REVIEW: Napoleon – Newborn Mind [2016]


Artist: Napoleon 

Album: Newborn Mind


For a band without many true releases under their belt, Exeter-based melodic hardcore act Napoleon have a lot in common with the emperor that is their namesake. I’m not speaking in reference to their height—they could all be clones of Andre the Giant for what I know—however, no matter how gargantuan their stature, their immense, intense and relentless blend of melodic and mathy hardcore dwarves even the greatest achievements from everyone’s favorite French warlord. On their debut full-length record, Napoleon blend brash, aggressive hardcore with dizzying displays of dynamic fretwork and breathtaking harmonies to entrance the listener—ensuring that by the time Newborn Mind has run its course, the listener’s perceptions of all things melodic hardcore will also be born anew.

Newborn Mind is a far cry from any sort of melodic hardcore release out there. Borrowing a penchant for emotion from the likes of their peers, Create to Inspire, yet lacing every song with a ferociously technical edge reminiscent of Counterparts-meets-Maps and Atlases, Napoleon have a truly unique sound that will have the listener hooked from the get-go. Percussionist James Mendoza wastes no time, leaping out of the gate with the drive and power of ten galloping Clydesdales on “Dystopia.” Mendoza is the heart (hopped up on ten kilos of crack cocaine) that beats furiously throughout Newborn Mind. His work on “Brought Here to Suffer” and the titular “Newborn Mind” is frantic, oscillating between flashy footwork and lightning like blast beats—while “Maps” is an upbeat and dancy track that sees Mendoza working excellently with bassist Jacob Brelsford. Brelsford sticks tight with Mendoza throughout much of Newborn Mind—adding heft and density to heavier portions like those on “Remedy,” yet bouncing with a slightly lighter and more energetic candor during “Of Jams, Smokes and Promises.” Brelsford adds a distinctly groovy element to the release (which fits, as Napoleon refer to themselves as Melodiposipassiongroove) that guitarist Sam Osborn plays off of perfectly. Upon your first foray into Newborn Mind, you will likely be surprised that the entirety of the mind-boggling guitar work comes from two people—let alone just one. Every track is Osborn’s playground—and where “Maps” (which truly feels like a math rock song) and “Utopia” are dancy and up-beat, “Stargazer” and “Newborn Mind” are examples of heavier and more aggressive songs. Rarely—if ever—does Osborn attack the listener with a simple, generically chugged breakdown; instead he takes a more technical and tedious path with an infinitely more immense payoff. Almost every “heavy” moment is spiced up with Osborn’s furious fretwork, making every climax truly special. To be blunt, every song highlights Osborn’s talent to some degree–it’s just the extent and the emotion with which he shreds that varies.

Where Napoleon’s gargantuan musicianship have the “melodi-” and “groove” parts of their self-prescribed genre covered, it’s up to frontman Wes Thompson to fill in the blanks—which he does brilliantly. Thompson predominantly switches between a breathtaking cleanly sung voice and a gritty, raw mid-range yell. Songs like the soft-spoken “Maps” rely heavily on the former, as does the closing song. However, “Newborn Mind” and “Of Jams, Smokes and Promises” sees his roaming fluidly between the two, using them both brilliantly. Where Thompson’s voice is harsh and intense, his lyrical content sways more towards a dialectic struggle between depression and positivity—and where his screams break into clean, soaring syllables, his lyrics triumph over emotional darkness and instability. In this fashion, Thompson doesn’t just blindly pick-and-choose vocal styles based on whimsy; he truly crafts each song to resemble a struggle between two figurative wolves, pleading that the listener should feed the right one.

If unyielding and expertly written music with powerful, personal lyrics aren’t enough to convince you to give Napoleon a chance, then consider how the album flows. Far from a simple collection of songs, Newborn Mind embodies a struggle to overcome negativity and depression. From the lyrics of “Dystopia”—grating yells imploring the listener to “get awake and defeat this”—to the repeated refrains of “Utopia,” using the same lyrics but clean singing and clear guitar tones to provide a feeling of positivity and victory, Napoleon take the listener on a ten track journey unlike any other. Melodic—yet technical, heavy—yet positive and groovy enough to disco to, Newborn Mind is the rebirth of everything good about melodic hardcore, carefully composed and organized in a ten track display of boundless talent.



For Fans Of: Create to Inspire, Counterparts, Hundredth, In Archives

By: Connor Welsh