Speaking with Marcus over the phone before they played their final Japanese date for 2019 in Tokyo, he tells me of his initial feelings towards their most personal record to date. As ‘Alien‘ isn’t just an important album for Northlane due to the drastic musical changes – seeing the band embrace more industrial, electronic and nu-metal ideas, expanding their prog-metalcore style whilst still remaining heavy – but also because of the confronting personal lyricism of loss and childhood abuse that Marcus so bravely and openly shares via these 11 new songs.
“Throughout the whole process, and even once it was done, it’s the happiest I’ve ever been in releasing anything,” he mentions.
“It still is even as time has gone on. To have that time to step back from it and listen to it before its out, to now separate myself from it, I’m so stoked to see what these songs do. The point of writing all of these songs was to share my own story and to also help people who have gone through similar things. I hope something positive can come out of it. I’m just as excited now as I am when we first finished it.”
Of course, with Northlane’s previous two albums, ‘Node‘ and ‘Mesmer,’ guitarist Josh Smith took on the lyricist role, bringing to life issues he cares about, as well as some other experiences close to Marcus’s heart. As the vocalist puts it, this is his life in these new songs but Josh also has a real way with words and was able to help him say the right thing, the right way.
“There’s more of my things, my life, in these lyrics, but Josh would help me put them into the right words. It took a lot of out of both of us: me re-telling all of these childhood stories and him than hearing this stuff for the first time. These songs were things that he couldn’t really fathom, as he just hadn’t experienced anything quite like that in his life. These are topics I’ve always wanted to share but I could just never find the right words for it, until now. Josh did such a great job of helping me channel what I wanted to say. It was a back and forth, far more collaborative than in the past.”
“Before, he would write the vast majority of lyrics and then I would come in with the structure and melodies. Now, it was focused on both of us and on what I had to say. He has a great way with words – he’s a wordsmith – and how we’ve blended our own styles together is really unique for us. Sometimes you just need the raw, straight to the point stuff, but he’s great at making it sound nice, at making it work.”
On this same press cycle, The Guardian’s interview with Marcus briefly mentions his sister and her own struggles relating to substance use on the records Side-B cut, ‘Paradigm.’ So given the context around it, I ask if at the time of our interview happening if his sibling has heard ‘Alien‘ in full or at least the sings.
“My sister has come so far, but no, she hasn’t heard it,” comes the answer from the singer.
“I’ve warned her about it, though. With everything I’ve written about, our family went through a lot, so I’ve warned her that maybe she doesn’t want to hear these songs or see these videos as we both grew up in… all of that. For her, it has been a lot harder to accept and get past. So that was also another pretty difficult thing in me telling this story, is that I had to get over the idea that I might upset my family with this record, but it needs to be said for my own good.”
“It’s been a continuous lesson in personal growth. As ‘Alien’ is something I’ve been thinking about for most of my life. Even still, it all still affects me in some way. It’s actually so difficult for me to watch the new music videos too, as it impacts me so much. It’s something that may never go away. With the album coming out and now playing these songs, and also hearing other people with stories like me, I am hoping that it will be the healing process that I need to get through it. Bringing these memories up has been quite difficult to talk about. Digging it up has been crazy but I do it for myself and for other people like me.”
So… we’ll see how I go,” he adds cheerily.
One of my personal favourite songs from the new record is ‘Jinn.’ In my review, I mentioned that it may “borrow Islamic beliefs of angels – beings called Jinn – and how they are neither good nor evil to begin with. Much like how a child is never born good or bad; it’s their environment and formative life experiences that cultivate either side.” I raise my own reading of it to Marcus to hear the song’s intention straight from the horse’s mouth.
“That’s not what we were going for with that song, but now that you do mention it, that does relate to it. It’s so easy after a tragedy, something like losing your father, so what can you do other than sink into yourself? For me, that song is more about me trying to get out of that rut, or even just to reflect on that period of my life. That’s the big important thing I’d like to have taken away from that.”
‘Alien‘ is my AOTY for 2019, and a record that I cherish deeply – it’s my favourite Northlane album. I’ve heard it more times this year than ‘Discoveries‘ and ‘Singularity,’ and those albums have been out for eight and six years respectively! Yet it’s also selfish of me to love this new record when it’s something so painful, so real, for Marcus, and I bring up that rather weird feeling of ownership over something that personal to him.
“It’s so weird, isn’t it?” he exclaims, clearing up where he’s approaching these songs from and how he hopes people perceive them.
“It might seem like I’m indulging in this pain but that’s not what I want to present to the world. Because if there’s no point to it then it’s just for shock factor, and that’s gross. It was so important that it was all real. It’s something that people who have experienced these things that can hopefully reflect on and see themselves in, maybe find closure in it and see that you can make them out. And for those who haven’t been through this, it can be a window into other people’s lives. I do hope for everyone to enjoy the album. But I also know that the record won’t be for everyone, and musically, it’s the most different sound we’ve pulled off. If you want to dive deeper into these themes, it’s all there for those who are interested.”