Northlane; on top of their game.
[PC: Digital Beard.]
‘Alien‘ really is a new leaf for Northlane. The excitement and success of this record remind me of what it felt like when ‘Singularity‘ first dropped back in 2013 and everyone lost their fucking minds. Except now the tight, polished prog-metal has deepened and darkened with industrial and electronic sounds, driven by the most harrowing, brutally real lyricism of any of their albums. ‘Alien‘ will most likely be the LP that pushes Northlane to that next tier (I sincerely hope I never eat those words), and a near completely sold-out Australian run is proof of the passion hitting this band once again from audiences. Which was on full display for the band’s latest sold-out Melbourne headliner in light of this recent tour last Friday, packing out 170 Russell twice in two days.
With fitting house music shifting between metal and trance, Northlane took the stage to erupt with ‘Talking Heads,’ storming out of the gate with so much low end that I was taken aback the moment the track kicked in. For all of the talk from this band’s scene about what album or which band is heaviest, Northlane has honestly never sounded as heavy, as tight, nor this ready for action when it comes to the live stage. Ten years in, these guys are masters of their craft, and I’m honestly left a little dumb-founded on what the band could even improve on when it comes to bettering a show this stellar.
Backed by one of the most vivid light shows I’ve seen support Northlane, this had to be the best performance I’ve witnessed from the group over the past eight years. After seeing them live about ten times live at this point, I know to always expect something solid in terms of performance, but this was some next-level shit. Their live shows haven’t felt this enthralling, this electric, nor this powerful in literal years – whether it be a festival or headline sets. The hard miles racked up touring and the freeing creation of ‘Alien‘ seems to have seriously invigorated their playing and energy, to the point where it seems like they’re drifting on a real Cloud 9, even with the serious, personal subject matter of their latest LP.
With each member in fine form and high spirits – guitarist Josh Smith particularly looking like an eager kid on the last day of school – Northlane didn’t hold anything back. With Jon Deiley rocking his best Wes Borland-esque cosplay (and a sneaky Health ‘Death Magic‘ cap that I back), he’d nut out some of the newer materials live programing, adding in other synths, and chugging along on the guitar like the best of ’em when required. Just as I mentioned in my original album review, bassist Brendan Padjasek is a great new addition, bringing loads of energy, offering backing screams, and featuring his own mask to fit the nu-aesthetic of their current cycle. Whilst shrouded in smoke machines and darkness from up behind his kit, everyone felt the presence of Nic Pettersen. In the studio or up on-stage, the masked, long-haired drummer is scarily good on the tubs. And then there’s Marcus Bridge, who has grown so much as a vocalist and as a frontman over the last five years, now sounding consistently strong behind the mic. He’s always been a good vocalist, but this tour/album sees him at his peak. Despite it being near the end of a week-long tour, he sounded like it was the very first show in terms of his endurance and pitch. His screams, of all ranges, never faltered or felt weak across their hour-long set, and he gracefully hit those high notes in ‘4D‘ and ‘Freefall‘ with what seemed like mere ease.
‘Intuition‘ and the surging ‘Details Matter‘ saw the venue’s floor area going absolutely bananas, and ‘Mesmer‘ opening cut, ‘Citizen,’ made Northlane look like they were floating – even seeing a wall of death go down as per the band’s command. Newer songs like the synth-heavy shaker of ‘4D‘ and the brutal ‘Jinn‘ were also screamed back at the quintet as if they were old fan-faves, even though both tracks are still barely three months old as of yet. Which is a great sign of things to come for the band moving forward.
When it comes to 2014’s ‘Node,’ there’s only really two songs that I personally care about: ‘Obelisk‘ and ‘Rot,’ which were also the only two songs from their third record that saw a mention. ‘Rot‘ is still one of the finest, sickest rhythmic movements of the band’s entire career, and it’s become a mainstay of their set; it’s a huge part of Northlane lore, the first introduction we got to Marcus. And the tectonic grooves of ‘Obelisk‘ felt like they were breaking live sound and building regulations, as if the band were about to pull Russell Street down on top of us all with this song’s massive, earth-shaking vibes.
‘Vultures‘ has been hanging around in their setlist since late 2018, but now within the full context of ‘Alien,’ the song really comes into its own and marks a heavy, vicious high-point for the set with those killer “my bones are white-washed” metalcore lashings. ‘Eclipse‘ really turned the underground premises of 170 Russell into a grimy, seedy goth-rave club, and ‘Bloodline‘ felt like a legitimate Northlane classic with not only how huge it sounded, but due to how well the crowd responded to it too, both physically and vocally.
For the encore, the touching closing song of ‘Alien,’ – the well-produced trip-hop-meets-prog-metalcore of ‘Sleepless‘ – saw a beautiful live rendition, with Marcus donning this fancy, glittering gillie suit for what is clearly such a personal song about his family. Yet right before the band began the final act of their set with ‘Sleepless,’ chants of “Dispossession!” arose from the crowd down the front. Now, I love some bendy, ‘bow-wow’ prog-metalcore riffs as much as the next white dude in his early 20’s out there, but let’s all just move on, yeah? Northlane has basically performed that opening belter from their debut LP on nearly every tour since ‘Discoveries‘ dropped back in 2011. If you haven’t seen it live multiple times by now, then that’s your own fault. Besides, this is their headline tour for ‘Alien,’ so it’s expected and natural for the fresher songs to take much higher precedence. (Not that I’m complaining about that at all.) Just hold out for the inevitable ‘Discoveries‘ album tour come 2021.
Of course, to absolutely no one’s surprise, the band wrapped up the night with one of the most quintessential Northlane tracks ever written: ‘Quantum Flux.’ It’s an obligatory move yet it never once stops feeling like the right high-point to end one of their shows on. With a tonne of the new and a bit of the old, Northlane tonight pieced together a damned solid setlist of their biggest tracks over the last few years, filling out the 1,000 cap room with some of their best riffs and songs. This night also showed, without a doubt, that the band’s inner world for ‘Alien‘ is just as staggering in the flesh as it is on record. ‘Alien‘ may have touched down in August, but as the band tour this release further, they’ll so much more to probe, achieve and mosh out to. This is just the start.