Sludge maulers Northless turn toward honoring those we have lost on burly ‘Path Beyond Grief’

Photo by Bronson Karaf

Sorry that you’ve heard this story from us a million times, but people are suffering. There are a lot of people who used to be in our lives just a few years ago who are memories now, and for the survivors, it’s not easy to handle. Life is different, some of us feel stripped of safety and love, and it’s been a fucking mess trying to reassemble the pieces. Because you can’t do that. Pieces you need are gone.

Milwaukee-based doom/sludge maulers Northless did not escape unscathed, and their new record “A Path Beyond Grief” is their means to pay homage to those who have passed this realm and preserve their memory so they can continue to live in our hearts. The band—vocalist/guitarist/synth player Erik Stenglein, guitarist Dan Lee, bassist James Becker, drummer/vocalist Jeff Nicholas—always has been impossibly heavy musically, but to add this level of emotion to their formula makes what they do absolutely flattening. In addition, the band adds new textures to their sound, more clean singing, and an expanded color palette that makes what they do even more immersive.

“Nihil Sanctum Vitae” opens the record with guitars plucked and folkish singing and harmonizing, easing into what turns into a gargantuan killer with the title track delivering muddy crushing. Cleaner calls wash over, wading in punishing and grim power, leveling with anguish as Stenglein howls, “I’m coming home!” The pace continues to add pressure as the atmosphere thickens with wrenching chaos. “Forbidden World of Light” has scarring guitars and hazy clobbering, the vocals howled as the surroundings are thick and sooty. Clean calls merge with the chaos, and then everything comes apart, the world crumbing beneath you as sinister guitars launch. Melodies bleed as growls curdle, the bass trudging as the playing fades. “Carried” blows through with singing moving and an emotional chorus leaving ribcages permanently compromised. Gargantuan howls erupt as the guitars spread and gaze, and the spiraling storm gets heavier and finally dissipates.

“Of Shadow and Sanguine” enters in full assault as vicious howls blacken eyes, and then speed becomes a factor, making your blood rush. Blistering fury increases the intensity, melodic howls send waves crashing, and thick basslines and molten terror dissolve into noise. “What Must Be Done” slowly mauls as murky skies hover, and the punishment dealt is calculated, devastating along the way. Steam rises as the guitars lather, sung shouts penetrate, and the guitars absolutely chug, raining down shrapnel and madness that collects and overwhelms. “Nothing That Lives Will Last” closes the album as it pushes through the darkness, creating somber waves as Stenglein wails, “I emerged from a haze.” The playing and vocals have a bit of a Baroness vibe with the wildness quotient increasing, a huge deluge of melody pulling you into the undertow. The vocals crush as the emotion spills over, amplifying the misery and leaving a trail of broken bones behind.

Many people have been touched by loss and grief these past few years, myself included, and “A Path Beyond Grief” is a bloodletting from the heart that reaches out and pays homage to those we don’t have with us any longer. Northless always have been as heavy as a cement truck, a gut-wrenching band, and here, they remain as devastating but also add new flourishes that really bring the machine to life. It’s not been an easy go for our species as of late, but as we live in the shadows of those who moved on to the next plane, we continue to find ways to honor them while we try to live our lives.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/northlessmke

To buy the album, go here: https://translationloss.com/products/a-path-beyond-grief

For more on the label, go here: https://translationloss.com/

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