Sound — 8
In the growing trend of metalcore acts cultivating post-rock elements for an outlet of melody (i.e. Architects, The Contortionist), Northlane have been one of the better examples of this dynamic sound. Having slowly integrated these melodic traits into their metalcore base in their earlier albums, the Australian quintet took a chance by putting even more focus on those textural aspects of their songwriting in their third album, 2015's "Node." A significant sonic adjustment like this has been the undoing for other bands, but for Northlane, it succeeded with flying colors to push the band into proper prog metal territory.
Now surprising their fans by dropping their fourth album, "Mesmer," months before its originally scheduled release date, one can hear Northlane evening out the melodic qualities of their previous album with the metalcore aggression of their earlier albums. Most obviously, the band takes the spotlight away from the ambient aspects and trains it back on their energetic metal output, where techy riffs in "Colourwave," "Intuition" and "Render" punch up the band's instrumental talent that was relatively back-seated in their previous album. And while they keep some of their post-rock traits from before (heard in the well-layered "Citizen" and the shimmering "Savage"), other textural moments draw influence from electronica, like the synth arpeggio in "Zero-One" taking a page from trance music, and the Comaduster-esque vibes weaved into the hammering prog metal gear of "Paragon."
"Mesmer" also shows Northlane taking moments to be more upfront with their melodic inclinations. With frontman Marcus Bridge putting forth a stronger clean vocal presence, his toplines set the tone for the upbeat and cheery "Fade," and carry their own with the skilled guitar/bass riffing in "Solar." Only in a couple cases do Northlane make some noticeable fumbles - Bridge's vocal power fails to play the saving grace for the song's lackluster metalcore licks in "Heartmachine," and "Veridian" nearly breaks its own back by trying to haul an overloaded breakdown.
Lyrics — 8
Bridge's lyrics in "Mesmer" continue his penchant for critiquing the banalities and insidious functions of modern life. Along with the general anti-establishment baying in "Intuition," and angst towards the dullness of today's culture in "Zero-One" and "Render," Bridge indulges more timely topics, like the appreciation for Edward Snowden's revelatory whistle-blowing on the NSA in "Citizen" ("Heroes exposing / Corruption in who we obey / The whistle blows from a burning stake"), and the grim portrait of global warming ruining the planet in "Solar" ("Silenced by the solar winds / Forests evergreen wither to sand"). Bridge also focuses on the fragile desires of finality and escape in a world so bleak - the eulogy to an unnamed friend in "Fade" touches upon the sensitive topic of suicide ("And the price that I have paid / When I watched you pass away / Is the everlasting pain"), and the last dialogue between an elderly mother and son in "Veridian" addresses the morality of euthanasia ("I never wanted to grow so old / Life's agony, turn off the machine / Let me die with dignity").
Overall Impression — 8
Not wanting to continue nurturing the strong post-rock influences of their previous album, "Mesmer" is Northlane's more straightforward approach to decorating their metalcore backbone with melodic qualities. Some of those upfront melodic aspects may be interpreted as treading the line of pop metalcore, which may raise a red flag for some listeners, but with the band bringing back more of their skilled instrumental work, and keeping a grip on their loud/ambient dynamic songwriting, "Mesmer" is another solid step forward.