Album review – Pristine – Ninja
By ANDREW McKAYSMITH
RATHER a unique departure for the great metal focused label Nuclear Blast, I must say.
Pristine are a Norwegian rock’n’soul band fronted by one of the very best vocalists you are ever likely to hear, the enigmatic Heidi Solheim.
Solheim is one of the most remarkable musicians that I have had the opportunity to meet (well, meet over Skype). In a broad ranging conversation, we discussed everything from the new album (Ninja), to some of the more universal life matters such as the challenges faced raising our respective children and what it was like growing up feeling as if you were a bit of an outsider. Solheim is grounded, funny and possesses a high degree of self-awareness. I mentioned at the end of my podcast episode that I felt she was a role model… that’s because she stands within her own truth, is actively mining her creativity and she is truly working to increase the amount of happiness felt in this rather calamitous world.
But what does all that say about Ninja? Rather a lot actually.
This is not a metal release. I’ll grant any reader that upfront. But there are tangents that can be fully embraced such as the outstanding musicianship and traditional instrumentation via guitars, bass, drums, an occasional Hammond organ which are all wedded to a powerful vocal.
Will Ninja appeal to the black t-shirt wearing masses fixated on the brutal, the fast or the chaotic? Unlikely, through no fault of the band I’d suggest that this is music best left to the more discerning listener who merely counts metal as one of the many genres that appeals to their aural fancy. I am one of those listeners so this is an album that I am prepared to spend rather a lot of time listening to. Ninja has been wonderful background music to family events and while I am working on my laptop. That’s not to say that Ninja works best as musical wallpaper but I can say for damn sure it beats listening to Billy, Elton, Phil and Bruce for the thousandth time. If you are looking at securing a musical selection in an environment where metal is unsuitable then Ninja is perfect.
The album itself is a very polite blend of rock music rooted in the 60’s tradition of acts recording under the genius of Harry Vanda and George Young (RIP). If that doesn’t mean anything to you then I suggest you stop reading and get Googling. The Easybeats, The Masters Apprentices and The Seekers are rightly regarded as your parents (or grandparents…) music, yet without them the Chuck Berry on high voltage guitar playing of messrs Angus and Malcolm Young may never have found an audience. It is at this junction that Pristine find fertile ground.
Solheim’s voice acts as the lightning grounding the music. She possesses a vocal cadence with a slight husk that I imagine is perfectly suited to analogue listening devices. I fully intend to acquire a vinyl copy of the album should it be available as that is where I feel most listeners who focus on what is really happening in a recording will achieve peak satisfaction given the gold on offer throughout Ninja.
Highlights abound yet I truly love the restraint offered through “The Perfect Crime”, which toward the end of the song sounds a lot like a soul version of Radiohead’s pop anthem from 1994, “Creep”
Ok, so be brave, take a chance and get streaming. Ninja suits the personality of Solheim to a tee. It is a grounded release, it’s got oodles of charm and will likely be an album that I will listening to for many years to come. If you only choose to give a sole non-metal release from 2017 a go then I will nominate Ninja as a worthy option.