Band: Nord | Album: The Only Way To Reach The Surface | Genre: Post-metal, Progressive rock, Post-hardcore | Year: 2020
From: Paris, France | Label: Klonosphere/Season of Mist
For fans of: The Dear Hunter, Sólstafir, Leprous, The Mars Volta, RX Bandits
When I first ran across Parisian quartet Nord’s second full-length album, The Only Way To Reach The Surface, I was initially leery, due to some of the genre tags on Bandcamp. “Djent” is something that always causes me a lot of apprehension, and “post-hardcore” indicates there’s a good chance I’ll hate the vocals. However, the djent influences are minor, and the way the post-hardcore manifests itself is mostly in the instrumental elements, much like The Mars Volta’s early work.
Structurally, this album follows a loose pattern for its first eight songs. Starting with its first track, “I. Love”, the album establishes a dreamy atmosphere. A soft synth pad drones under synthesized vocals, occasionally embellished with clean guitars. The transition to “II. Violent Shapes” is a sharp one, though, as that song explodes with black metal fury out of the gate. Blast beats and evil-sounding shredding smoothly mutate lighter post-punk tones, but the music shifts back and forth between those two poles, with ample math rock fills along the way.
The bombast of “II” is followed by a light, minute-long interlude with more Vocoder and soft synths before again veering into walls of oppressive distortion. “IV. The Unstoppable” has clearer post-hardcore influences than “II”, but they’re integrated well with other metal and math rock touches. The song’s outro features brief flashes of jazz influence, as well. “V. Happy Shores” is another little breather, this time focused around violins and cellos, that dives headlong into “VI. Anger Management”. “VI” sounds almost like a mashup of Porcupine Tree and The Mars Volta, excepting the brief moments with harsh vocals. The verses are melodic, and a synth-bass-drum bridge adds some great ambience.
“VII. We Need To Burn Down This Submarine” breaks the pattern of short/quiet-longer/loud by being six-and-a-half minutes long. Opening with foreboding synthesizers and rapid, cascading guitar arpeggios, this song incorporates the most significant math rock influence yet. The speedy guitar lines and rolling drums contrast against expansive, echoing vocals to create an anxious, tense atmosphere. “VIII. 1215225, Part 2” (12-15-22-5 is a simple replacement cipher for “Love”) reprises the opening song’s theme, though with more bombast.
The album closes on its 15-minute title track. Nord are not shy about throwing in the kitchen sink on this song. There are multiple, rapid switches between searing black metal, psychedelic melodies, grandiose post-rock, and speedy math rock. Hints of ska even pop up in some of the clean guitarwork, reminding me of RX Bandits. The sheer number of musical ideas in this suite is impressive, but the way Nord weave melodic threads throughout the different pieces to lend a sense of continuity and cohesion is even more commendable.
The Only Way To Reach The Surface is another addition to the recent string of fantastic prog releases from France in recent years. Blending a punk-derived genre into something this proggy and ambitious is quite a feat, and all the elements here work hand-in-hand. 2020 may not be shaping up to be the best year in relation to, well, most things, but it’s coming to be one of the strongest years for prog in recent memory. Albums like this are a big reason why.