Norther suffered a harsh loss in 2009, when lead vocalist, lead guitarist, and primary songwriter Petri Lindroos left the band. The reason for his departure was obvious, as his commitments to folk metal group Ensiferum were much more time-consuming than those with Norther. Given Ensiferum's recent growth in success, it also made sense for Lindroos to stick with the more popular band. However, Norther was left in an extremely precarious position, as three vital positions within the band were vacated, with few conceivable options for filling them. Thankfully, though, the Finnish group was able to adapt. Rhythm guitarist and backup vocalist Kristian Ranta, who had co-written a number of songs with Lindroos on both 2006's Till Death Unites Us and 2008's N, assumed the primary songwriting role for the growth of the band. Norther also found two new musicians that were already veterans of the Finnish metal scene to join the band. These things have all led to Norther's newest studio album, the appropriately-titled Circle Regenerated.
Musically, from a purely instrumental standpoint, this new album is consistent with Norther's previous work. The balance between guitar leads and keyboard leads is still almost completely even, as is the balance between clean and harsh vocals. New guitarist Daniel Freyberg of Naildown proves to be a more than capable replacement for Lindroos. His solos are tasteful and well-executed, and he shows a good deal more stylistic diversity overall. Rather than relying on the pure thrash that Lindroos included, Freyberg's solos often dabble in groove as well, and even occasionally revert to an acoustic passage for even more variety. These elements are where Circle Regenerated succeeds the most.
The most changes occur in the vocals and the songwriting. New singer Aleksi Sihvonen, formerly the frontman of now-defunct melodic death metal group Imperanon, is quite skilled and has better command of his voice than Lindroos. But his ability to sustain the vocal lines alone is lacking, and he often has to rely on Ranta or Freyberg to provide harmonies so that the clean-sung passages remain interesting. More noticeable, though, are the subtle style shifts that change the tone of this album a great deal. Sihvonen thankfully provides more intelligent lyrics than Lindroos had written for N. However, Ranta's songwriting moves towards the melodic end of the spectrum much more often than Lindroos did, which makes Circle Regenerated drastically different from anything else in Norther's back catalogue.
Overall, Circle Regenerated is a positive step for Norther, showing that the significant loss of Lindroos hasn't torn the band apart. They've recovered nicely and are making good progress towards re-establishing themselves in their scene. Although their sound is more melodic now than it used to be, they have stayed true to the principles on which the band was created. That certainly doesn't mean Circle Regenerated is flawless, because it very clearly is not. But the album is nonetheless a decent effort by Norther, and one in which they have hopefully worked out all the idiosyncrasies and difficulties that are bound to occur whenever any band lineup changes.
Score: 6 out of 10
1. Through it All
2. The Hate I Bear
4. Some Day
5. Break Myself Away
8. We Do Not Care
9. The Last Time
10. Closing In
Aleksi Sihvonen − Lead vocals
Kristian Ranta − Guitar, clean vocals
Daniel Freyberg − Guitar, backing vocals
Jukka Koskinen − Bass guitar, backing vocals
Tuomas Planman − Keyboards
Heikki Saari − Drums