Beyond the North Winds is the second album by Canadian one-man band SIG:AR:TYR, which was released in 2008. SIG:AR:TYR began as a folk/dark ambient project and released a demo in this style in 2003. Their 2005 debut Sailing the Seas of Fate introduced some metal into the sound, creating a form of folk metal. Beyond the North Winds builds upon the sound of Sailing the Seas of Fate, bringing in even more of a metal influence, and retaining the acoustic folk and dark ambient ideas of previous releases to create what is a much heavier and metal dominated album.
The opening nine and a half minutes track, King of the World, is a great showcase of the direction that mastermind Daemonskald has gone with on Beyond the North Winds. The riffs are much more prominent in the mix, and the production more suited for something to have a kick to it, rather than the atmospheric sounds of prior offerings. This is still very much an Atmospheric take of metal, however here we start to get the best of both worlds. The result, in my opinion, is the strongest of the SIG:AR:TYR albums released to date.
Sailing the Seas of Fate was a solid first full-length, but it suffered from the fact that it was best taken as a whole, to fully be able to appreciate the atmospheric journey that it was, as there weren’t really anyone songs in the mostly instrumental release that really stood out as an individual highlight. It was album that you had to take, press play, and just absorb. In that, it was a success. But Beyond the North Winds goes one better by doing just that within a greater metal aspect, and has many tracks that can be taken on their own as highlights of the album. The intense opener King of the World is just one of them. The title track that follows is easily on the best songs of SIG:AR:TYR. It’s also certainly one of best uses of folk melody with the acoustic guitars with a backing of heavy guitars. The closing ballad Far Away is also a particular treat.
The album retains tracks reminiscent of SIG:AR:TYR’s roots as well, with Pale Autumnal Moon and Sword From An Unknown Hand showcasing the dark ambient sounds behind the stunning acoustic tones that Daemonskald gets out of his instrument. Here the style is used as transitional tracks (or breather pieces if you prefer), between the metal songs. I normally hate anything along the lines of introductions, interludes, or outros, however all I really have to say is that if every artist did them in such style as this then I wouldn’t be complaining.
Aside from going pretty much fully metal on Beyond the North Winds, another major change in the sound is that there is a greater focus on vocals. Daemonskald delivers in three distinct styles on the album – whispering than gives a feel of narration, or perhaps to better describe them, like the words of some Pagan ritual; black metal rasps, which aren’t the strongest in the world but are done in a very effectual way, and clean singing. I really like Daemonskald’s clean singing, and Far Away is a great example of how good this guy really is. The presence of more vocals makes Beyond the North Winds a much easier album to get into than the prior demo and album, but the music is far from commercial since, especially in regard to the still present dark ambient and folk parts, which give the release a really dark feel than I suspect metal fans will find appealing.
Many of the tracks are long, but they don’t feel drawn out in any way. The music grabs instantly and is able to make eight and above minute durations pass in what seems to be the blink of an eye. The lead guitar work is stunning, not least because some of with some of it Daemonskald swaps his electric for an acoustic. The music overall is much more folk metal than any of the other SIG:AR:Tyr releases, but black metal elements are present as well, which hint at the direction that SIG:AR:TYR took with the follow-up to Beyond the North Winds, 2010’s Godsaga.
Beyond the North Winds is an album that I can’t find fault in. Not only is this a unique take of folk metal but it is also masterfully crafted, and it beggars belief that this is all the work of one man. For this amazing release SIG:AR:TYR deserves nothing less than full marks.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven, scoring 10.0/10)