REVIEW: NORTHLANE – “Alien”
Northlane is a band that was always on the fringe of my listening lists. I discovered them along with a bunch of other progressive metalcore/djent-metalcore bands like Volumes, Erra, Structures, Auras, Elitist and a whole host of mediocre ones who’s names I cannot remember. To me, Northlane was just another Periphery-lite, a metalcore band with djenty chugs, ambient sections, and alternating clean and harsh vocals, and I quickly dismissed them. I am so glad I gave them another shot with Alien because it is an absolute SLEEPING GIANT of a record!
Alien is a cross between a metalcore record, a progressive metal/djent record, and a synthwave record, and Northlane has found a way to incorporate winning elements from those genres into a cohesive, exciting, and happily confusing mix that is surprisingly enjoyable. Album opener Details Matter kicks things off with a deeply unsettling low-end electronic synth arrangement and kicks you in the teeth with an eight-string chug which carries you through the entirety of the track. The verse sections of most of the tracks on Alien are heavily written using synthesizer samples with dark overtones which creates a mood of darkness and unease.
The singles Bloodline and Talking Heads are perfect snapshots of what to expect on Alien. They are chugs that are teeth-clenching heavy yet have a bouncy groove and catchy choruses. The last-minute or so outro on Talking Heads is so oppressively heavy that would make Meshuggah blush. And since we are talking about the All-Fathers-Of-Djent, they should really check out the intro riff of Jinn because Northlane is making them sound old and tired. Jinn skillfully jumps between Meshuggah-worship in the verse sections and Tesseract/Monuments-worship on the chorus, with bonus points to those Marcus Bridge falsettos. And right when you think you’ve become comfortable with this track, Jinn throws yet another surprise at you: a dark-rave electronic section that feels completely left-field yet extremely well-placed at the same time. It just works.
The use of electronic music samples via keyboards, synthesizers, and other EDM-toolbox trickeries have always been a Northlane staple, but the Aussies have struck gold with their inclusion on Alien. The heavy emphasis of heavy low-end bass-y synth sections merge expertly well with the strong bass lines and low-end extended-range guitar riffs and the lines between guitars, bass, and synth are extremely blurred. In another light, Alien could be a perfectly successful dark-synthwave record. A prime example of these melding genres and soundscapes are 4D and Eclipse and various other sections all over this record.
The boys at Northlane are at the top of their game. Major props to guitarist and hidden-Synthwave artist Jon Deiley, and Josh Smith for writing genre-bending sections that mind crushingly heavy, grandiose, and memorable. Special mention to bassist Brendon Padjasek who joined Northlane midway through the writing process of Alien and seamlessly became part of the team. Drummer Nic Pettersen does what he does best behind the kit and has a keen eye of writing drum sections that jump between prog-metal and dance music without skipping a beat. Vocalist Marcus Bridge continues to wow audiences with his bonkers range on Alien. This cat can croon at any frequency and nails djent-growls, metalcore rasps, angsty-cleans, and victorious chants and is a vocalist who needs more recognition after Alien. His personal investment on the lyrics by writing about his own troubled past adds gravitas and sincerity to his vocal performance. If you don’t scream “I was raised in hell, I made it out by myself” after a couple of listens of Bloodline, we cannot be friends.
Trying to find fault in Alien really forced me to split hair, and even the low impact sections are meaningful and help bring the entire record together. Rift is by far the weakest track on an otherwise rock-solid record. It is by no means a bad song, and would even be a winning ambient-electronic/post-rock track with its slower tempos, dreamy vocals, and wide ambient keyboard samples, and serves as a good interlude. It does however pale in comparison to the other tracks on the record. In my opinion, album closer Sleepless does a much better job and its uplifting soundscapes is a dramatic way to close out a dark record like Alien and the contrast is extremely gratifying.
Alien is a stellar record and one that Northlane should be extremely proud of every section. It is as heavy as it is well thought out. There are way more high points on Alien than can be expected from this genre and generates a lot of excitement and intrigue for this young band’s bright future in the scene. Consider this review my vote for “AOTY contender you probably slept on”.