Some bands become archetypical of an entire genre; they become the name and face of a style of music simply by success and infamy. You can’t go to a music festival without seeing one of their shirts, nor can you call yourself a fan of the genre without at least being familiar with their music. For better or worse, it’s true—and it places an enormous amount of pressure on the band to deliver strong releases time and time again. Australia’s Northlane fit this bill for progressive metalcore to a tee, and are one of few bands that have done nothing but improve on their sound with each release—until, that is, their latest album, Node. Aptly named, Node is an underwhelming departure from their spirit-filled and passionate sound that strikes the listener as empty. Northlane find themselves, finally, acquainted with mediocrity, giving the listener a figurative desert of sound with spare oases of creativity and energy, leaving the listener parched and desperate for more.
Where many will claim the biggest issue with Northlane’s Node is their stylistic shift away from a more aggressive sound and towards a greater emphasis on atmosphere, that isn’t entirely the case. Without editorializing, bands should strive to tweak their sound with each release; it’s part of the maturation process and here, Northlane have embraced that. What keeps Node from succeeding in this venture is simply that it feels creatively void. Instrumentally, the band are as talented as ever, with tracks like “Soma” and “Ra” being energetic examples of the Northlane we know and love. However, tracks like “Weightless” are intentionally ambient but seem lacking in actual content. Furthermore, some tracks transcend boredom into blatant, cringe-worthiness. “Impulse,” an otherwise strong song is ruined by the chorus that feels as if it was improvised—and poorly at that. Fortunately, moments like those are extraordinarily rare—as a majority of the album simply seems to pass by without actively engaging the listener, leaving only moments of truly stunning beauty or bold, brash heaviness to content with moments of equally stunning stumbles that see Northlane falling flat on their face.
Not all is lost, however. Northlane’s relatively barren album is redeemed by sparse wellsprings of immense power and moving poignancy reminiscent of the band’s previous successes. First and foremost, the band’s instrumentally prowess is unaffected, and, their new vocalist, Marcus Bridge is certainly talented, especially where soaring cleans are concerned. Node begins strongly with “Soma” and “Obelisk” that weave together ironclad threads of jarring heaviness with a greater inclusion of subtle, softer elements that link together the chug-laden portions of each song. The re-recorded debut single, “Rot,” is another strong link in Northlane’s chain—with clean vocals and uplifting harmonies as catchy as the track’s climactic breakdown is crushing. Similarly, “Ra” beautifully contrasts lighter, ethereal elements with dissonant, devastating heaviness in a manner that seems slightly akin to Singularity’s “Aspire.”
Northlane seem as though they have traded the symbolism and immensity of Singularity’s desert for a more literal, barren and dry desert heard on Node. With few moments that are actively bad—and only slightly more moments that are truly powerful, a majority of Northlane’s album simply is; a testament to lackluster songwriting given a lustrous sheen by above-par production and smooth flow. There is no “blame” to place for the band’s missteps on Node: no need to cast frontman Bridge as the devil, nor is it such a monumental style change that a majority of listeners will find it unpalatable. Bridge is a talented vocalist that performs well throughout the album—his strengths lie in clean singing, which is a likely impetus for Northlane’s shift towards ambience and serenity. However, rather than a meaningful and deliberate attempt at tranquility and subtlety, Northlane instead produce an album that seems to be dominated by tracks that the band would have previously used as filler. From the second “Obelisk” is done, the listener may as well take a ten-minute nap until “Rot” kicks in—and even longer if they’ve worn themselves out on the single. Node isn’t the sound of a band moving forwards or backwards—nor is it the sound of a band stepping sideways. Rather it is the sound of a band that seems to have stalled out completely, and one can only hope it is to collect themselves and redouble their efforts for their next release.
For Fans Of: In Hearts Wake, The Amity Affliction, Erra, Ground Tracer
By: Connor Welsh