Northlane – Node
Northlane are thinking so much bigger than what is expected of them, and in the process rendering futile any attempts to pigeonhole them. Hats off, gentlemen.
It took about three full listens. Three listens of the album in its complete form to really get what Northlane were doing on Node. It’s a grower, this one, but when it grows, boy does it grow.
However, Node will no doubt be divisive amongst the die-hard fans of the Sydney quintet, whose heavier djent-mosh roots catapulted them to international acclaim. If 2013’s Singularity was the son of Discoveries, then Node has to be the great-grand-nephew once-removed, and fans who’ve stuck with the band since the Hollow Existence EP-era will see that this is a different beast altogether. One might even go so far as to make comparisons to Bring Me The Horizon – not for the music itself, but for the fact that their sound continues to evolve by leaps and bounds with each record. This might not be their Sempiternal, but it might well be their There Is A Hell…, the one that sees them taking brave steps into new territory as they test the boundaries of their compositional capabilities.
Influences that were previously much less overt, such as Underoath, Karnivool, TesseracT and Linkin Park, seem to take on a much more prominent position in Node’s sonic catalogue, all put through the Northlane blender. It’s a refreshing mix with just the right hint of familiarity. After years of writing and performing on downtuned guitars, the band display a more refined knowledge of how to (and more importantly, how not to) make use of the range and tonality of their instruments. The hard-edged guitar sounds of the past have been replaced with slightly warmer tones and more prominent bass – less aggressive yet somehow just as effective.
It’s difficult to identify universal standout tracks as different moments will no doubt appeal to different ears. “Obelisk” opens with a mosquito-drone of guitar harmonics that grows into a crushing groove; the opening chorus of “Animate” is uplifting and unforgettable; “Leech” begins calmly and builds to a devastating machine-gun breakdown with just the right amount of space between its panned chugs – one of the few classic mosh moments on a record much more focused on atmosphere, feeling, and depth than on sating their crowd’s penchant for pitting.
But no matter how much Northlane have evolved instrumentally, it was always inevitable that the vocals would be the most heavily scrutinised part of Node, with brand new frontman Marcus Bridge facing the unenviable pressure of stepping into the shoes of original vocalist Adrian Fitipaldes. And while of course we can’t speak for everyone, Bridge gets an A+ from us. His soaring clean vocals, at times richly layered in harmony or left tastefully unadorned, are showcased in full, demonstrating a knack for expressive subtlety and control, and his coarse screams – while perhaps not as heavy as Fitipaldes’ lower roars – cut confidently through the mix like a knife. This is an album that simply could not have existed in the band’s previous incarnation – Bridge’s voice is the perfect complement to their new direction and while Node may not please every Northlane fan, the potential to reach a whole new audience is astronomical, and this record stands as proof that it will take a hell of a lot more than a change of frontman to derail their creative force. Northlane are thinking so much bigger than what is expected of them, and in the process rendering futile any attempts to pigeonhole them. Hats off, gentlemen.
The Essential Track: “Leech” – Climbs from a serene opening to a crushing midsection – a perfect transition from old to new.