Album review: Northlane – Alien
While their fellow countrymen in Parkway Drive have taken their sound in a more expansive, stadium-sized direction in recent years, Australia’s Northlane have taken a more progressive path. Still, up until their last album, 2017’s Mesmer, they remained blatantly a metalcore band at heart, holding on to everything that rooted them in that scene, with electronic and prog flourishes livening up their sound. On the self-produced Alien, this is no longer strictly the case, since they have embraced electronic music with an undeniable verve, making it a core element rather than embellishment, and in doing so delivered a record that defiantly stands apart from the movement that spawned them, and indeed their own past. It’s an ambitious, dark and haunting collection, and likely to polarise any fans who may not be ready for such an evolution.
That you’re in new territory is apparent from the get-go, with opener Details Matter making it clear that this is a different beast. With guitars tuned just about as low as they can go, it’s a jagged, ugly creation, dense with programmed and synthesised elements, as vocalist Marcus Bridge loses his proverbial shit over the top. Much of the record requires some investment, making it a less immediate listen in some ways, but for the most part it’s worth putting the time in.
This isn’t to say that there is an all-out absence of catchiness, and the atmospheric Rift is quite beautiful in its way, while the pulsating single Bloodline sports a vocal melody in places perhaps reminiscent of Untouchables-era Korn. Soaring choruses do show up periodically, and there’s a searing melodic guitar break in 4D, but it’s hard to escape the sense that this heavily-layered record is supposed to be hard work, challenging to the listener, and on occasion it feels like guitars are added as an afterthought, there to thicken the mix rather than lead the charge.
While the title might lead you to assume the record is a continuation of the spacey themes explored on previous Northlane releases, it actually refers to the alienation experienced by Marcus as a child, and this is a much more personal collection that looks inward rather than out. Screaming about the voices in his head in Talking Heads brings with it a genuine discomfort, as you’re made privy to some of his darkest moments. This honesty, coupled with a strong performance throughout, is to the record’s benefit.
Whether it’s the Northlane album you might have expected or hoped for, there’s no denying that they have created something unique, creative, and with no small amount of integrity. And, you sense, they’ll relish the mix of reactions.
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