Ever since they had a vocalist change, Australian metalcore titans Northlane have faced constant pressure from critics and fans alike to live up to the standard of their first two albums which featured original vocalist Adrian Fitipaldes. The two albums that followed, Node and Mesmer, whilst very competent records, were often considered by fans to be toned-down versions of the band's second album Singularity, and plenty of criticism was thrown in the direction of new vocalist Marcus Bridge.
Even if these two albums did lack the guttural low vocals that Adrian utilised a lot on Northlane's first two records, they both showed the band experimenting with new musical territory, venturing into alternative metal on songs such as 'Solar' off of Mesmer. This shouldn't have been too surprising a move, since the band has cited progressive and alternative bands as influences on multiple occasions, including fellow Aussies Karnivool.
Fast forward to the present day and we are presented with Alien, Northlane's fifth full length album and their third with Marcus on vocals. To cut straight to the chase, this is by far the biggest sonic leap the band has taken yet, venturing into the realms of nu metal, industrial metal and electronic rock. Despite being new territory for the band musically, they pull off this sonic change fairly well, with the main highlights being songs such as ‘Bloodline’, ‘Talking Heads’ and ‘Jinn’.
The material on Alien is easily the darkest and heaviest Northlane have sounded since Marcus joined, partially helped by the lyrical themes which touch on quite harrowing subject matters such as depression, suicidal thoughts, childhood abuse and trauma. This subject matter has allowed Marcus to unleash his vocals in a more ferocious manner than ever has done before. His harsh vocal range has extended to include deeper growls, exemplified on ‘Vultures’, whilst also applying pitch screaming in a lot of places where before he would have likely just done his usual style of clean vocals. On that topic, his clean vocal range is applied in a far less prominent but much more tasteful way on Alien, with both ‘Bloodline’ and the closer ‘Sleepless’ really helping to highlight a lower singing register which was touched on in previous releases, but always felt under-utilised.
Instrumentally Alien does a succinct job of hooking its teeth into you. The Aussies occasionally flirt with nu metal, but with added technicality and industrial elements, they avoid sounding like a re-hash of something you might expect to hear on a Korn or Slipknot album; something which unfortunately plagues a lot of so-called nu metalcore bands. It’s within the elements of industrial metal that Alien is most palatable though; ‘Eclipse’ and opener ‘Details Matter’ being the best examples of this.
Though some of the more electronic elements of the record sound like they’ve been rehashed from 2012 era Celldweller material, Northlane surround them with down-tuned bouncy riffs that keep the pace of the record moving nicely - even in the somewhat unnecessary dubstep sections.
Overall, Alien is a strong effort by a band that has taken the plunge into previously unexplored musical territory, and for Marcus Bridge it's proof that he is a worthy vocalist for this band, regardless of any naysayers that would still deny this. It's a significant departure from what they did before but other than some dated electronic elements and a somewhat confusing song order that makes the second half of the album feel a bit disorganised, it's a departure that is executed well. Continuing in this style, this album suggests that Northlane can only improve from here, and this should leave fans and newcomers anticipated and excited for what they will treat us with next.