On their third album, Of Roots and Flesh (4 October), Northern Oak transport us to their native, Arthurian roots: Northern England, where men and monsters populate deep locks and moors and whispering woods. Music and mythology haunt this ancient geography, yet I trusted Northern Oak to guide me through the miasma, like a ghost unburied.
Of Roots and Flesh opens with an immediate injection of atmosphere in “The Dark of Midsummer.” A drum leads the way from behind a goliath oak for the tricking guitar and flute to follow. A midsummer moon and sun, like fog smeared eyes, marry, and the darkness and the light ignite this world of pagan magic.
These well-informed songs elude to more twisted branches of folklore. As the first act ends in “Taken,” for example, Northern Oak employs the tale of the changeling, a nefarious creature left to substitute for a stolen human child. Vocals are merely another instrument. And on this track in particular, they showcase the inherent tensions of the guitar as it ascends.
Northern Oak adopts traditional English folklore into their themes and ancestral songs into their melodies (showcased with their appropriate use of the flute and the alto-flute). “The Gallows Tree” is their most modern and energetic song, however ironic, for they borrow that blockbuster ballade wherein a doomed maiden pleads with her executioner for time; as they wait and wait for her love to rescue her with a bribe, she becomes uncertain in her faith in love. What? That isn\’t ringing a bell? You Philistine!
Of Roots and Flesh is a highly conceptual album from a dense band. One must remember that it is a thematic experience. It neither demands your cultural fluency nor your uninterrupted attention because it promises adventures anew. And after all, isn\’t that what art is all about?