Review Summary: Northlane's second effort with Marcus Bridge is an explosive demonstration of evolution and raw talent, but doesn't quite live up to previous releases.
*EDIT* I've changed my review score from a 3.5 to a 3. After reading some of your comments and giving the album multiple listens since first publishing this review, based on Sputnik's rating system I find this to be a more fitting reflection of what's actually here on this record.
Australian Metalcore heavy weights, Northlane, have just Beyonce'd the scene with a surprise album drop. 'Mesmer' is Northlane's fourth full length release, and their second with vocalist Marcus Bridge at the forefront. With him now fully settled into the role, this record proves that Bridge belongs in this band, and quells any doubts voiced about him to begin with.
I'd like to start off by saying that I have been a longtime Northlane fan; from 2011's 'Discoveries' I've followed this band, and like many others I was shocked when former front man Adrian Fitipaldes stepped down. When Bridge joined the band, it felt like the end of an era, albeit a very short one. However, it is now exceptionally clear he has ushered through a new era of Northlane, and it's not far short of the first.
This album is noticeably better produced than Node. The instrumentation is powerful and punchy, with a crunching guitar tone and a stunningly present bass being the gems of the mix here. I can't help but feel that the drums are too quiet, which is a shame really, considering the immense talent of Nic Pettersen behind the kit. That being said, Pettersen still shines if you pay attention to what he's doing, which you should, because he's remarkable. The subtle use of synthesizers and ambient sounds on this record are a very nice addition, something that compliments Bridge's clean vocals well. The band know their strengths and play to them. Fortunately, Northlane possess a lot of strengths, so there's plenty to be had here. Overall, not as well produced as their 2013 effort, Singularity, but then again, not much is.
Bridge really flaunts his vocal talents in a big way throughout this record, with his clean singing being the real highlight of the 43 minute play time. On tracks like Solar, Intuition and Veridian he fully utilizes his impressive range when singing, some of the notes he hits on these tracks had me skipping back to listen to them again, something that can't be said for their previous releases. The only critique I can give of him is the lack of variety in his harsh vocals, Bridge rarely ventures outside of mid ranged screams, and whilst he serves a unique tone and cadence in that sense, it can at times prove disengaging. Thankfully the instrumental here, especially the drums, gives you something else to pay attention to when this eventuality occurs, and is equally as enjoyable.
In all honesty, whilst still refreshing and unique in a genre so overly saturated with open chord chugs and bland riffs, the instrumentation on this record doesn't blow me away like it did on their first two releases. It feels absent of the sheer level of creativity you'd hear on tracks like Quantum Flux or Discoveries. Whether that is down to refining their sound or the new direction they've taken, I don't often find myself excited when listening to it, which I did for literally every second of their first two albums. Maybe I was younger and more easily impressed in 2013, judging by the girls I was into I probably was, but I can't help but feel a little underwhelmed when I know the same band wrote Genesis and Scarab, which to this day is the sickest way I've ever heard an album open. Ever.
There's an almost mid 2000's Post Hardcore vibe at times on this record. It's a little strange to hear in 2017, but at the same time provides a sense of nostalgia. If you were into bands like Saosin or Emarosa back in the day, there's definitely something for you here. This is especially present in verses where Bridge is singing or the instrumentation is a little less heavy, and definitely shines through on some of the choruses. I think Heartmachine is a fine example of this, and is one of my favourite tracks on the record.
Overall, if you're a Northlane, Metalcore or Post Hardcore fan, this record is worth a listen. Whilst it's no Singularity, it's interesting to hear how Northlane have evolved since that record. My personal favourite tracks are Heartmachine, Solar, Render, and the album's atmospheric closer, Paragon, which serves as a tribute to late Architects guitarist Tom Searle, who passed away last August after a long battle with cancer. Northlane are as strong as ever, and the surprise release of this record is a testament to their endurance, integrity and passion for their work. Bravo, Northlane, bravo.