Written by: KW on 01/08/2019 15:13:07

The Australian prog-metalcore masters in Northlane haven’t been shy to cause fan controversy through the years, having gone through some pretty drastic changes with each passing album — from the early beginnings of way more aggressive, noodly djent riffs, to an increasing focus on atmosphere rather than flash, which was truly cemented with the replacement of former vocalist Adrian Fitipaldes with Marcus Bridge and the heightened amount of clean vocals added to the mix. But it seems we weren’t even close to seeing the biggest shift in sound from the band yet, which this new release “Alien” is hard proof of. Though almost all of the singles pretty instantly clicked for me, the online discourse definitely has had its fair share of upset fans calling it everything from boring to straight up shit. I can definitely see why this is the case: the technicality of the riffs is simplified, the electronic elements are creeping onto center stage, and the drumming is (mostly) not as flashy in the traditional modern prog-metal sense anymore, turning to a more nu-metal/drum n’ bass style on a lot of tracks. So what’s even to enjoy about Northlane anymore, you might ask?

Well, if you can embrace these admittedly significant changes, one of the best metal albums of 2019 will open itself up to you. “Details Matter” sounds like the unholy, mechanical spawn of Celldweller and Combichrist remixing a Northlane song, which incidentally would have fit pretty much perfectly on Mick Gordon’s “Doom 2016” video game soundtrack. It hacks and grinds its way through the listener’s ear canals with dissonant chord progressions, almost inaudibly down-tuned single-note riffs and eruptions of grinding, distorted synths in a display of absolute savagery, and one hell of a noisy jaw-dropper to blast the album out of starting position. Elsewhere, “Bloodline” displays the different lyrical approach taken by the band this time around, showing a way more direct and vulnerable side of Marcus Bridge than usual, as he openly discusses his own abuse as a child while giving some clear nods to old-school Linkin Park — melodically as well as instrumentally — with its simpler, yet highly effective use of power chords:

“We grew up scared

Bruised and battered

Youth torn and tattered

As long as you were sky high

Nothing fucking mattered

Hotel homes in the cross

Under the bridge and lost

With your heads in the clouds above

You call this love”

It definitely evokes the bands of the alt/nu-metal era of my teens, but it never feels tacky or like complete nostalgia-bait, instead transferring those simpler grooves into the new age with some stellar production values. “4D” even gets into Pendulum territory, with the sound of groovy drum n’ bass drums and a catchy, mellow chorus, but where the track really blows my head off is the incredibly creatively produced breakdown. The low synth sounds like some demonic creature snarling, while the squelching background noise sounds like it has been taken straight out of an acid techno track.

But it’s not like the signature Northlane sound is completely gone just yet; far from it, which is evident in a number of standout tracks around the middle section of the album. Though “Talking Heads” definitely has a more bouncy, nu-metal groove to it than anything we’ve heard from this band before, Marcus Bridge supports it all with a stellar vocal performance ranging from his customarily spine-chilling cleans to rage-inducing screams, and then it culminates in a ridiculous build-up of foreboding, punchy synths, before an explosively heavy breakdown arrives at the end to scream old Northlane. Moreover, I am absolutely certain that the people who will be disappointed in some of the other tracks on here will find something to enjoy in the fantastic songs “Freefall” and “Jinn”, both of which sound comfortably more like something that could’ve been featured alongside older material, with the complex, syncopated rhythms and grandiose choruses back in full force.

The album slightly loses momentum around the almost purely electronic tracks “Eclipse” and “Rift” that lead my mind towards Celldweller once more, but I do think they work fairly well in the context of the album as a whole by introducing some tracks way out of the comfort zone, while still sounding integrated with the rest of the material on here (and what’s more, the rave-core industrial, almost Rammstein-esque nature of “Eclipse” can only be a resounding success in the live setting, which I personally can’t wait to experience for myself!). The only real misstep for me comes after those two in “Paradigm”, where the simple and repetitive three-chord nature of the main riff annoys me instead of engaging me. If I had to nitpick, I could also say that the vocals do seem to drown a bit in the mix in places, but aside from that, the album just sounds absolutely amazing on every front.

Northlane have thus highly impressively married hard-hitting electronic music with the signature down-tuned metalcore that the band is known for, never feeling forced or corny like when Korn tried to achieve the same by teaming up with Skrillex back in 2011. A lot of bands have kind of died for me over the past few years with horrible transitions into drastically different sounds (*cough* Bring Me The Horizon *cough* Underoath *cough*), but Northlane’s story is a completely different one. It is sure to alienate (heh) a few fans in the process, but even so, to me this album is just pure brilliance in what it’s trying to achieve. I’m gonna be blasting this so loud my ears give out when “Cyberdjent 2077”… ehm, I mean “Cyberpunk 2077” is out — that’s a damn promise at least.


Download: Details Matter, Bloodline, 4D, Talking Heads, Freefall, Jinn, Vultures
For the fans of: Celldweller, Architects, Combichrist, Mick Gordon
Listen: Facebook

Release date 02.08.2019

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