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In the last half of 2012 through to the middle of 2014, Northlane went from scene underdogs to national icons and international newcomers. Now that they’re past the once rocky situation of last year, the band has unleashed ‘Node’, their first record without vocalist Adrian Fitipaldes. As many will have probably found out by now, a lot of changes have been made to the group’s sound.
First up is that guitarist Josh Smith now writes all of their lyrics, and there’s a tiny bit more variation in the themes; environmentalism, community, online culture, to name a few. Fellow guitarist and main songwriter, Jonathan Deiley’s songwriting approach and his delivery is indeed stronger, and there’s a far bigger experimental vibe to ‘Node’, which does seem like the natural progression from ‘Singularity’. Oh, and of course, there is the new frontman, Marcus Bridge with his vocals being obviously the biggest, most significant change in Northlane’s overall sound. As the band has put it in their mini-documentaries on the album’s creation, this is a new era for Northlane. But it’s one that has been so hyped up by the media and te fans that I believe the hype train has caused far more harm than good here.
Again going with producer/engineer extraordinaire Will Putney, the spacey and atmospheric sounds and abundant guitar layers remain, as do the progressive tendencies (see: ‘Ra’ and ‘Soma’) and that element, in particular, has now been dialled up to 10.
The song-structures and the delivery really attest to this fact. Although, the mix itself really is a… mixed bag. First off, it does have a more “natural” sound than most other bands in their genre because there are nowhere near as many samples being used and the mix isn’t running as hotly. However, it’s not earth-shatteringly tight or as clean like other records that Putney has worked on over the years, but it’s not necessarily terrible or the worst either, and it does fit with the band’s new direction. Well, to a degree. The guitars and drums are nowhere near as impactful as they should be.
Okay, look, you knew this part was coming, so let’s get this over with now – the vocals and the new vocalist.
Marcus Bridge is easily the better clean singer, but he is not the better screamer, and even if he is, he definitely hasn’t had a chance to show it off on ‘Node’ with one overused kind of scream. His predecessor had so much power and emotion to his screams (in fact, he’s still got it as ). But with Bridge at the helm, there is a real lack of impact in the vocal department, and that’s a goddamn shame. Combine that with a solid, yet ultimately thin sounding mix at times (mainly compared to their prior two albums) and ‘Node’ feels pretty piss-weak a lot of time. I honestly would have preferred this record more if there were no screams whatsoever, as without the heavier vocals one would end up with a more technical and slightly heavier version of Circa Survive and Dead Letter Circus. And you know what? That would have been fucking sick!
Sure, there are some great moments on this record, like the groovy intro of ‘Obelisk’, the Deftones-influenced moments of ‘Leech‘, the soaring and melodic, Karnivool-like jam that is ‘Ohm‘, and the anthemic and touching ending of ‘Animate‘. But past those examples, this album can’t really carry itself all the way through and as such, it’s simply inconsistent.
For all of their experimental nature and for how the band is pushing their sound, a couple of these songs are rather forgettable. Not exactly filler, but not exactly standouts either. Like ‘Ra‘, which gets old and disposable fast, and the token instrumental track, ‘Nameless‘ that doesn’t really offer the break the band may have been hoping for, and it is an instantly skippable song. Furthermore, there aren’t any songs on ‘Node’ that really match the intensity or speed of ‘Transcending Dimensions’ or ‘Windbreaker’, nor any songs that knocked you right down and kept beating you down like ‘Worldeater’ or ‘Dispossession’ did.
Yes, the band wanted to go in this newer, non-Northlane direction and granted, sometimes, ‘Node‘ occasionally comes close to rivalling that of ‘Discoveries‘ or even ‘Singularity‘, but ‘close’ doesn’t award you that expensive and coveted Cuban cigar, guys.
For a lot of punters, ‘Node’ is easily one of the most anticipated heavy releases of the year (save for maybe the new Parkway Drive album) yet I feel that ‘Node’ has been a victim of that very same hype. While it hasn’t quite crashed and burned, like say, Watch_Dogs or like the new Star Wars movie will (yes, I’m a cynical fuck), it’s definitely taken a fair few hits from such expectations. This album really is an awkward transitional stage for what Northlane could become musically and stylistically, and who knows, that may very well be amazing come the next record. But at this current stage in their musical metamorphosis, there’s an inconsistent level of quality and a lacking in real sonic impact. Which is a just goddamn shame.