Memory can be a fickle thing. Too many years have passed since the release of 2015’s celebrated Eyes Alive and my recollections have admittedly become somewhat hazy, but I nevertheless recalled Turbid North sounding entirely different than the barrage of singles released ahead of The Decline, an album that contains a degree of ferocity and variety you don’t get to hear every day.
My fading memories were of a band residing comfortably somewhere in the neighborhood of Mastodon and Gojira, but those aforementioned singles (“The Old Ones,” “Slaves” and “Patients”) unveil an incensed regenesis of Turbid North, driven by hunger, determination and ambition. But as another immediate curveball, the band has a brilliant trick up its sleeve and proceeds to contradict these new assumptions by opening the album with “Eternal Dying,” a beautifully pensive void-gazer. Heralding the monstrous heaviness to come, Jono Garrett’s massive drum kicks announce the transition from the opener’s psychedelic stoner vibes to the molasses-think sludge and oppressive weight of “The Oppressor,” which is followed by the harrowing caustic feedback and electrifying deathgrind of “Slaves,” a ragefest that rains down blunt-force trauma. Just this three-part opening salvo exhibits one of the main strengths of The Decline: its pervading element of surprise that will keep the listener guessing until the very final minute and sees the band always a few steps and thrilling moves ahead, maintaining an assertive bourbon-fueled gait that is grounded in the album’s harsh landscape but founds its vitality and dynamism on solid songwriting rather of avant-garde stratagems or prog detours.
In fact, there is an almost cinematic scope and scale to The Decline, an impressive feat for a trio that delivers a whole variety of moods and sub-genres without endangering the overall cohesion of its musical narrative. The question of palate-cleansers becomes pleasantly uncertain and irrelevant when stompers such as “Life Over Death” or “The Road” are interspersed with tracks encapsulating unrestrained bouts of seething urgency that may initially seem straightforward enough but reveal appealing songwriting twists, such as the wailing break on “The Old Ones” and the desert-roaming U-turn of “Drown in Agony.” Everything culminates in the imposing knockout combo of “A Dying Earth” and “Time,” with the former especially demonstrating the band’s songwriting skills that captivate throughout the 9-minute duration of this instrumental juggernaut, and the latter steadily increasing in grandeur before an abrupt detonation.
Sure, the album’s mastering would have benefited from greater dynamic range and more room to breathe, but I cannot resist Nick Forkel’s production that is absolutely towering and packs a punch that leaves the listener reeling due to its immense physicality (“Slaves” and “Patients” made me fear for the structural integrity of Chris O’Toole’s bass guitar). That said, the band continues to surprise with moments of unexpected beauty, where delicate guitar notes ring gently above the bulldozing rhythm section in charming juxtaposition.
Color me impressed and my memory and life enriched. Turbid North bludgeons a lasting impression with The Decline, by combining sheer force and determination with excellent songwriting and a salvo of ideas executed with dazzling savvy.