Have you ever experienced the edge of a rainstorm? That odd border where the clouds give way to sun and there is a perfect dividing line between storm and shine? How about an oasis in a desert; a watering hole beset on all sides by miles and miles of barren, craggy desert? Or Fox Glacier, perhaps, where an almost-arctic glacial mass is placed quixotically in the midst of a tropical rainforest. If you have, then you’ve experienced the same majestic experience encapsulated in Sydney, Australia’s genre-defining progressive metalcore act Northlane, and their sophomore album, Singularity. The album transitions from gritty, rough heaviness to airy, ethereal atmosphere with buttery smoothness, all the while favoring thoughtful, detailed songwriting above every gimmick the “djent” genre has become synonymous with.
Singularity, in many ways is as craggy, barren and rough as the Sahara. “Genesis” fades subtly into “Scarab,” a track that shows the band’s jagged and more aggressive side. Featuring grinding, rigid guitar lines which outline rambunctious, perfunctory drumming that creates a linear, in-your-face atmosphere, which absolutely socks the listener. While the guitars create towering obelisks of rigid, unmovable aggression, the drums shake the earth, destroying everything else to be found on the ground. Meanwhile, the vocals soar high above the terrestrial bindings of the instruments, circling over the listener’s head and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. This perfect moment is found on the track “Masquerade,” the real knockout punch of Northlane’s more aggressive, belligerent side. With a devastatingly diverse vocal onslaught, topped off with a surprise guest vocal appearance that positively ambushes the listener, “Masquerade” is without a doubt a pinnacle of both the album, and of metalcore as a genre. While Singularity has moments of boundless heaviness and severe, lacerating breakdowns, it is a multifaceted release that is unafraid to show more than one of its faces.
There are moments of barren brutality that roam freely on Singularity, but, there are a near-equal number of lush, atmospheric and melodic moments as well. These moments are akin to the release’s oasis–its watering hole in the album’s figurative desert. Where heavy, back-busting breakdowns weigh down on the listener, refreshing, ethereal moments of absolute clarity bring calm and warmth to the listener. “Quantum Flux,” as well as “Dream Awake” do this exceptionally well. Featuring some of the album’s heaviest segments, they also feature Northlane at their most relaxed and calm, with soothing choruses and dynamic, soft moments of détente amidst the chaos. The albums title track, “Singularity,” does this as well. An instrumental, similar to the Discoveries’ title track, “Singularity” shows the band’s instrumental capacities stepping down from their usual rigorous and frenetic playing to work together on a supremely atmospheric level. Riffs that were obelisks of limitless power and drums that once toppled skyscrapers are now testaments to serenity and ethereal beauty. This doesn’t last for long, however, as “Singularity” fades into “Aspire,” the final track of the album, which really lets the listener know what Northlane are all about.
It isn’t the rough, crushingly desolate brutality, nor the lush, awe-inspiring beauty on Singularity which make it an archetype for metalcore albums to come. Not on their own, that is to say. It is how these elements work together with pure dynamism and synergy. There is no track on Singularity that highlights this better than the album’s closer, “Aspire.” Beginning with harsh vocals, quick drumming and chug-heavy, intricate riffing, “Aspire” looks as if the band is looking to go out on a relentless, rampaging note. However, quickly, the vocals and instruments transition and slow into a more melodic, atmospheric mode. All the while, brilliant, thoughtful lyrics lead the charge, constantly fitting the mood of the song without fading into the frenzy of the track. “Aspire” goes back and forth in this manner, constantly dropping the listener’s jaw and refusing to adhere to any one face of the band’s incredibly multifaceted nature. While nearly every track behaves like this to some degree–incorporating subtle atmosphere or sinister heaviness as a spicy transitional element–“Aspire” makes an entire song out of it, without sounding too busy or forced. The simple truth is that nothing Northlane do throughout Singularity is emotionless, forced, brittle or complacent. Every syllable is screamed and sung with gut-wrenching emotion. Every lyric is written with ounces of thought poured into it. Every riff is written to combine dynamically with every crack of the snare and splash of the cymbal. Singularity is pure art. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you’ve had it with run-of-the-mill, trend-hopping “djent,” or bland, uninspiring metalcore, look no further than Northlane’s Singularity. This release is water to the thirst-ridden genre; the first rainfall to metalcore’s parched desert. There isn’t anything to say about this album–or this band–that hasn’t already been said. Filled with darkness and light, fire and ice, space and earth, Singluarity is a perfection of the heavy-soft dynamic which begs not just to be listened to, but crowned king of an expansive domain–or at the very least, king of your computer’s play count.
By: Connor Welsh
For Fans Of: Volumes, The Bride, Erra, Elitist