Tales From The North

White Skull

Nuclear Blast Records, 1999


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


One of the biggest problems with metal today is that much of what comes out of Scandanavia is of the "warrior" mold, singing tales of Vikings and slaughter, all for the glory of heavy metal (and less for getting laid - guess that's saved for the American bands). On that thought, it would be easy to lump White Skull and their latest disc Tales From The North into that category.

Wrong move, amigo. First, White Skull is actually an Italian band, though their sound is much better than what I probably would have expected from a Scandanavian band in the same vein. (Some of the comments I read about White Skull said it sounded like they had a German influence - and after plowing through this disc, I don't think I would disagree.) Second, Tales From The North proves to be an enjoyable, if harmless, disc.

The band - vocalist Federica "Sister" DeBoni, guitarists Tony "Mad" Fontò and Nick "B.B." Savio, bassist Fabio Pozzato and drummer Alex Mantiero - surprises not by playing their music in a classical metal theme, but by how they seem to have mastered the genre. From the soft, melodic intro "The Quest" kicking into the Helloween-like title track, White Skull show they have the chops and the songwriting needed to make a name for themselves.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

This is all well and good, the critic - who has seen too many bands of this ilk come and go - says, but what do they do that separates them from the pack? Ah, that's where "The Terrible Slaughter" comes in. Breaking the mold of everything they have done on this album to that point, DeBoni and crew slow things down into a power ballad that has just enough crunch to the music without going overboard. It would have been easy for Savio to have ripped into a solo that set his fingertips ablaze, but he chooses instead to play a controlled piece instead - one that complements, not overshadows, the song itself. Three words: smart... very smart.

One other thing I'll give White Skull for is that they don't get too heavily into the "macho warrior" bullshit that seems to be all the rage in this type of metal today. (Like it ever went away - there's a reason why I haven't listened to Manowar's Fighting The World since high school.) There is talk of fighting and glory on songs like "Viking's Tomb" and "Fighting And Feasting," but it's much more played down than one would have expected. And, more often than not, it seems like the album embraces the entire Norse culture, including religion and death ("Gods Of The Sea,""Viking's Tomb") than just mass slaughter for the hell of it.

And while there are one or two moments where Tales From The North sags a bit, the band is able to transcend these brief slips and keep the adrenalin that makes up this album going. The way they tie things up with the instrumental outro "Still Alive" makes perfect sense, and is the ultimate way for this disc to end.

So why do I call this "harmless"? Simple: Unlike some of the discs I've heard in this vein, White Skull don't seem to zero in on the "blood and guts" aspect of the music, instead allowing the songs themselves to speak instead of the lyrics. So even though there is occasional talk of going to war, it's almost easy to laugh it off as a passing fancy.

I still question why such a type of metal is still so popular (at the risk of sounding unhip), but if White Skull continue to make music like Tales From The North, then I guess I have no complaints about the genre thriving.

Rating: B

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Nuclear Blast Records, and is used for informational purposes only.