April 20, 2024

New Fury Media

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Infinite Potential: For Northlane, musical exploration and harrowing themes are embedded in their (4-D)NA

For Australia’s Northlane, there are generally two schools of thought when it comes to their fanbase. Essentially, it boils down to the debate between former vocalist Adrian Fitipaldes (who left the band after their sophomore album Singularity) and the man that replaced him, Marcus Bridge. To be fair, Adrian’s presence in the scene – and in Northlane themselves – was a strong one. He remains an impressive talent that only departed due to health issues, and specifically the stress that comes from a touring musician lifestyle.

Still, though, Marcus Bridge has proven to be a good fit for the band, especially as they’ve evolved. In fact, their last three albums have done a good job at introducing new sounds and influences to the mix, while still operating under a familiar framework. In particular, it’s Northlane’s last two records, Alien and Obsidian, that have drawn the most mixed reactions of their career to date. Alien introduced heavy industrial, EDM, and nu-metal influences that weren’t prominent (or didn’t exist, really), while 2022’s Obsidian furthered the band’s electronic influences, honing them to a sharp edge. Pressing further into the kinds of collaborations with electronic artists that break exciting new ground, they feel like a natural evolution of their sound and not added in as filler material.

Even in the early stages of their rise to prominence, Northlane have always been a band that tried to innovate and bring new ideas to the table. On their 2011 debut album Discoveries, they immediately got to work establishing an identity for themselves. Opening track “Dispossession” showcases this quite effectively, with inventive drum fills and patterns from Nic Pettersen (who amazingly, continues to excel on each record since), and a solid balance of intensity and melodicism that went on to inspire a host of bands in the very near future.

What Northlane did on 2013’s Singularity, though, is still having reverberations in the scene today. Rarely does a sophomore album stir up this much commotion in the heavy music scene. What’s more is that Singularity’s focus on ambient soundscapes and lyrical positivity never come across as tacked-on or (hollowly) existing. Instead, Singularity was (and still is) an album of personal identity and discovery (do the puns ever end here?) that still resonates with many. Nobody will ever forget the first time they heard songs as powerful as “Quantum Flux”, which examines the exploration of infinite possibilities and reaching your full potential as an individual. Paired with the song’s strong melodic tendency, and it’s not a surprise why the song remains arguably their signature.

Northlane have always been a band that can tackle difficult subjects and discuss them very, very effectively. On “Paragon”, which is dedicated to late Architects guitarist Tom Searle, Northlane interspersed references to multiple Architects lyrics while channeling the kind of emotional impact that can only come from losing a friend. Rife with themes of self-discovery, following your intuition, and government surveillance, 2017’s Mesmer also explored more ambient influences that showcased the band straying further from their (metal)core sound – though impressively, not alienating (lol) it completely. Compared to its predecessor Node, Northlane and then-new vocalist Marcus Bridge seemed to gain major confidence after some time passed – though Node’s song structures and musical outlays continued to present a slow evolution toward something huge.

If you want to hear a truly dark turn in Northlane’s sound, you really need to absorb what the band accomplished on both Alien and Obsidian. The former, in particular, contains some of the darkest lyrics and stories you’ll hear in the genre. Many of them are genuinely uncomfortable, especially where Marcus Bridge opens up about his childhood and upbringing. “Bloodline” covers the themes of rising above difficult phases of growing up, and in Bridge’s case, being raised in the hell that is abuse and witnessing things no child should ever see, but still making it out. Paired with the music video that accompanies it, it’s one of many songs on Alien that present harrowing tales. And it only really starts there. In fact, the first four-song run of Alien is basically untouchable, setting the tone for the album immediately. Album opener “Details Matter” has a heavy nu-metal and industrial influence that you’ll feel is almost certain to come unhinged at any moment (and it does, near the end). “Talking Heads” accomplishes a similar goal, as its exploration of mental health themes and the difficulty in connecting with others can both stem from trauma endured.

Out of darkness, however, comes hope.

From a musical perspective, however, both records explore industrial metal, nu-metal, and notably, drum and bass influences. This is where Northlane have gotten very bold indeed, as merging electronic influences with an already established sound is something that doesn’t always see great execution. They did collaboration with PhaseOne, after all. Yet again, this blending of styles tends to mesh well with the darker themes present in their newer material. Two examples of this include “Eclipse”, which might sound like a cyber-influenced rave but the lyrics tell a far different story, and standout single “Carbonized”, which attacks abusers and predators who deserve to be held accountable for their actions. There’s also “4-D”, whose drum and bass influence is strongly felt in a song that gets compared to Linkin Park quite a bit, while “Xen” is a strong contender for the catchiest song Northlane have ever written. Guitar solo? Check. Echo-laden guitars with spiffy effects? Yes. Inventive drumming from Nic Pettersen? I mean yeah. Also, Marcus Bridge’s vocals completely sell the vocals, making for a coalescing of all of Northlane’s best features. There’s really not a better way of putting it – this shit is fucking COOL. And it’s also not out of place from a stylistic perspective.

For Northlane, every album cycle is an opportunity to reinvent themselves. One of the rare bands in the scene that you can count on not to make the same exact record twice, they’re still finding ways to stay relevant even six full-lengths into their career. That in and of itself is impressive, but when you combine that with their obvious musical talent, and you have a recipe for continued success.

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