ALBUM REVIEW: Alien (NORTHLANE)
ALBUM: Alien // ARTIST: Northlane
In a time when Area 51 memes are littering our social media feeds, Sydney's metal lords Northlane have repurposed the notion of the unfamiliar with a deeply personal and dynamic fifth album 'Alien' due out next week; but here, you won't find any UFOs, just an astonishing full-length that is without a doubt one of the finest heavy releases ever to erupt through The Soundcheck's speakers.
Notorious for their ferocious faculties and a fascination for outward issues, 2019 finds the Northlane gents fearlessly baring their souls on the upcoming belter 'Alien' at an especially unique time in their career. Marking their 10th anniversary this year, the end-result for the group's fifth full-length is one of unforeseen direction mixed with defiant and diverging confidence; a fact that perhaps comes as no surprise given the hellish time the five-piece spent battling the self-described "Northlane curse", including label communication issues, tour nightmares and bassist Alex Milovic leaving at a critical time in the band's progression. But where the hardships faced by the double ARIA-winning Northlane, both in personal and professional capacities, would have wavered and most likely halted so many other bands, the group's upcoming release is a lesson in defiance and tenacity that will not only rip your speakers apart at the seams with its metal-meets-EDM aesthetics - it also dishes up one of the most intensely impactful experiences that threatens sonic perfection.
'Alien' lands with elegant menace, as brawling opening track 'Details Matter' belts out down-tuned synths with dissonant drones clamouring beneath frontman Marcus Bridge's rasping and resounding war-cry: "You tried to break me, but I'm still here'. One of the lead singles 'Bloodline' unfurls next, pairing a truly gorgeous chorus over a maelstrom of heavy EDM madness. With glitching guitars and sci-fi synths hinting simultaneously at horror and hope, the track firmly sets the scene for the evolved Northlane modus operandi, while continuing to pick apart thematic insights into the turbulent childhood of Marcus Bridge.
Next up comes '4D', hurtling in like a Prodigy-addled freight train; overflowing with emotion and oozing garnished rhythmics, '4D' marks a hugely personal song for Bridge, detailing the passing of his father from an overdose with soaring vocal highs and growling lows amid a bleating, blasting and boisterous backdrop. Continuing the grit and upping the djent, 'Talking Heads' wears its metalcore soul on its sleeve as brawling riffs and basslines intertwine with every gamut of Bridge's vocal capacities, from clean and serene to deep gutteral roars. Marking one of the album's biggest groove-fests, it's near impossible not to find yourself head-banging along as the track levels up to a huge and threatening breakdown that will certainly whip up some mosh-fiends in a live setting.
TALKING HEADS (NORTHLANE)
Showing how to handle hugely personal themes without heavy-handed preaching, 'Freefall' comes next; a melodic gem wrapped up in surging synths and dueling distortion, the track recounts snippets of Bridge's terrifying childhood as the child of addicted parents, including the moment a man held his father at gunpoint in front of him. Not necessarily a subject matter many bands could handle with such roaring finesse, but between Bridge's explosive vocals and dangerously precise riffs and rhythmics, the track culminates in emotional turbulence and, ultimately, sonic brilliance.
It's at this point in 'Alien' that a stylistic divergence begins to take hold, from the occasionally offbeat frivolity of 'Jinn' to the sonic equivalent of Rammstein possessing Northlane for a Eurodance/metal hoedown with the lively distorted sparkplug that is 'Eclipse'. Following tracks 'Rift' and 'Paradigm' leap further down the new Northlane rabbit hole, thrusting electronic loops and floating textures on the former, with gritty vocals and sturdy beats shaping one of their more "approachable" metal cuts on the latter.
Bringing a welcome return to some djenty prog waters, 'Vultures' creeps in menacingly with eye-watering breakdowns and ballistic precision that creates a perfect sonic "ghost of Northlane's past" - the crushing heaviness nodding to their previous releases while also injecting a refreshing twist of tightly produced metalcore to proceedings. If you needed a sonic version of a wind-machine to spiral your hair into Beyonce proportions - 'Vulture' will do it in a very short space of time.
After a revolving door of industrial, metallic and weighty tones, closing track 'Sleepless' will emotionally destroy you with the knowledge of its backstory (Bridge's mother's inability to prevent his sister from succumbing to substance abuse), while flourishing brassy instrumentation beneath clean-cut electronic drums as Bridge laments "I can't reach your hand//I can't liberate you". In this pulsing, deliciously mixed drum 'n' bass outing, the heavy gets dialed-up just enough as Bridge soars into a triumphant and delirious climax. The raw and emotive vocals here are truly something special, providing a surprisingly fitting closure for an album that starts off brandishing its angst and ends in a form of despairing but dignified acceptance.
For an album that evolved under duress and despair, 'Alien' is a darkly audacious yet luminous beacon for the outliers and those who don't quite fit in. From its escalated production to the expansive sonic universes explored in each track, Northlane's latest release ultimately proves that taking chances, when placed in the right hands, can lead to unexpectedly welcome outcomes, Northlane have braved dark and dissolute depths and emerged with a clear-cut vision of the band they were, are and will be, and there's few who can match the musical orbit they've found themselves in with this new endeavour. Beam us up, Northlane.
NORTHLANE'S BRAND NEW ALBUM 'ALIEN' WILL OFFICIALLY UNLEASH NEXT FRIDAY AUGUST 2ND, PLUS YOU CAN CATCH THE GENTS LIVE IN ACTION AS THEY HIT THE ROAD TO CELEBRATE ALBUM #5 BOTH AT HOME AND ABROAD. FOR MORE INFO, HEAD HERE.
BY TIANA SPETER