Published Jul 31, 2019Over the past four albums, Northlane's sound has steadily transitioned in a relatively predictable fashion. Their early stuff was concussive, djent-y, and heavy as shit, while their two most recent records favoured more of a melodic direction that made substantial use of ambient textures and synths. Sounds familiar, right?
While it sounds like a classic case of a heavy band selling out, Northlane's sonic trajectory has never really been a point of contention, as their gradual progression always felt like it evolved naturally with each subsequent release. Even following the departure of former vocalist Adrian Fitipaldes in 2014, Northlane managed to embrace the change and continue in their evolution without missing a step.
When Northlane announced their fifth full-length, many expected them to continue along their trajectory and deliver somewhat of a continuation to 2017's Mesmer. What we get instead is Alien, an album as foreign as its name would suggest.
Northlane have fully subverted all expectations with Alien, delivering an album that has not only reinvigorated a band on the verge of becoming stale, but also a genre that has been nearing a dead end.
Alien employs a dynamic range of musical styles, most notable from the dance floor. While metal and electronica have been hooking up for decades, most metal bands typically borrow from techno and dubstep and the result usually sounds the same. Northlane's approach feels novel, specifically their use of '90s breakbeat and drum & bass.
Northlane also experiment with some new guitar tones on Alien, ditching the djent in favour of a tone that sounds like a chainsaw being put through a blender. The result at times makes the guitars sound more like a sawtooth synth, but the effect lends itself well to the overall sound.
There are moments on Alien reminiscent of the Prodigy, Korn, Aphex Twin, Linkin Park and Hadouken!, yet the sound is still melodic, heavy, and distinctly Northlane. The sum of all these parts sounds like Northlane want to lead the nu-metal's renaissance, and if Alien is any indication, we're in for a treat.
While Alien is sure to piss off purists who will inevitably complain about it sounding too digital and over-produced, it's certainly a refreshing addition to metal's current landscape, and, at the very least, an interesting exploration of the genre, its limits and its potential. (UNFD)