-released by the band in 2009 but re-issued five years later on Nokternal Hemizphear, Glimpse Of Hope finds Northern Flame accurately described in staying true to a European power metal basis with strong leanings towards the progressive and neo-classical side of things. Helping further imbue a dramatic medieval flair to the Northern Flame sound is Granlund, who brings a mostly middle register to at times high-end vocal style that reminds somewhat of Colin Hendra (Wytch Hazel) and Mathias Blad (Falconer).  The point being that (mercifully) his vocals are clean without crossing into extreme territory!

“At the Shores of Pitkäjärvi” starts the album to an instrumental opening that runs the gamut from classical keyboards and choral vocals to fast paced riffing and rabid double bass.  The song maintains a neo-classical flair moving ahead, with verses preserving the fleet and agile form and refrain brisk as well but also lending an immediate catchiness certain to turn the head of the staunchest Theocracy devotee.  In the end a fantastic song that fills out its seven and a half minutes without coming across cumbersome.

“Lost In The Shadows” comes across in the form of a melodic hard rock ballad, and a very good one at that.  Acoustic guitar and keyboards gracefully carry things forward from the start, with impetus not peaking until two minutes in when rhythm guitars step forward to buttress the wistful refrain.  A stauncher direction manifests for the instrumental moments as guitars move to a more prominent place in the mix. 

Northern Flame reveals its progressive side on its seven and a half minute title track.  First two minutes mirror that of “Lost In The Shadows” as acoustic guitar and keyboards lead the gentle way, but at just the point you think this is another ballad impetus takes an abrupt turn to a speed metal direction.  With the up-tempo focus maintained its remaining distance, “Glimpse of Hope” touches upon moments both grand and stately and others reflecting the emotional if not harrowing.  All the while, the group makes its instrumental prowess felt, with a mid-point break carried by lush guitar harmonies and a closing section featuring some killer soloing from Niclas Buss and Alexander Nybond.
 
“Rest In My Arms” is my favorite of the two ballads.  Similar to “Lost In The Shadows”, “Rest In My Arms” maneuvers its length in mostly acoustic fashion (laced by reticent keyboards) but with periodic rhythm guitar outbursts (for its heartrending peaks).  Where the song separates itself is from its use of church organ, which gives it a medieval to worshipful essence not to mention allowing Granlund to exhibit the full range to his richly textured voice.  I cannot help but detect a faint hint of Blind Guardian in the process.

“Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam”, first of the albums two instruments, is a good one.  The song takes a varied approach, mostly rhythm guitar harmony driven in playing up a momentum-based disposition, but with tasteful soloing adorned throughout in allowing a fusion-based flair.  At a moments notice, impetus descends in a darker and trenchant manner as acoustic guitar asserts itself.  The overall feel is similar to that of the instrumentals Narnia put together during its mid-career period.

Group’s signature song “Northern Flame” comes across in the form of a double kick drum monster in which timekeeper Jari Ketola gets quite the workout.  The song accordingly proves up-tempo power metal manifest, with starker guitar tones lacing the lively verses and refrain mirroring some over the top medieval qualities (one of the group’s trademarks).  Instrumental interlude finds keyboards and lead guitar dueling.

“Starlit Sky” combines the best elements of neo-classical and speed metal.  The song kicks up a tempestuous fury during its instrumental opening, lightening to hints of keyboards at the start of its first verse only to gradually regain the vehement initiative until exploding to double bass for the expansive refrain.  The extended instrumental passage features soloing of an intense variety (I cannot say enough good things about the work of Nybond and Buss).

“Twilight Comes” delivers a heavier sound rooted in traditional metal.  With guitars at times bordering on the thrash like, the song revels in pure aggression - occasional hints of extreme vocals decorate the backdrop but not to the point of distracting - but it does not forsake accessibility as quite the notable melody rises above the surface.  Despite the angst, “Twilight Comes” succeeds from sidestepping the pitfalls of repetitively.

Second instrumental “Winter’s Fury” plays a classically influenced role.  This time I am reminded if Impellitteri from not only the fast paced riffing - Nybond and Buss again shine - but what also sounds like harpsichord in the backdrop (I could be mistaken).  A slower passage at the mid-point lightens to stilly done guitars and piano before the rollicking sensibilities return to carry things to their climactic close.

Catchy showstopper “White Winternight” ends Glimpse Of Hope in full on power metal form.  Granlund lowers his register and takes a fitting operatic approach, lending to the sublime and regal atmosphere as abundant melodies (once more of a Theocracy quality) join with the type of semi-progressiveness (mixed with medieval tinctures) in which Northern Flame excels.  What we have is another great song that brings a great album to its fitting close.

Glimpse Of Hope might not be a concept album but its lyrics focus on overcoming darkness and how good in the end will defeat evil.  “Lost In The Shadows”, for instance, deals with finding your way in the midst of darkness:

In this deepest empty void
I'm feeling cold as ice
Being alone in here
Without any guiding light above me
Lost in the shadows I will remain
Until the end of all hope
Oh Lord please forgive me, I know I have gone astray

Suddenly I see a light and find the one
The Star, the Lord 

“Northern Flame” is a synonym for the Holy Spirit:

Holy Fire, from heaven above
Holy Spirit, the ancient white dove
Out of the darkest hands of death
To the other side of our final breath
Free from filthiness, free from blame
Cleansed from impurity
Cleansed from the shame
We are purified
By the Holy Light
Of the Northern Flame

“Twilight Comes” talks about the ultimate demise of evil:

The legion of evil, is massing its forces
To once again, walk on this mortal world
We must endure or we will all perish soon
Oh Lord save us from damnation

The shadows has fallen down on us
And evil has crowned itself again
All creation screams in tortured agony
But evil will not reign, the battle is already won
He who overcomes shall rise again
When twilight has come our way

“White Winternight” builds upon a similar theme:

The almighty Creator
Throned in divinity
Came to this frozen world
Came to you and me
From glory and grace
To crucifixion and death
Evil has fallen
Through his final breath

In the valley of death
The Light is shining so bright
The black mountains of fear
Are crumbling down at the sight
Imperishable love
In dominions of hate
Saving souls
It is not too late

The old idiom that ‘if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck’ does not necessarily hold true in the hard music world.  I learned this the hard way as it pertains to Northern Flame, in that just because a band leaves impression of extreme metal does not necessarily mean that it is.  Rather, it is up to the reviewer to first do the research, listen to online samples, etc and then come to conclusion, particulars which I did not do.

That said, in my defense a better job could have been done promoting Glimpse Of Hope.  For example, I do not recall any press material coming out (from the group or label) ahead of the albums release or an attempt to spread word about it at the various Christian metal related Facebook groups and/or message boards.  Do a Google search, and you will find next to no reviews to Glimpse Of Hope, which leads me to believe little if any promotional material was sent out in support of it. 

With the exception of one distributor in Europe, I cannot find the CD at any online retailer.  It is, however, available for download at iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby (at the time of this writing).  The album is of such quality it deserves better distribution, which leads to my main point: I hope that some forward thinking label would take the initiative to re-issue Glimpse Of Hope with better cover art after having it re-mastered (production is good but could use the tightening a talented re-mastering technician might bring).  At the very least, I wish CD copies to Glimpse Of Hope were being sold at CD Baby or Christian Metal Distro so those of us in the States do not have to pay international shipping!

In summary, Glimpse Of Hope goes through various ‘phases’.  After opening to a progressive epic, the album reaches its lighter, acoustic laced ballad phase before moving on to its mid to final point instrumental and power metal mixed with the progressive phase.  All the usual ‘suspects’ come into play in terms of inviting comparison: Theocracy, Golden Resurrection, Narnia, Lightmare, Majestic Vanguard, Seventh Avenue, etc.  If interested in a potentially overlooked album of the year candidate from 2014, then check out the debut full-length album of Northern Flame, Glimpse Of Hope.     

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “At the Shores of Pitkäjärvi” (7:30), “Lost In The Shadows” (6:11), “Glimpse Of Hope” (7:40), “Rest In My Arms” (5:32), “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam” (5:25), “Northern Flame” (5:46), “Starlit Sky” (5:33), “Twilight Comes” (6:30), “Winter's Fury” (4:45), “White Winternight” (5:45)

Musicians

Simon Granlund - Vocals
Niclas Buss - Guitars
Alexander Nybond - Guitars
Trygve Strömvall - Keyboards
Åke Holm - Bass
Jari Ketola - Drums

 

Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
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