A number of questions begin to formulate concerning this album, the most prominent being “why?” Why did Northlane go down the route of releasing a surprise album, a method that’s in equal measures confusing and exciting for fans, and frustrating for those of us who have to cover the things? And when looking at the august company in which they’ve placed themselves, it makes even less sense; with Skrillex, Beyoncé and Avenged Sevenfold, their size at least gives their decision some merit, but Northlane are still undeniably a cult act, occupying one of the higher tiers of metalcore, sure, but basically a non-entity compared to those previous three.
Actually listening to Mesmer gets no closer to a concrete answer either. This feels just like what a Northlane album would’ve amounted to under the regular rollout procedure, and honestly, it’s really not that special. That’s mainly because Northlane have a bad habit of making albums that just refuse to stick; even their last effort Node, for as impressive as it was at the time, has pretty much faded from memory now. But at least where that album had Rot as its big single that still manages to hold up, Mesmer can’t even muster up that.
And that really shouldn’t be the case, as all the components are here for Northlane to make a great album. There’s a remarkable fluidity between them as a unit, injecting a lot more melody and clarity into scrubbed-up scene metalcore that does verge on being too clean, but making their progressive flourishes and djent elements pop within, like the snapping bassline of Colourwave or Solar‘s building rim-clicks and ticking guitar picking. The same is true of Marcus Bridge’s vocals, anchored for the majority in ethereal singing that’s ample proof for him being a clean singer by trade, with screams only added when a bit more muscle is needed, like on the opener Citizen. Even the lyrics manage to hold up, spanning what is possibly Northlane’s most varied selection to date, touching upon the loss of loved ones (Fade and Veridian), the destructive relationship between humans and the natural world (Savage and Solar), and even tracks inspired by both government whistleblower Edward Snowden (Citizen) and late Architects guitarist Tom Searle (Paragon) in what only produce more material to potentially work with.
The problem is that Northlane just can’t. Despite everything that’s here, coupled with the undeniable technical talent that this band has, Mesmer feels slow, overly long, and struggles to keep any sort of interest beyond a single song at most. And given how great a role that layers of subtlety and calm play, it may give a more textured, complex sound but it leaves everything to fade into the background, particularly when ideas begin to be recycled, like the tumbling djent of Render that finds it difficult to distinguish itself from songs earlier in the album, let alone other bands. Even though immediacy and staying power have never been the strongest weapons in Northlane’s arsenal, their presence has at least been there in the past; with Mesmer, you’d have a hard time pointing out anything memorable beyond the odd hook. Even that’s only applicable to a handful of tracks (Citizen, Solar and Veridian is probably the exhaustive list); Northlane refuse to go out of their way to make anything beyond background music here – pleasant enough to have on with enough to appreciate, but something that’s not rewarding in the slightest when given a full, focused listen.
And that’s so frustrating, because in its purest, solely musical form, Mesmer‘s instrumental proficiency and construction shows a band with big ideas that they can clearly pull off, but when it comes to putting those ideas together, the whole thing falls to pieces. And while it may seem unfair to chastise Northlane for this considering how much they do get right, ultimately the point of a successful album is to channel its creators’ best into a body of work with a positive, longstanding impact, and Mesmer just isn’t that. It’s extremely fragmented, with that impact only coming in bursts rather than the full, final product. It’s easy to see the appeal, sure, and maybe the fact that the surprise release implies a listen that at least gives some more interesting material to talk about, but Mesmer just can’t meet the expectations that Northlane were going for.
For fans of: Bring Me The Horizon, The Word Alive, Hands Like Houses
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Mesmer’ by Northlane is out now on UNFD.