REVIEW: Northlane – Mesmer

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Since the release of their debut album Discoveries in 2011, Northlane have experienced a meteoric rise through the metalcore scene, figuring out how to break into the international market and becoming one of the larger ‘heavy’ bands to come out of Australia in recent years.

The release of their third album Node, their first album with current vocalist Marcus Bridge (who replaced Adrian Fitipaldes, who left the band due to health reasons), saw Northlane transition to a more melodic, progressive sound, with a huge amount of clean vocals. Even with this change, Northlane reached #1 in the ARIA charts and embarking on several headlining tours around the world. However, with a vocal portion of their fans bristling to this change, it seems that Northlane still felt like they had something to prove on their latest album Mesmer, pushing the boundaries of their sound while delivering the best album of their career.

For the release of Mesmer, Northlane decided to switch it up, instead of the usual promotional technique for albums (announcement, a couple of singles and then release) they released mysterious announcements, cryptic videos and even a chatbot ARG before dropping a single song and then releasing Mesmer without any warning whatsoever a couple of days later.

While tons of bands push the whole ‘our new album is our heaviest yet most melodic’ message, in the case of Mesmer it’s the best way to describe it, as Northlane pushes the more melodic ideas first shown on Node into more ambient and alternative territories, while having some of the heaviest moments of the bands career.

Some tracks have moments where they sound akin to bands like A Perfect Circle on tracks like Solar and Heartmachine, while others have an strong post-hardcore influences (think the Saosin self-titled album) on the track Fade. However, on the flip side, the breakdowns on tracks such as Zero-One and Paragon having a distinct Meshuggah sound to them and tracks such as Intuition sees Northlane playing at a speed they didn’t get close to reaching on Node.

Mesmer sees vocalist Marcus Bridge really exploring his singing range, experimenting with several different styles throughout the album, from raspier cleans (Intuition), mid 2000s post-hardcore cleans (Fade) to deeper, more laid back singing (Solar), he also has a far more natural feel to his vocals on this album, giving several tracks an emotional, somber vibe, such as the chorus of Veridian. Mesmer sees Marcus having a rawer edge to his screams with more power behind them then on Node, however he exclusively sticks to his mid-range, While his screaming range may not as large as previous vocalist Adrian Fitipaldes, Marcus’ screaming rhythm and cadence seems to fit really well with the bouncy, groovy riffs present on Mesmer.

Instrumentally, Northlane haven’t sounded more in sync than on Mesmer, with one section of the band never showing off or overpowering the other parts and they bring a far more groovy sound on Mesmer than they used before, apparent on tracks like the opener Citizen.

Guitarists Jon Deiley and Josh Smith pack a large amounts of dense riffs into Mesmer, giving some tracks an Egyptian sounding groove and often have a large amount of notes present, giving these riffs a twisting, relentless power to them, such as the introduction to Render, the track Savage and the breakdown in Zero-One.

They also use a huge amount of ambient guitar lines throughout the album, with the juxtaposition with the riffs present accentuating their strength, while also enhancing the emotional impact of the choruses. Like Node, this is a very bass heavy album however, with bassist Alex Milovic leading a huge amount of the tracks, giving the album a thick bedrock on which the rest of the band builds upon. The drums of Nic Pettersen are always a highlight of a Northlane album and Mesmer is no different, with Nic showing off his ability to know when to use his entire kit or when to tone it down, depending on the track.

A new element that Northlane bring to the fore is the presence of electronics, giving the tracks extra texture as they often swirl around in the background, also being used to introduce several on the tracks before the band kicks in.

This brings me to the production, which is incredible crisp and clear, while having a punchy, thick sound, but it definitely sounds better of systems with a lot of bass, like Node, where it can sound a bit flat on systems that can’t produce a deeper sound. However, this is a decision that the band has made to give them a more natural, warm sounds that unfortunately cannot be replicated on every system. My main personal gripe with the production, done by David Bendeth, is that the drums sound a little bit too soft for my liking and the guitars have a slight thin edge to them.

Northlane is the second album where guitarist Josh Smith has acted as the bands lyricist, since they departure of Adrian in 2014 and sees him add a lot of emotional themes, such as relationship loss (Heartmachine) and euthanasia (Veridian), that weren’t as present on Node, which adds an extra dimension to the bands usual metaphysical, anti-authoritarian themes. The albums lyrical standout would have to be the closer Paragon, which is about the death of Architects guitarist Tome Searle, a band who has been an enormous influence on Northlane (and who they got their band name from).

“He once said to us, my friend, hope is a prison. But the hope his chords sung only spread love in a hollow crowned kingdom.”

To any Architects fan, it’s obvious that the lyrics directly reference several Architects tracks and gives the final track on Mesmer a mournful vibe.

As a whole, I found Mesmer to be a stronger version of Node, pushing into more melodic territory while also having some of the heavier moments of the discography. Mesmer sees Marcus Bridge really settle into his role as vocalist, showing off improvements in his singing and the band flexing their by muscles by playing with more urgency and experimentation than present on Node.

Rating: 8.5/10

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