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Review: Northlane – Node

I’ll say this much before the review really begins; buy Northlane’s new album Node. Use whatever outlet you find most convenient. You owe it to yourself to purchase this album, even if you’re not a fan of metalcore. If it being a great album is not enough of a reason, buy it for the story. 2015’s Node has quite the tale behind it, and I aim to tell it from a personal perspective many people can identify with, hopefully.

I also owe the readers an open disclosure; Northlane is an important band to me. In reality I am probably biased in my analysis. All of us have bands we love, for one reason or another, so I hope I can be forgiven, because this disclosure is not meant to blunt my forthcoming opinion of Northlane or Node.

I discovered the metalcore band when they were just young upshots making quite a bit of noise in Australia back in 2011. It was in the winter, after quite the tumultuous autumn, which was just a myriad of self-induced existential crises following poorly planned and executed sexcapades that accompanies your freshman year of college. Like many people, metal music turned into the only respite I had, helping me make sense of a world I was clearly overcomplicating. I was just discovering the wealth of talented metal bands from Australia, and Northlane turned up in the pile.

Discoveries was a thought provoking, fun, and intense release I love to this day. It distracted me when I needed it, because I could get lost in every song. Each song had a message to ponder, with lyrics that demanded attention. It was all over the map, but that didn’t diminish how cohesive the sound was. It was an impressive display, and in my estimation, the most impressive part had to be vocalist Adrian Fitipaldes. One could go on and on about the musicianship (and don’t worry, I’ll get to it, there’s a review here, I promise) but that little dude with a message inarguably stole the show. The themes important to him as a lyric writer were great, and of consequence, and of consequence to me specifically as a listener that cared. He carried it on to the band’s follow up, Singularity. He had an undeniable energy, and you have no fucking idea how much I hate to talk about he and Northlane in the past tense.

I won’t say anything other than it was devastating to hear of Adrian’s departure from Northlane in September 2014. Northlane felt like a band that was growing in the same ways, and at the same pace I was as a person. Admittedly, I was worried about the future and what Northlane would become without him. They were one of the bands helping me make sense of the world, and his words and his voice were too familiar to just forget. They took the time to carefully select another vocalist, they patiently crafted a new sound, and released a few singles before dropping Node.

Before its release, I knew I was incapable of looking at Node through any lens other than “Well, Adrian woulda…” I am admitting it, mostly because I know so many of you had the same thought process. I am also admitting it because, as anyone who has listened to this gem can tell you, looking through that lens is a mistake.

Losing Adrian hurt, but Northlane have proved something important with Node. Their sound, and their identity, was not inextricably linked to Adrian. In hindsight, it seems stupid to have ever been worried. This band is filled with crafty, clever, and talented musicians. Adrian was a great, dynamic vocalist. Marcus Bridge is every bit as dynamic, in a different way. His clean vocals frankly outclass Adrian’s (a large reason for the expanded use of singing on Node,) and while his screams are middling and lack Adrian’s range, his lyrics are incredibly catchy, and his voice is clear.

“Soma” is a great starter for the album. The song is a slow starting lull, but the first breakdown levels you. The line “I refuse to die here!” followed by an uncomplicated, methodical breakdown has been stuck in my head since I heard it.  Marcus then sings an extended section, a common 1-2 combination used in this album, showing his skills, and how he plans on distinguishing himself from Adrian.

The band helps him, immensely. “Soma,” “Obelisk,” and “Node” are excellent songs that show the new sound Northlane is aiming for. This a prog metal sounding type of metalcore release. Northlane was always a very high energy band. They had their slow sections, but it was usually always to sucker you into a heavy breakdown or to launch you into a soaring chorus. If Singularity seemed a step back, I cannot imagine what one would say about this album. The three songs mentioned all have elements of the Northlane so many people love, but as whole, the band is more composed. Their heavy energy is more pointed and targeted than ever before, and it gives each song its own unique vibe. “Node” has a wonderful, singalong chorus, “Obelisk” has the t-shirt worthy “I will show you fear in a handful of dust!” lyric leading to the best breakdown on the album. All of these songs are great, and it easy to tell they were written to showcase what Marcus is strong at doing.

My favorite quality of this album is that the prog metal ambiance does not add fluff. Rightly or wrongly, one, of my biggest issues with prog metal is that it seems to take those bands 4-7 and a half minutes to make a point (sorry Periphery, I can’t do it.) Node is progressive-leaning metalcore, with a point, and I commend it for that. The slow, deliberate sections do not drone on. “Ohm” is a good example of this, with very pointed guitars, and a funky ass bass solo. The interlude track “Nameless” is a nice change of pace, hypnotic and uncomplicated as it leads into the first song Northlane released with Marcus, “Rot.” It has the same general formula, a slow bass heavy lull, followed by a stupidly heavy breakdown, as some of the previous songs, but the formula does not get tiring. This song showcases the band’s ability to transition quickly between soft and heavy, slow and speedy riffs, and harsh and soaring vocals.

“Leech” is the best song in my opinion. The clear dichotomy the band is trying to establish couldn’t be on a fuller display. Leech pulls you in, lifts you up, and then drags you down. The range of the band as a whole is most impressive. Vocally, Marcus shines with both his cleans and his screams. The guitars are lofty, and then they crunch. Well placed lines like “Cover your footprints like a band-aid on a broken arm,” “You fell asleep while your bed burned,” “The streams of least resistance poison me and poison you,” “Follow me underwater, until the searchlights leave the shore,” are everywhere in this song. Pick your favorite. The song is full catchy lines, and the vibe of the entire song is intoxicating, “Impulse” follows, and is about as good, some may say better.

The album ends on “Weightless,” “Ra,” and “Animate.” “Weightless” is a song that falls victim to not getting to the point quick enough. The song drones on, and there isn’t a satisfying payoff. “Ra” redeems it. It punches hard, though the transitions are a little predictable by this point in the album. “Ra” may be the heaviest song the album, and I highly recommend sticking around for the breakdown at about 2 minutes in. The closing “Animate” is the near anthemic song you expect at the end of an album like this. The song is good, but doesn’t offer anything new. The three final songs may catch your ear if listening on shuffle, but if listening straight through, they may not stick.

The less than stellar close to the album does not diminish how good this album is. To hit home runs on 8 consecutive tracks is more than great. Nothlane erased the doubts, and have forged themselves a new path that will see them continue their success. Adrian’s departure barely qualifies as a speed bump. Node is a well-produced, smart album that is clearly cognizant of the strengths and limits of their new vocalist. Northlane does an excellent job of using the empty space in their music to great effect. “Soma,” “Rot,” “Obelisk,” and “Leech” do a great job of this, though it is an element in all of the songs. It creates the illusion that the band is lowering their energy, but this serves to hide the heaviest moments in the album. This album does not bore, and it did not disappoint me, despite my prior allegiances. I scrutinized the hell out of this album, and to still come away with this glowing of a review should say quite a bit about how good Node is, and how anyone worried about life post-Adrian can rest easy.

You can purchase Node on iTunes and just about any other online marketplace.

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