NEW NORTHLANE! OUTTA NOWHERE!
Well, it had been obvious something was coming from the steady trickle of tracks the band dropped over the last few months, but they and the team behind them deserve props for keeping Mesmer a pretty well kept secret before it was unleashed on an unsuspecting world. This does create a problem from a media perspective – not getting wind of an album pre-release only heightens the culture of rushing out a review as quickly as possible to get the hottest of hot takes, even if the writer changes their mind on the album a few listens later.
That’s a major problem when it comes to reviewing progressive heavy music, which inevitably takes time to reveal its multiple layers – we at CaliberTV thought it more appropriate to take the time to allow Mesmer to do so. Unusual release approach aside, it consists of pretty much what you’d expect from a Northlane album in 2017: djenty riffs, a balance of harsh and clean vocals, stunning album artwork. But this is a very different record to predecessor Node. That first album with new vocalist Marcus Bridge represented very clear evidence of a band in transition; now, Bridge has found his niche in a group that’s moving further and further away from their metalcore roots.
Mesmer takes some time to rev up: after decent enough opening gambit “Citizen”, the synth-suffocated “Colourwave” and non-descript “Savage” meander. Northlane have always been a better band when they cut straight to the point without indulging in atmospheric drifting. Thankfully, from the soaring “Solar” onwards they find their groove (a groove which, unsurprisingly, pulls heavily from Meshuggah and their more sanitised progeny). The heaviest parts of Mesmer are often the best, be that the surge in tempo on adrenaline-fuelled single “Intuition” or the killer central riff of “Render” – admittedly, the off-kilter rhythm guitars do get repetitive by the album’s end, but some TesseracT-esque bass shuffles and glacial ambient melodies filter nicely through the mechanical crunch.
A good amount of left-field ideas stretch across the 11 tracks here, including a shot of post-hardcore energy on “Fade” and even elements of alt rock power balladry weaving their way through the rain-soaked catharsis of “Veridian”. As on Node, Bridge’s greatest strength is emotional clean singing, and his assured tone is more commanding than his more monotone screaming (during which he sounds uncannily like Issues’ Michael Bohn.) “Zero-One” is perhaps the best-rendered summary of the ideas on offer here and a contender for strongest vocal performance, but it’s pipped to the top song slot by album centrepiece “Heartmachine”.
Given that their name comes from an Architects song title, it’s fitting that Northlane conclude their latest work with a tribute to late guitarist Tom Searle, complete with many of the lyrics he wrote. “Paragon” may take forever to get going, but as the heaviest song on the album it’s an appropriate memorial to one of modern metal’s best writers. Northlane haven’t done too badly following in his footsteps here, improving on Node significantly and (with any luck) they should convince those who’d written the band off to reconsider. Mesmer may get talked about mostly because of how it was released, but the music itself is certainly worth a lot of attention.