Northern Oak – ‘Monuments’, Independent; 2010

With now a second full album under their belts, Northern Oak have taken a route that basks in England’s past once more, though not in the way that most would think.

Musically and thematically, they’ve dug deep to record the story of a man’s downspiral into loneliness and depression after the loss of his wife; giving themselves the advantage of solid reference points. A conceptual release based on the writings of Victorian scholar George Eadon Deakin, ‘Monuments‘ sees a shift over from the band’s previous grandiose style to one based in folk rock. As such, this matches winding imagery of medieval and occult surreal to groovy, psychedelic guitar rhythms and flutes throughout the music – effectively returning folk metal to its 1970’s roots.

Because of this, Northern Oak also manage to achieve a more rustic fare on this album. The nostalgic calms of early folk rock stay tune with the band’s sense of artistic escapism, as shown on ‘Gawain‘ and ‘In These Hills‘ to name a few of the songs. At the same time, they somewhat jar with the crushing riffs and weighty cymbals of the band’s metallic side.

Monuments‘ main drawback though, could well be its recording. To be clear, its sound production than the overall instrumentation. Although low sound production values are the norm for any underground music scene; the problem here is that it doesn’t work well in Northern Oak‘s favour, as frontman Martin D. Collins’s graveled rasps are at times drowned out by the flutes, keyboards and percussion. The mistakes found on any piece of art or music – however small or large, can add to its resulting charm and endearment for its admirers. Yet in this case, it feels that the issue of sound quality helps to detract from the intended merit of ‘Monuments‘, seeing as how the vocals were meant to be a key part of an overall decent album where a young band find their voice.

5.5/10

4 Comments

  1. (1) Error, does not compute! Martin Collins is the frontman. Chris Mole is the guitarist.

    (2) All this review and not a hint of a mention to the presentation of the album itself – look at it, search for it, and you’d never believe it was an entirely self-produced effort. The only clue is in the complete lack of a reference to any record company, even one the band might have made up themselves. This album would not look out of place on the shelves in HMV (whether or not the band think that is a good thing is immaterial here) – and how many other self-releases can claim that? The recent Windrider EP, Akercocke’s “Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene” demo (that actually *did* get on the shelves at HMV, though that was the late 90s), and… that’s about it.

    • 1) Fixed. My mistake!

      2) I fail to see what mentioning the PRESENTATION of a CD should do with reviewing the actual music itself. I have it right next to me, but how it looks is frankly the LAST thing I or most people want to read about in any review – even for independent bands.

      • Not true. When it’s *this* good, the presentation of a CD has plenty to do with it when we’re talking about start-up bands; let’s face it, even in the old days, when demos were released on tape, anyone could knock it out as cheaply as possible as long as they had a dual tape deck and a photocopier. These days, we have CD-R burners and inkjet printers, which create a better effect, but Northern Oak have gone the whole hog and done everything properly – brilliantly designed, professionally printed, and no skimping on the content, with the full story of George Eadon Deakin available for all to see under the CD. And it’s not a boggo green-backed CD-R, either, that’s done properly as well. And the attention to detail in the packaging indicates that they’ll have lavished the same care and attention on the music itself. Which they have.

        Just to hammer the point home, I’ve discussed the CD’s presentation with Martin and Chris – and they were the ones to approach me about it.

  2. Whether you like it or not, that’s not how I do things in reviews. I only comment on cover art when I feel it’s relevant and much of the time, I don’t see any reason to do so.

    I am not going to change this review or any reviews in future to how you think I should do them, just because you know the bands personally. The point for me is to talk about the music itself, than the packaging. If you don’t like that I choose to focus on this over the other factors, then tough beans.

    ETA – this reply was meant for your second comment, rather than your first.


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