Northlane – Alien
Alien is a case of the stars aligning in every way possible for Northlane
Australia’s Northlane have spent the last decade cementing themselves as one of the biggest names in Australian heavy music. Two time ARIA winners, they now look to expand on their tenure with new album, Alien. Putting forward their most personal and intense offering yet, Northlane will be looking to continue their mission of world domination, as Alien will likely go on to become known as their best work yet.
Alien opens with turbo-charged revving sirens, as opening track “Details Matter” immediately injects the listener with adrenaline. Piercing screams bump through the verses, alongside the atmospheric moody guitars. An enormously heavy chorus is followed by a brutal instrumental section that will shake the listener to their core. All of this comes across as so structured and deliberate, and flows in a way that every note played seems to belong exactly where it sits. “Details Matter” is aggressive, tough, and powerful, and from my first listen I knew it was already one of my favourite songs.
I love how the drums sound in this track, as even for the opening song it is already sounding enormous. Every high-hat hit, every snare hit, every cymbal hit, they all come across as equally prominent as every other instrument. It feels like it is mixed in a way where the instrumentals and meant to received at the same level as the vocals, where no one thing is at the forefront.
This leads into the first single released for the album, “Bloodline”. What could one say about “Bloodline” that hasn’t already been said? It is a superb track from start to finish. The verses utilise the darker side of vocalist Marcus Bridge’s talents, as he appears to sing with an added focus on emoting the intense meaning behind the lyrics. The chorus follows this as well, and its catchiness will stick in your head just as much as it will make you feel all the feels. I haven’t stopped listening to “Bloodline” since it came out, and that isn’t looking like stopping now. The clear nu-metal influences shine through in this song, and now it is noticeable how perfectly it fits the Alien atmosphere.
Track three is “4D”, which kicks off with some techno-type heavy-synth action, as it leads into a gorgeous uplifting instrumental intro. Lightly toned and dance-inducing, Bridge’s scream vocals interrupt this feeling, and bring the listener back down to Planet Earth. Fast drums and a raw sound work with the screams to up the intensity tenfold, leading up to the massive release of the chorus. Built perfectly, Bridge’s mesmerizing singing takes the listener above the clouds alongside the light and fast instrumentals. A beautiful technical breakdown is followed by the dreamlike bridge, that involves a rare echoing guitar solo. Usually few and far between in a Northlane track, this solo fits the atmosphere of “4D” perfectly, and it fits fluently with the rest of the song.
“Talking Heads” is up next. The toughness of it feels otherworldly, with this feeling coming predominately from the growl of the guitars that is a constant throughout the track. Bridge’s vocals are another highlight, as the near-whisper he produces for the verses gives “Talking Heads” an overall nightmarish feel. Read more on my thoughts on “Talking Heads” here.
“Freefall” follows on by adding to the digital and moody atmosphere of the album. Whirring inconsistently timed guitars feel enormous, as the technically sound riffs roll behind the enormous chorus. Bridge’s singing takes centre stage, as “Freefall’s” mesmerizing instrumental tones are reminiscent of their 2015 album, Node. One of the softer songs off the album, this doesn’t last for long. As “Freefall” ends, “Jinn” becames.
Coming out of the gates hard and heavy, “Jinn” opens with some of the harshest riffs of Alien. Killer screams roll with ridiculous drum fills and pounding bass lines, forming a sound of insanity. Mind shattering intensity keeps the listener holding their breath, until the chorus provides some relief with a short dose of harmonic vocals. “Jinn” hits you with a remarkably hard technical breakdown, and from then on locks itself in as some of Northlane’s heaviest work. A great time from start to finish, “Jinn” is a song for fans new and old, and will remain to be a definite highlight song of the year.
Opening with a guitar/synth based bounce beat, “Eclipse” keeps the listener on their toes. Providing a different look at the Alien sound, they manage to make a bouncy, almost partyesque beat, sound really heavy. This isn’t the theme of the entire song however, as a firm breakdown takes up a majority of the end of “Eclipse”, and is sure to crack some skulls.
Track eight is “Rift”. Smooth vocal melodies introduce the song while synthwave tones dominate the backings. The intensity rises very slowly throughout “Rift”, but maintains a fairly consistent atmosphere throughout. A nice transitional song, “Rift” holds its own as it in of itself is a very enjoyable and soft listening experience.
Alien continues to flow flawlessly, as “Paradigm” picks up where “Rift” left off. A catchy introducing riff and instrumental section leads into smooth singing vocals. Loud harsh screams take over, and kick “Paradigm” into a head-bob inducing chorus. Constant heavy guitars and bass maintain their prominence throughout the song, and ensure that the moodier atmosphere carries through alongside the catchiness. Powerful and gut-wrenching tones close out the song with an almighty breakdown, and adds “Paradigm” to the list of highlight songs from the album. A heavily catchy and heavily heavy good time, dear lord I can’t wait to hear it live.
The penultimate track is “Vultures”, which was released a good long while ago. On its release it represented a heavier direction for Northlane, now the rest of Alien is out, “Vultures” makes perfect sense. 3 minutes and 48 seconds of unrelenting instrumental heaviness, wowee. Bridge’s screams are crucially brutal, and are perhaps the heaviest they have ever been. I wasn’t sure in the lead up how “Vultures” was going to fit with the rest of the new album, but now it is here I can safely say it fits perfectly.
Finally we have the closing track, “Sleepless”. Opening slowly with piano and Bridge’s melodic vocals, it does a superb job of demonstrating the bands softer side. Adding in a prominent, yet not overwhelming, side-dish of a technical synth beat, it works well underneath Bridge’s vocals to hammer home the dreamlike atmosphere that this song appears to be going for. Building to an enormous instrumental release, an enormous section of uplifting instrumentals and mind numbing vocals takes the listener on one last mesmerizing ride, before tough purring guitars and heavy drums deliver the final parting blow. Following this is the final sections of Alien, which is made up of beautiful piano, and an incredible atmospheric sensation of emotion.
Northlane really haven’t put a foot wrong with this album. They maintain a dramatic atmosphere that is constantly added to throughout. This atmosphere results in an unrelenting blast of pain, frustration, and emotion, and is without a doubt Northlane’s most impassioned work yet. They work hard to make sure that every song transitions fluently into the next, and everything feels like it belongs exactly where it is. The production is flawless, and the way every single instrument sounds, is perfect. I think that for Northlane, Alien takes the best aspects from every album they have, combines them, and adds to them, and the result of all of that is their best album yet. It has been a treasure to listen to, and I think it is fair to say that this is going to take Northlane to the next level, and elevate them to being one of the most sought-after heavy bands in the world.
Alien is a treat from start to finish, and will impress fans old and new. Every band member has their chance to shine, with the drums, guitar, and bass, each sounding their very best. Alien is a case of the stars aligning in every way possible for Northlane, and has resulted in the best album that they have released. Make sure to listen to this ASAP.
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Pine – Pine
Pine’s debut album is a kind of hypnotic melancholia
Where did Ottawa’s Pine come from? It’s a question worth asking after listening to their painfully gorgeous self-titled debut album. Pine use the phrase “doom and gloom never sounded so sweet” to describe their sound, and true to that, this 11-track outing is filled with the kind of hypnotic melancholia that became the playbook for a great many Midwestern emo bands that emerged in the late 90s/early 2000s. The biggest difference here is that while Pine have the heartbreak down pat, their musical sense of loss is lifted slightly by the airy, more wistful sounds of their guitar-strewn songs. Sure, there’s a lot that sounds like a great Mineral record or a Gloria Record album, but there’s also traces of Florida indie/emo band The Rocking Horse Winner and at times, bands like Rainer Maria.
Pine are buoyed by the great vocal work of Darlene Deschamps. Her voice soars through tracks like “Memento” and the terrific “Lusk”. The latter in particular is a great example of how Pine lull you into a sense of calm before it explodes in a collage of symphonic distortion and post-rock twinkling. In “Sunder” they ascend to louder, more expansive sounds. The song is a great combination of thick, fuzzy guitars, mid-tempo percussion work, and that pained vocal delivery that gives the song an extra punch in the guts.
The album took an impressive 2 years to finish, and you can hear the trials and tribulations of that gestation period through the songs. There’s pain, sadness, anger and frustration in songs like the intro “Within You” and the more new emo-esque “Swollen”, but also beauty, and as the album concludes, a sense of incredible catharsis. The record SOUNDS great too, with production values (by a production team that includes Will Yip, who has helmed records by Circa Survive, Braid, Saosin, and the Bouncing Souls to name a few) adding to the grand cinematic finish of the record.
For those who love what emo was in the mid to late 90s will find much to like about Pine just as much as those who like Explosions in the Sky and their post-rock brethren. Pine have been crafting their sound over the last few years and while their previous EP Pillow Talk showed a solid foundation, this new self-titled record is the work of a band close to the height of their abilities. Moving, beautiful, and littered with life’s roller coaster of emotions as songs, Pine is definitely recommended listening.