Review Summary: Northlane breaks new ground in metalcore and strikes gold.
Northlane has long been a tale of two lineups- much like the subjects of geometry and algebra, many listeners have found themselves preferring one of the band’s vocalists over another. Up until today, Northlane has operated in two distinct spheres, representing the Fitipaldes and Bridge eras. For Alien
, the band brings back some of the popular (and well-executed) heavy trappings of old, to great success. Ultimately though, what makes this album stand out is the execution of industrial and electronic music wrapped within metalcore, taking the subgenre to a sound and place it has never quite been before.
As a result, the predictable and the unpredictable each come in waves on this album. The more groove-oriented sounds of Node and especially Mesmer remain present, but evolve into a heavier and more aggressive form than this listener would have expected from Northlane in 2019. Tracks like “Bloodline” and “4D” retain the melodic metal flows of the most recent era of the band, but consistently surprise and elate when they descend into skull-crushing madness. As an example, the latter fully embraces industrial metal in its intro, with an upbeat, almost Nine Inch Nails-esque drive, before a synth line breaks the track into unexpected open space. Just a moment later, the song turns yet another corner, before eventually falling into open-string oblivion. Just one track later on “Talking Heads”, the band cranks it from 10 to 11 with a straight-up doom metal ending that shows no ***ing mercy. Bassists will rejoice upon listening to this album, and numerous stank-faced moments await metal guitarists (or fans) of all creeds.
Some of the polyrhythmic and djent elements of this album (oh yes, it very much djents) have been compared to Meshuggah from the start. Although key portions of this album have the same polyrhythmic, relentless intensity of djent’s namesake, Alien
elevates itself above mere mimicry by retaining Northlane’s penchant for melody and making it work. Successfully integrating industrial metal and the best qualities of nu-metal just feels like an additional accomplishment. Alien
is at its best when it combines the “old”, heavier-minded Northlane sounds with the newer, more melodic flows of the current lineup’s output and ties them together with fresh electronic influences.
This isn’t to say the album is without its faults. The back half of the album is not consistently enthralling, and there are some moments in Alien
that may detract from the experience for some listeners. I was stunned by the harsh spoken-word sequence that leads into the cerebellum-shattering, C# drop-tuned breakdown of the aforementioned single “Talking Heads”, until I heard Bridge do almost the same thing with an inferior outcome on opening track “Details Matter”. There are also some listeners who will not like the attempts to meld together several of the above-mentioned musical elements, and time will help judge this fairly creative and bridging metalcore album.
At the end of the day, this isn’t old Northlane or the Northlane of the last four years, this is Northlane: Phase 3. With fresh musical influences and a pivot towards an entirely new direction, the band has given us a complex and realized glimpse of one way metalcore could evolve and branch out in the next decade.