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In retrospect: Northlane’s ‘Singularity’

Despite being the perennial underdogs on the global music stage, Australia has never been short of quality heavy bands proudly flying the flag for slamming tunes of uncompromising quality. From the electrified hyperactivity of AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock to the grunge leanings of Silverchair and Spiderbait, to modern heavyweights Polaris, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and everything in between, the sunburnt country has steadily racked up a solid history of riffs to form a damn fine legacy.

It’s this legacy that we choose to honour here at BLUNT with this, our In Retrospect series, casting back over a collection of seminal homegrown records that will forever be in the national trophy cabinet of heavy music excellence. And what better way to highlight that than with current trailblazers Northlane and their breakout 2013 LP Singularity?

Since their inception in 2009, there was hardly a time when Northlane weren’t hyped as the ones destined to follow in the footsteps of Australian metalcore pioneers like Parkway Drive, The Amity Affliction and I Killed The Prom Queen in taking local produce to rabid headbangers around the planet. Combining the guttural breakdowns that ruled the ’00s with the technical precision and crystal-clear production found in contemporaries like TesseracT and Periphery, there was a distinct ‘slickness’ about the group.  

Debut LP Discoveries set tongues wagging at national blogs and radio stations alike (lead single ‘Dispossession’ still occupies a key place in Aussie heavy folklore), with the band almost instantaneously going from youth centre heroes to mainstays on laps of the country, supporting the likes of August Burns Red, House Vs. Hurricane and Parkway, often blowing the headliners off the stage in the process. By 2013, they had quickly become one of the most exciting Australian acts we’d had to date, filling small theatres around the country and inspiring teenagers to try their hand at odd-metre riffs.

However, the international market still largely eluded the group, down mostly to the risk it would take for a label to invest in a band from the isolated island continent, still relatively unknown for its heavy output bar a select few acts. Cue second LP Singularity, the breakout release that saw the band strut right on past the expectations of the local community, forging their own unique musical path that made their peers look positively amateur.

Taking the band’s proggy leanings and trimming the fat, Singularity was in equal parts musically dazzling and hooky, turning bedroom djentcore into an accessible and exciting prospect for the casual heavy fan. It was a release that sent shockwaves through the metalcore world, and broke Northlane into the broader international market in the process. 

As guitarists Josh Smith and Jonathan Deiley, and producer Will Putney tell us, it was a huge payoff for the band, who were working to the tightest of deadlines to get the album done.

“I was really excited about the band after we finished working on Discoveries,” reveals Putney. “I remember showing it to a bunch of people in America, a handful of labels and all… It’s hard when it’s a smaller local Australian band for a US label to really bite. It takes a lot of money. But I remember thinking, ‘This is going to work, someone has to pay attention to this.’ There was an immediate vibe change with Singularity, though. It wasn’t until the songs were done in the studio that I realised that this record was going to be something special.”

“We were just going through the motions though, there was no way of knowing what it was going to be,” Deiley interjects. “We were still writing when we went into the studio. That’s all I gave a shit about, just trying to get it finished, because we only had half a record when we went in to do it. We didn’t set ourselves a time limit, but we had maybe a week and a half to finish the writing. It was a real crunch. We had four weeks for the whole record.” 

“We had the anxiety cave set up for Jon – it was so nobody would bother him while he was finishing it off – people would just slide food under the door to him,” laughs Putney.

Despite having just over a month to start and finish an entire album, the pressure cooker situation resulted in a slew of unforgettable songs, from the frantic thrashing of ‘Scarab’ and ‘Masqueradeto the larger-than-life soundscapes captured on ‘Worldeater’, ‘Windbreaker’ and ‘Dream Awake’. However, it was lead single ‘Quantum Flux’ that would change the lives of the band, and launch the career that has carried them to where they are today.

“We re-wrote the whole beginning of ‘Quantum Flux‘, changed what Adrian [Fitipaldes, frontman at the time] was saying… Adrian was really on it with all these songs, he would take on any feedback and almost immediately re-write stuff,” recalls Putney. “There was a moment before the vocals [on ‘Quantum Flux’], though, that we really weren’t sure about. There was a point where that [track] was towards the bottom of the pile.”

“I didn’t see ‘Quantum Flux’ as a popular song at the time,” adds Smith, revealing that the band were trusting their advisors’ instincts by releasing it as a single. He continues: “It was the label that really pushed us to release it as the single. Literally all we did back then was play Age Of Empires – we really didn’t know what we were doing. We figured, ‘Well, these guys are a record label, so let’s do what they say.’” 

The song has gone on to become the band’s biggest, amassing over 16 million streams on Spotify and serving as a staple of their live set. Showcasing their more melodic and compositional chops, with the first half of the tune trading their trademark breakdowns and screamed vocals for floaty ambience, it represented the innovative push of Singularity, proving Northlane had the makings of world-class songsmiths – a huge leap forward from the scene lords doing punk jumps at Blacktown Masonic Hall mere months earlier.

“Both Discoveries and Singularity were proggy in a structural sense, but Adrian and Will made sense of all those ‘hooky’ parts, the parts that I didn’t consider to be a ‘chorus’. They decided that was the hook and went all in on it,” says Deiley. “I remember looking through even the lyrical content and looking for what the big moments were,” adds Putney. “There were multiple points where I kept thinking, ‘This can’t get lost in all the sauce of the big sounds.'”

The extra attention given to songcraft paid off in spades. Upon release, preceded by considerable online hype by the band’s label at the time in UNFD, Singularity quickly gained momentum, peaking at #3 on the ARIA Charts and earning the band a nomination for the J Award from youth broadcaster triple j, a huge coup for a band performing technically savvy metalcore in an area dominated by acts like Vance Joy and Flume.

National and international touring quickly followed, with the band making their US and European debuts, as well as earning a slot on the acclaimed Big Day Out festival in 2014. Not even that year’s departure of the wildly popular and outspoken Fitipaldes could slow the momentum of the band; the drama of the situation LED to a highly publicised search for a new frontman, resulting in the eventual recruitment of Marcus Bridge to launch the incredible second act of their career.

It was Singularity that paved the way for the band to continue innovating and experimenting, with each new release following suit in the tradition of musical growth first exemplified so wonderfully here. “With this album, what I saw was Jon trusting his instincts with the material. When this record did what it did, it grew confidence which has led us to keep experimenting as time has gone on,” says Smith. “You have to keep innovating, otherwise the sound becomes so dated.”

“We had a lot of back and forth on that record and didn’t see eye-to-eye on certain parts…I think the band left having really learnt how to stand up for what they believed in,” adds Putney. “That’s an essential part of getting better with making records.”

Northlane have certainly continued to refine and better themselves with each subsequent release, with this year set to see the follow-up to 2019’s Alien, a record considered by many as their finest to date. However, it was on Singularity that they first proved that not only were they streets ahead of their peers, they could also remain there and retain their loyal following despite diving headfirst into a world of innovation and change. Therein lies where the magic happens for Northlane.

Just blast ‘Masquerade’ if you want any proof.