Mesmer (UNFD/Rise) has been coming. This lush, expertly crafted album should come as no surprise. We’ve not just had the warning signs that its protagonists, Australian progressive metalcore act Northlane were ready to bring it all together for a couple of albums now, it’s been portended in neon lights that they could. That they should. And while the band may have enjoyed relative success to date, they had yet to fully convince. That is, until now.
While 2013’s Singularity (UNFD/Rise) saw the success of single ‘Quantum Flux’ and Northlane appear on the periphery (sic) of making a breakthrough, it was nonetheless a fairly angular work, with the feeling that it was more foundation stone than finished article. Node (UNFD/Rise) brought the lathe and the sandpaper to those rough edges, and the introduction of Marcus Bridge as the bands lead vocalist saw an expansion in the melodic options.
This, though, is Bridge’s breakout moment; his classy, smooth melodies conducting and controlled, emoting and caressing over heavy rhythmic stabs, contemplative builds and expansive moments, enhancing everything his voice dances over. He occasionally augments his superb cleans with a roar, wholly appropriate to a more aggressive track like closing work-over ‘Paragon’, a fitting tribute to the tragically lost Tom Searle of Architects, a band whose influence infiltrates most of this album.
Mesmer is pristine, but not to the point of distraction – the glacial, djenty rhythm guitars piston with precision, Alex Milovic’s bass locks in tight grooves that circle the brain, jabbing and causing involuntary neck convulsions, particularly on the lurching ‘Savage’. And underneath, subtle melodies and electronics fill out and enhance, an integral part of the Northlane whole, with credit to David Bendeth (In Flames, Of Mice & Men) for an exceptional job in the producers chair. Too often bands moving from Tech Metal into more progressive fields have all element of humanity squeezed from them by sterile productions; Mesmer shimmers and expands, with its sound part of its presence.
If there is a criticism, it is a minor one; that a non-rhythm based guitar line – a riff or two, mayhap – wouldn’t go amiss to break things up, but when the weight of evidence presented is that this is a band who have truly found themselves is overwhelming, and the level of their song-writing has advanced again, it becomes a negligible gripe.
For standing above the heavy, and above the reflective, are those cynosures that combine both; ‘Citizen’, ‘Colourwave’, ‘Render’, ‘Fade’ with its urgent and catchy chorus, and the sumptuous ‘Heartmachine’. These are they that prove Northlane don’t just have what it takes, they have what it takes.
Covering tragedy, loss, grief and intensely personal reflections, Mesmer is the mature realization of Northlane’s development and progression as a band over the last eight years, and serves as their defining and shining light.