Before now, it would be anyone’s guess as to what a sophomore album from Noija might hold. The Swedish band released Colorblind in 2017, and then seemed to lose creative steam, with the release of re-imagined versions of songs in Come Closer (2018) and then live versions in Live In Stockholm (2019). So when a rapid string of singles came this year, it had seemed like a metaphorical creative dam had broken for the band, and this has been exciting to witness.
That dam seemed to culminate in Through Fire All Things Are Renewed, a thirteen track album, which has almost agonising attention to detail. The guys of Noija have shared with me that each track of the album had been bestowed with its own artwork, and these each felt like further layers of information to add to the sonic moods and their lyrics. The track order alone features the song title with two songs (“Through Fire” and “All Things Are Renewed”) that bookend the album.
With the artwork and songs as virtual maps to guide me to the potential treasure, I followed the Through Fire All Things Are Renewed path, track by track, to see what I might find.
We begin with cold and icy rain, and a spoken word description of inner monsters. It’s a variety of voices adding to this sentiment, describing the sinking impossibility of overcoming depression – or at least it feeling like that at the time. Unique voices bravely add their personal experiences while the rain comes pouring down, while swirling and consuming instrumentation builds.
Though it’s clearly an introductory track more than a standalone song (which people seem to either love or hate), it works well to define the theme of depression, sets a sombre tone. It’s also easily emotive with the combination of sweeping guitar, subtle synth melody, soaring tones, and heaving drum beats. The arrival of ethereal voices paints for me a picture of emotional bleeding, and it seems like this album’s story is a far darker and perhaps more connected one than the album before it.
Cold and quiet, “Through Fire” returns to a darkly honest speech that reflects a metaphorical internal cage and its limits. It’s as chilling as it should be when referring to suicide, even though it doesn’t directly link to literal fire or the concept of facing a barrage of any kind – except perhaps the internal overwhelm. As with its artwork, this ‘fire’ is icy cold and consuming.
Crawl Into My Skin
As we discovered when the song was released as a single, “Crawl Into My Skin” captures the idea of wanting someone to look within you to understand what’s going on without you having to blatantly tell them or show them. The artwork takes this idea literally, with a black sphere seen under transparent skin.
Still cold at its introduction after the “Through Fire” scene setting, the song feels initially echoing and isolated; as though it’s asking “Does anyone see me? Hear me?”
Drums offer an impressive pressure that suit the internal cage that can be felt. It’s a cage that the protagonist can’t get out of and is hoping and inviting someone to look within it and understand as well as help. Nick Serlstedt’s stunning vocal highs waft away into the distance, floating out to somewhere better perhaps. It’s a clear search for answers as well as wanting to learn how to love himself.
It’s surprisingly upbeat and optimistic for the subject matter though, and maybe this comes with the same territory as the “I’m struggling but I can’t tell you” vibe that beckons someone to just be within it themselves in order to get it. Strings combined with Nick’s voice sweetly reach for help, before it lands with a crash of frustrated intensity. The chorus is memorable, as is the feeling of there being no clear conclusion to the asking.
Meaning To Your Pain
The synth, backing vocal melodies, and urgent sounding stadium filling rock of “Meaning To Your Pain” will possibly cop Bring Me The Horizon comparisons. Regardless, it’s pushing and pressuresome yet again, continuing the story.
When things settle more at the first verse, there’s sounds and samples from multiple directions and it feels very suited to the lyrical idea of quiet observation and seeing all that’s going on now and also occurred in the past.
The chorus reveals more of what the song is about, as does the song’s image; an uncomfortable connection between two people, or at least having lost part of yourself. Thick bass hums work well to add seriousness, while multiple swirling high pitched melodies come across as eerie and haunting. An explosive bridge is incredibly satisfying in its roaring fire, but a softened gang vocal backing carries its own satisfaction. I love the blend of fire and vulnerability I’ve heard so far.
Thematically, deception is apparent, as is the way they are stuck within their skin. It clearly ties in with the song before it with the idea of letting someone in and it seeming to backfire. It wouldn’t surprise me if this album was a chronological capture.
“Bleak” feels bereft and defeated after the fire of the song before it. The line “No one is saving me” stands out, as does the observational factor of the lyrics. It feels like: “Look at us, all fucked up and nowhere to go”, you know?
The song is cleverly structured and is undeniably hooking in more ways than one, and for this reason has stayed with me since first listen. From its pensive “It’s.. like.. I’ve lived… a thousand lives..” verses, to its “We are all so bleak” repetition at the chorus, and roars of frustration, there’s so many ‘moments’ that land memorably.
I love how the song combines a concerned tenderness with fiery determination to change. The artwork reinforces the sentiment behind the song; that social media plays a dangerous role in how bad we can feel in this unhelpful theatrical show of misery.
Trace (Empty Me)
I’m repeating myself, but yet again after the fire of the track before it, the gentleness and relative stillness of “Trace (Empty Me)” is welcome. Perhaps this part of the album shows the gradual decline of the person in question?
It’s a pleasure to see the capabilities of Noija in terms of the breadth of what they can do. Barely there tones with softened vocals describe a relationship that soured, and has kept its grip upon the protagonist.
An objectively stunning chorus – could even hold this up to be one of the greatest choruses I’ve heard all year – soars in a pleading attempt to be released from the other person. The paring back at the verses gives the chorus even more opportunity to shine in its strength.
I notice Ludvig Ottosson’s voice at the pre-chorus, and I wonder if it signifies the other person in the dynamic, or is just a different voice sharing the same sentiment. Regardless, the two voices work well together, not to mention the whispery backing vocals. A droplet sounding melody is curious, as is the ending signified by a moment of feedback before paring back to nothing but a distant chorus and raindrops. Rain is a mainstay of this album, and it’s another tick for the conhesion I love to see/hear in general.
Though I’d expected it to trail into the song after it, the stormy weather suddenly ends as “Aching” starts. The polish and pulsing of the introduction is distractingly reminiscent to songs I’ve heard before (ie. Dangerkids – “Things Could Be Different”). Though it’s a touch offputting, I hope for more character to be revealed.
Noija’s penchant for differing sounds and many layers rescues the experience, where “Count down the days, count down the years” has it feel more heartfelt, pulling my attention more to the story more than comparison. Again I love the dynamic of the two vocalists at the pre-chorus in this song which seems like a weathered reach for help – as so succinctly shown in the artwork.
At the bridge and its clear capture of being alone, I notice the gentle melody of a music box after the full sweeping riffs and grander expression of sound. It’s a ‘wow’ moment that perhaps shows a softened core to that overwhelming ache.
“Decay” brings a ticking clock of discomfort along with its ache. Toying with rhythms, the song lands with more electronic enhancement to the vocals than expected. Isolation shows up again, as does a sense of not knowing where to look or where to go. The atmospheric pre-chorus is chilling, in no way heralding the sense of strength that’s felt at the chorus itself.
I adore Ludvig’s vocals at the midway point, and how something vulnerable feels like a fire for change being lit. The interwoven voices and the percussive strength practically promises for change to come, even though the song specifically talks about decaying. I’m not entirely sure that I understood what was being shared here.
Again with the presence of a ticking clock, “Runaway” details the absence of healing, and it delivers another beauty of a chorus. The song is instrumentally powerful, emotively moving from a sombre expression of impossibility to something that feels far more hopeful.
“Runaway” takes platitudes and input from others about healing (“They say that time heals wounds”), and then details how it hasn’t worked. It positions this experience as relative to a relationship and the desire of another to run.
Though I find the song to be moving in its shift which sees ethereal feminine vocals take focus and the mention of “chance”, I spent way too much time trying to understand the subtleties about whether the person did run away or didn’t, even though they had the chance to. Either way, the song reveals an undeniable brighter sense of possibility toward its end.
In pondering mode, inspired by others saying “It gets better”, “Broken Glass” is full of questions about healing and how it works. It’s super sampley and upbeat, with the myriad of sounds perhaps matching the opening of floodgates that is detailed. It’s tough to know where to place attention, but the idea of looking at your challenges instead of avoiding them is apparent to me.
The sparkling and orchestral moment of “I’m suffering, I’m still suffering” is a stunning capture of everything that makes Noija great, and it’s somehow endearing in the sense of cautiousness of being healed. I take from the song that just as broken glass won’t heal itself, neither will we, as challenging as it is to face those inner monsters.
Beautiful instrumentally from the start, “Rebirth” is more blatantly expressing the journey of healing. Refusing to be held back by anything, and not needing permission of any kind, the piano-heavy track crashes at times and soothes at others.
It’s the bridge which broke me though, with Ludvig’s heartfelt “Fall to your knees, understand you are free” capturing the surrender from others’ expectations or ideas. It’s moving already, even before the stirring strings join in and enhances it further. The formerly wilted rose is blooming.
Like a sweet tribute, “Save Myself”‘s feminine presence is a powerful one throughout via the hooking backing vocals. The reflective song is celebrating how the existence of another was an important part of the protagonist’s recovery, even if “No one can save me from myself”. The falsetto vocals add to this sweetness, as does the chorus and its tone of incredulous surprise.
There’s not much more to say at this point of the album, given that Noija have consistently created great songs and this is yet another, with the track landing a multi-layered punch of joy. It’s a pleasure to sit back and let this wash over me, while thinking about how much more recognition the band are deserving of.
If the album is indeed a chronological story, “Rain” tells of how a relationship dissipated due to the emotional storm that was overwhelming the protagonist. With maturity – that may have come from the experiences through the album up to this point – the song expresses the idea of tending to your internal challenges before inviting love in.
Matter of factly, and with highly edited vocals (at least at the start), the tender song reiterates that “The only way out is through”. It’s devoid of frustration, seeming to truly embrace the journey of healing that had been mentioned, indicating to me that Noija’s inspiration comes from walking their talk and truly living these themes.
Accepting what is felt and letting “the rain fall” at the bridge inspired goosebumps in me; with strings and searching (yet lonely) guitar being met by gang vocals. It’s a special moment considering where we began, and further violins and swelling instrumentation seems determined to have me cry. The journey we’re on with Noija grows and swells to this meaningful peak.
All Things Are Renewed
The epilogue of the album, “All Things Are Renewed”, ties back to the voices we heard in the first track of album, yet hears them detail their approach to recovery and what has worked for them.
With a chilled drum beat, and ethereal tones, “All Things Are Renewed” is an exhale and a reaching hand of hope and encouragement, just like the artwork shows. Though it’s not commonly done, that a final track is spoken word, it works very well here.
The aftermath of this album is also an exhale; feeling like we’ve endured something difficult alongside Noija. It has me feel like I need to cry, a refreshing, relieving, (and yes, renewing) kind of cry. Though there are sentiments of hope and endurance, I never felt lectured or that any of these sentiments were forced or faked.
And I look to the album artwork now and see how the act of opening up and allowing the world into the internal/mental/emotional challenges – as done with these songs – is in itself part of the process of healing. That being scared of those ‘monsters’ or wanting to outrun them or wanting someone to come in and rescue us from them isn’t helpful or healing at all. Through Fire All Things Are Renewed forms an exposé on healing, and how typical approaches may not work, but that there is always hope.
Key lyrics – presumably lessons along the way – reverberate with me in the aftermath, like the knowledge that we are the only ones that can save ourselves, that answers aren’t to be found in the bleak terrain of social media, and that sometimes we have to surrender to what is felt instead of avoiding it.
And I’m barely touching on the lasting impact of the music itself. Noija seemed to have had at their fingertips a wide variety of sounds, samples, and approaches with which to sonically paint their experience. Moments like “Trace (Empty Me)”‘s chorus highlight a band to be reckoned with, especially given that they can also deliver the dynamite of “Meaning To Your Pain”, electro chill of “Broken Glass”, and pared back clarity of “Runaway”. There’s a lot to embrace in this album, and I can absolutely see it lifting Noija up for greater attention.
The album captivatingly takes the listener through a journey of healing, with all of its imperfections and difficulties along the way. Created with stunning or surrendered instrumentation, every facet seemed to be in honour of the messages and ideas behind the music. More people need to know about this band.
The moments of character and honesty made up for times when the songs - or at least parts of songs - didn't inspire much in me by way of feeling.