WORDS: ADAM HOPKIN | PHOTOS: NEAL WALTERS
So much can happen across a decade, it spans and defines entire eras with periods of pop culture seemingly hitting refresh once the 10 years mark has been surpassed. For artists especially this is a monumental milestone, with only a few years at most being left between releases bands struggle to walk the fine line between innovation and satisfying the masses, maintaining the familiarity of old material that attracted fans to begin with, whilst endeavouring to ensure months of writing, anticipation and hype not only don’t fall flat on launch, but don’t go stale only a year down the line.
Bands that are successful in navigating the constant change of popular taste and innovative soundscapes are often hailed as a new calibre of creative the likes of which the scene will never be graced with again. But for those unable to keep the pace, whilst they may avoid the drawls of arguing about ‘their old stuff being better’, they will never capture the same imagination, attention or heights as those busy defining the soundscape of the next generation.
“If you write for the numbers people will know, we can’t fool them…”
Even a decade into their career and its evident Australian ‘metalcore’ heavyweights, Northlane have never been just content with their standing. Whilst the outfit are often branded with labels such as “alternate act”, “metalcore” and “progressive metal”, the truest representation here is the liberal use of these characterisations and their inability to precisely define Northlane’s sound.
Over the course of their 10 year career the Aussies are the sole winners of three Aria awards in the name of Rock, taking home the award for best hard rock or heavy metal album in 2015 for the release of there sophomore effort “Node”, Before winning again with 2017’s “Mesmer”, and 2019’s monumental “Alien”. Made an even more impressive feat considering the metalcore genre largely has faded from popularity over the course of their career, forcing the group to dismiss the genre that firmly established them as staples of the Australian scene and launched their international careers, seeing them tour alongside the likes of “Architects” and “In Hearts Wake” secure a slot on pretty much every festival you can thrown an overpriced pint at.
“If you write for the numbers people will know, we can’t fool them”, asserts Guitarist Jon. “We don’t want our music to be classifiable. We do allow ourselves to have a large array of styles and sounds which is something that I think every artist should be striving for if they want to really explore”, interjects the groups vocalist Marcus.”
“I feel like we have never really locked ourselves own to a certain genre. Its an attitude that we have maintained and I think with that you aren’t focussed on what a particular genre should sound like,” continues Marcus.
“The music was always going to sound like that”, confidently asserts Josh when referring to the band’s fifth studio album Alien, a release that has affirmed their place as one of the most influential acts in metal. “If you write for the genre, they will see it,” frankly utters Josh. “How our music was sounding in regards to the rest of the genre was irrelevant”, blurts Guitarist Jon Deiley.
“I don’t think that anyone could have understood what our internal vision was the way that we could have.”
This dedication to creative autonomy and achieving the exact vision the band set out to release meant controlling each aspect of Alien’s conception, leaving the lads to self produce their latest record. Whilst yes this would leave the Northlane’s vision for their next album pure and undiluted, It would leave the members completely accountable for the potential failure of their most important works to date.
“I don’t think we could have left that job to anyone else” confidently states Jon, “one of the things we have noticed when working with a lot of producers, is that they will try and leave their own mark on each release. I don’t think that anyone could have understood what our internal vision was the way that we could have.”
“We wanted to put all of the decisions and choices in our own hands and if we wanted to do that then we really had to back our own ideas,” details the vocalist; to be honest it’s the thing I’m most proud of that we have done to date. In terms of the confidence that we have gained coming out of this it’s the highest that it’s ever been which is great considering how we produced it ourselves.”
Whilst the ambiguous nature of art prevents the personal experiences of the writers being too enigmatic for most, vocalist Marcus Bridge explains material can be used to educate, inspire and heal. “I think that we knew this album would be something that would resonate with a different crowd, it was going to be something different, talking about all these rather dark stories and issues.”
“People always attach a meaning to our songs and if they can use those to relate to something in their past then that makes it even more special to us”, agrees Jon. “There is no doubt about it, you can hear the emotion in the songs and you can see it in the performance too.”
“It makes me proud that we can maybe help people open up and feel like they are not a part of something crazy…that’s the most important thing to me”, Marcus earnestly remarks.
Northlane’s fifth effort has been critically acclaimed for its inspired composition of experimental musical styles, and rightly so, but in creating a release with purpose communities and stigmas will see the biggest change. “If there is anything to take credit for its having a story in our music that people can relate to”, explains guitarist Josh Smith, “it’s all we really care about.”
“This is a person’s life that we are talking about”
“It’s really important to me”, continues Marcus, “especially that people are connecting to this story as it’s something that means a lot to me. It’s pretty special that you can put something out and people can know a bit more about you and start a conversation about they were raised and then open up to someone that they might now have felt comfortable talking to in the past.”
“When people are reaching out to me and sharing their experiences and can draw a parallel to mine then it’s definitely significant to me”, Marcus asserts before highlighting the true value of the material the band have spent almost two years perfecting. “It’s pretty special to me to be able to share something dark and sad, but on the bright side of that people being able to discuss coming out of a pretty neglectful upbringing.”
Tackling such fierce topics, when done correctly, gives way to something that is both dutiful and unflinching in addressing the prejudice and adversity faced by so many; which through the nature of the narratives source, “Alien” would be an authentic retelling and Northlane’s most introspective work to date.
“When we started talking about the possibility of writing songs about his past and Marcus said two things”, recalls Jon, “that ‘I don’t know how to put these experiences into words and then those words into songs’ and then that he didn’t know if anyone would care.”
“I was pretty shocked about that because I would come to learn that these stories he had were pretty traumatic,” sighs Jon as he reveals the meticulous approach the band took into ensuring each lyric and minute instrumental flourish did Marcus and all those who have shared similar experiences justice.
“The way that we got around the way he felt about it was that he would listen to the music and then he would just tell me how each piece would make him feel”, Jon continues. “If he would say that the music made him feel panicked, like he was running from someone, then I would ask him when he had felt that before. He would tell me a story if he could or an event or just tell me how things were at that tune and I would write pages and pages of notes on it.”
“This is a person’s life that we are talking about”, concludes guitarist Jon. “I don’t think we have ever done anything as important.”
Alien is out now via UNFD.