What does Celestial North sound like?
If Viking and Celtic folk took to the clubs with a faery on vocals.
The review of Celestial North – Otherworld
Celestial North is one of those artists that pop along once every six months or so that catch you totally off guard. She arrives with a fresh merger of sounds and ideas and sticks the landing with aplomb. You can’t help but take notice and wonder how this wasn’t a subgenre sound before, or delivered in quite this way by another artist before.
The best way to describe Celestial North is to imagine taking all your favourite parts of Celtic folk, add in a bit of tribal and Viking folk and then take it clubbing. Everything is draped in electronic beats, washy synths, phased raving bass and a splash of psychedelic new-age trickery. I’m a huge fan of Merkaba Music but they don’t cross the line from dance music to something wearing pop clothes. This is what makes Celestial North sound so unique. It’s a hybrid of ideas, grounded in pop sensibilities.
The title track opens the album and does so with duelling synths and harps that twist into an Irish country rave. Pounding Boudhran beats mix with wooden sticks and electric hi-hats as Celestial North then chimes in with her ethereal vocals. Her backing vocals are softened out to emulate an aural choir but without vocal treatment, the vocals sound like magical faeries imparting wisdom on the dancefloor. Both playful and innocent, there is a childlike quality to Celestial North’s voice that’s raw and unfiltered.
With the mood set, the next three tracks push towards big ethereal dance numbers. ‘Restless Spirit’ has an entire trance section that could find its way into a club at a moment’s notice. It’s fast, darker and witchy. I really like the way an electric guitar is used as a synth pad, creating an industrial flair to the song. ‘When The Gods Dance’ is all about vocal layering. Celestial North’s voice flips from angelic to primal as she becomes more entranced with the tribal rhythms and celebratory thick pianos that decorate the atmosphere. Transitioning towards something more Florence + The Machine piano-pop sounding, ‘The Nature of Light’ is majestic. The track is anthemic, uplifting and reassuring. Paired with the lyrics of affirmation and finding a purpose, it’s the kind of alt-anthem that could be played on repeat.
‘Yarrow’ slows us down briefly and leans into the album’s ethereal dreamscape. Like a slow-motion waltz of breathy voice clouds, echoing piano and dramatic percussion, it evokes a majestic boat journey. Lyricless, the song tells its story in the way each piano motif chimes in. Think Kate Bush’s ‘Breathing’ and you’ll be in the right ballpark.
After a decidedly Celtic first half, the album moves towards a more Viking/Pagan folk sound for ‘Warriors of Peace’. Here, I recall bands like Qntal, Unto Ashes and early Faun. Cinematic, dramatic drums, gothic chords, haunted chants and spooky cries in the undercurrent – it is all here. The sound design across the entire album is superb but it especially shines here. You could cut the atmosphere with an athame. We go deeper and darker with the Nordic gypsy folk of ‘The Stitch’. It is a taut, pensive dirge of heavy dulcimers and synths over a weary caravan of percussion. The track is also one of the darkest songs lyrically, implying someone is stitching inescapable fates for us all.
That may be the case but as the more uplifting ‘Olympic Skies’ proclaims, it’s the horror that maketh the man. The folktronica track has a wonderful shuffle to it by using zithers to create counter-rhythms to the drums. The more mainstream band sound means this is a potential radio hit in the future too. Spoken poetry leads the way in the cinematic and grande ‘Are You Free’. Dramatic synths and bass swell into yearning upward curves of chords of hope and dreams being released into the world. That optimism translates to the dreamland of ‘Nightswimming’. Sitting somewhere between Enya and Cocteau Twins, this playful piece is like putting your dreams into bed and looking after them. ‘The album’s message is about self-love and that message about tending to yourself is what closes us out. ‘Eleventh Garden’ is a brief but firm song that declares there is “alchemy in my garden” and she’s not wrong. In 2023, we need a bit of magic to keep our spirits up and ‘Otherworld’ provides that.
Magical from start to finish, I feel like I’ve been on a Celtic pagan trance mission into my own soul. Celestial North has a unique sound, a fresh perspective and a fantastic ear for uplifting melodies that still hold mysticism, intrigue and bite. She’s not afraid to balance darker elements with a pounding harp, a raging guitar or a thumping club beat. It’s all here to enjoy and the album is set up like a ritual too. You’ll be dancing madly for the first two-thirds before quieting down with a jubilant inner calm for the end. This is without a doubt one of my favourite albums of 2023. Easy. No question. Fans of any esoteric artist will find a lot to love here. One of the brightest and strongest debuts of the year.
Recommended track: Otherworld
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