(2011) Norther – Circle Regenerated: Anniversary Special

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If ever there was a band to go out, not with a bang, but a disappointing fizzle, it was NORTHER. These guys were perhaps best known for being the original band of ENSIFERUM‘s Petri Lindroos before he was, it seemed, rather unceremoniously kicked out of his own band in 2009. Though the reasoning for his firing was fairly sensible – Lindroos‘ obligations with ENSIFERUM were taking too much time away from NORTHER – the band’s PR around the situation was fairly sleazy, as I recall an interview from Ankkarock 2009 where Lindroos expressed some annoyance to the interviewer for being continuously asking why he left, as the band had given the impression that the split was mutual, and Lindroos directly stated that he was kicked out. However, as lame as that may have been, the band went on to find strong replacements for Lindroos in Aleksi Sihvonen (known from IMPERANON and MEDICATED) and Daniel Freyberg, who would later go on to join CHILDREN OF BODOM. With this line-up, they released one final album, “Circle Regenerated,” on April 13th, 2011, in Finland via Century Media Records. The band would then go on to replace Freyberg with Tomi Luoma, and played their unannounced final gig in Germany, leaving fans confused and disappointed. With all of the above taken into consideration, it’s easy to see why we wanted to look back on the album today for its 10-year anniversary!

If there was one major major notable difference in “Circle Regenerated” from the past albums, it was a bit of a more technical direction, a bit less melodic, though it does maintain a great deal of the sounds that made NORTHER great, such as Tuomas Planman‘s keyboards – a great example of a lesser-known wintry Finnish keyboardist. The first single released was “Break Myself Away,” which back in 2009 had drawn attention for its more “mature” take on NORTHER‘s sound, though for myself, upon listening to the album, I was never able to find anything as engaging as that first single, which in itself had taken me quite a few listens to appreciate. The single still holds up today as one of the better tracks from the album.

As a whole, this album has a good collection of decent songs. What it lacks, however, is any serious hooks. Though the guitar soloing by Freyberg is certainly fabulous – and you’ve likely heard more of it in more recent years from CHILDREN OF BODOM and BODOM AFTER MIDNIGHT – there are very few songs that stand out memorably the way songs like “Frozen Angel” or “Throwing My Life Away” did in the past. The album is well-written and well-executed, but it’s easier to enjoy in the background than actively because of the lack of hooks. Some may have considered this a positive progression for its technicality, but for myself, it feels as though there is an element missing.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t stand-out moments or highlights on the album. Opening track “Through it All” is a pretty hard-hitter and a strong enough opener to the album thanks to its punchy energy and that nice trade off of clean and growling vocals, which NORTHER were always great at. Riffing opens “The Hate I Bear,” which is a good track without necessarily ever breeching into “great” territory. Meanwhile, Sihvonen‘s vocals are a bit too raw in the chorus of “Truth” and never really worked for me. “Some Day” has a strong opening and progression, led by Planman‘s keyboards, though occasionally suffers from the lack of melody in the growls. What’s also notable is the lack of bass in the mix. It is there, but Jukka Koskinen is either not doing anything interesting throughout the album, or he’s just so quiet in the mix that even if he was getting crafty, it’s too hard to hear. “Believe” feels pretty filler, and “Falling” is only great because of the combined keyboards and guitars, which feel very classic NORTHER – more than anything else on the album. “We Do Not Care” is another speedier track while “The Last Time” shows off some technical skill but neither fail to stick in the head once they end. The album then ends on “Closing In,” which is not quite the hard-hitter the listener may have been hoping for, as it’s a bit slow to get going and frankly, I simply just don’t like Sihvonen‘s vocals in this track and even the clean vocals in this one are strangely… bad? Let’s just say this final track is a bit messy and not a great choice with which to finish your album (or band). Credit where due though, you actually can hear a bit of Koskinen‘s flare in this one.

Nowadays you can find former NORTHER members Heikki Saari drumming as Mörkö in FINNTROLL, Jukka Koskinen is still playing bass in WINTERSUN, Tomi Luoma is in MACHINAE SUPREMACY, while Aleksi Sihvonen can still be found in MEDICATED, though rumor has it he is also a doctor (or at least studying to become one). Kristian “Kride” Ranta is completely out of the music scene, as he’s gone on to work in healthcare, and no one’s heard much of anything from Tuomas Planman since NORTHER split up.

As it stands, “Circle Regenerated” ended up being an odd album for a band to go out on. While many might have appreciated the more technical direction the band took, the lack of hooks may have made it tougher for fans of their last few albums – N (2008), “Till Death Unites Us” (2006), and “Death Unlimited” (2004) – who might be missing the outstanding melodies and Pete Lindroos‘ influence. As well, if the album was a foundation for a new direction for the band, it seems a shame then that they didn’t find the passion to continue even a year beyond “Circle Regenerated,” as the official split-up was sometime in 2012. Needless to say, it certainly shook things up for NORTHER in one way or the other, but whether this album served you well as a finale seems to be completely subjective.

Tracklist

  1. Through it All
  2. The Hate I Bear
  3. Truth
  4. Someday
  5. Break Myself Away
  6. Believe
  7. Falling
  8. We Do Not Care
  9. The Last Time
  10. Closing In

Line-Up

Aleksi Sihvonen – vocals

Kristian “Kride” Ranta – guitars

Daniel Freyberg – guitars

Tuomas Planman – keyboards

Jukka Koskinen – bass

Heikki Saari – drums

Label

Century Media Records