Sometimes an idea has to come to fruition for you to think “Hang on, that’s genius!” and subsequently wonder why it was never done before and why you didn’t come up with the idea first. Indeed, that was my exact reaction when I heard of Floor Jansen working on a hard rock project a few weeks before the release of their self-titled debut album, Northward.
From lead single and opening track “While Love Died” to the closing epic of the title track, “Northward”, you’ll question why Jansen hasn’t done this before now. And simply, it’s been scheduling conflicts. Having worked with guitarist Jorn Viggo Lofstad to create an entire album of material, they shelved it to concentrate on their “main” bands. Ten years later and the pair of them have dusted it off. Despite being a decade old, the music still sounds fresh – nothing has come along in the intervening time to fill the niche they’ve managed to find with this band.
Full of thick, chunky riffs, Lofstad is able to blend Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin and Alter Bridge into something raw yet polished with bluesy tones, much akin to Oli Brown’s beastly RavenEye riffs, if a little less grungier. However, he’s just as proficient with the acoustic guitars such as on the darker “Get What You Give” and soft “Paragon”.
Indeed, whilst there’s not a weak track to be found on the album, some are simply better than others, namely the upbeat numbers. Take the afore-mentioned “While Love Died”, “Storm in a Glass” and “Let Me Out” – they’re feral and engaging. They’re some of the album’s slickest moments, fierce and in-your-face with enough heft to stop you in your tracks. Meanwhile “I Need” and “Big Boy” have a coquettish charm to them with their choruses among the best on the record.
The tamer moments don’t bring the album to a shuddering stop – nowhere near it. But the songs do feel more turgid and more of a slog to the finish line where you crave more of the “rockier” tracks. However, it’s these songs where Jansen gets a chance to showcase her more signature vocals where the heavier ones let her flex her muscles. “Drifting Islands” gives Jansen the opportunity to duet with her sister, Irene Jansen, whilst “Northward” feels like a Nightwish song with its more grandiose nature.
Naturally, as this is Jansen and Lofstad’s vocals and guitar are up front and centre in the mix and the attention is directed there. However, there’s some stellar drum work from the shared duties of Django Nilsen and Stian Kristoffersen. Both of them lock in well with Morty Black’s basslines and the three of them, alongside Lofstad’s punchy guitars, make some engaging rock songs.
Northward is an album worthy of your time. The names of the linchpins should be enough of a draw to entice you. How they’ve managed to keep this shelved for ten years is a wonder as it’s an album that could have probably shaped how rock sounds today. As it is, they’ve managed to successfully dodge the possibility of it sounding like so many other bands around to give a fresh yet familiar sound.
Northward is out now