It's very hard to take an album out of context. A lot of pretty decent hard rock bands got unfairly buried in the early '90s because of the glut of hair metal bands and the rise of grunge — the only thing they did wrong was to come to the party too late, wearing the same thing everyone else had on. Now that the cultural dust has settled and it's all academic, some people go back and uproot these underrated gems, giving them a fresh (if tiny) audience years after the band's heyday.
What on earth does this have to do with French art-metallers YEAR OF NO LIGHT, or their album "Nord", reissued now via Crucial Blast after an initial 2006 launch on a small native label? It depends on whether you believe that their sound, the whole NEUROSIS/ISIS/GODFLESH axis of space metal (or, as the label fetchingly calls them, "brutal shoegazer"), has reached that tipping point yet. It can't be denied that YEAR OF NO LIGHT do what they do pretty well — there's the requisite heavier-than-God parts, complete with bellowed vocals and droning, chiming quasi-melodic guitar lines. There's also the quiet ambient parts, some trippy soundscapes (including a long interlude during "Somnambule" and "Prosodia" where you shouldn't operate heavy machinery or drive), and plenty of that apocalyptic crunge we all know and love.
And that's the problem. Even when it's well done, this style is becoming as saturated, and ultimately diluted, as death metal in 1994 or metalcore in 2004. It's not so much a question of whether YEAR OF NO LIGHT are good at this by-the-numbers "NEUROSIS" style, as it's now being called in some quarters, but whether anyone could make a record like this that'd stand out from the hordes of imitators plying the trade. It doesn't help that, aside from being pretty good at it (track nine is especially compelling, definitely the standout of the album), YEAR OF NO LIGHT doesn't bring anything to the table that defines them personally. Drop a needle on this record at a random point in the middle and you'd instantly know who their influences are, but not who this particular band is.
A 7 if you're more charitable, or less worn out with this mini-trend… or a 5 if you're being more honest about how often you'll actually remember to listen to this CD, regardless of its quality out of the context of today's scene. Maybe in 2017 we can fish copies of "Nord" out of the clearance bin and, our palates cleansed of NEUROSIS worship, give it a little more appreciation than it's going to end up with now.