Northlane: Signs Of Life

It starts with a primal howl. Part cry, part song, coming from deep within. In his bedroom, in front of a camera, Marcus Bridge eases into the first verse:

Everything crumbles/everything fades/but in a way we stay the same/I couldn’t see a thing for so long/’cause everything crumbles/everything fades away/that includes your pain…

So begins the final, black-and-white video Marcus submitted for Northlane’s open auditions to find a new singer. The task was to write and perform lyrics over the mostly instrumental title track from the Australians’ last album, 2013’s Singularity, and Marcus’s reworked version, Grateful, caught the ears and hearts of the guys.

“Oh, it took the wind out of my chest,” sighs guitarist Josh Smith, his Aussie drawl taking on an incredulous tone. “You know when you hear those songs that have so much emotion in what’s being said that it just startles you? That’s exactly what happened when I heard that.”

Though Josh understood that the sentiment was coming from an intensely personal place, he couldn’t possibly have guessed the subject matter: Marcus was singing about living in the aftermath of his father’s tragic death from a drug overdose.

“I was going for that more ‘feelsy’ kind of thing,” Marcus carefully explains. “My father had some kind of troubles with drug abuse, but where I was coming from with that song was just how even with all the problems I’ve witnessed with my family, I’ve still come out the other side positive, and not, like, in the gutter.”

Thanks to that clip, Marcus was able to air his feelings, and Northlane found their new singer. And with their third album, Node, on the way, the quintet are set to take their posi vibes, new vocal style and crunching riffs to anyone who’ll listen…

Flash back nine months from today and Northlane were in a difficult place. Frontman Adrian Fitipaldes had quit, citing mental and physical exhaustion due to vocal issues. It was a blow to a band who’d been on a fast track to success during 2014, winning fans in their home country as well as in Europe, where they supported their heroes, Architects (they’re named after their song North Lane, from 2007’s Ruin album).

“When your singer tells you he’s leaving, your world comes crashing down on you, because the frontman is usually the person that people identify with the most,” laments Josh. “We were worried about our future. All of a sudden, this huge thing we’d been building up over the past few years looked like it could topple at any second. But after the initial shock, we realised this was also one of the biggest opportunities that we’d ever been handed, because we’d been given a chance to choose the voice for where we wanted to take our music.”

Finding that voice presented another challenge. Northlane – completed by guitarist Jon Deiley, bassist Alex Milovic and drummer Nic Pettersen – were reluctant to recruit an experienced frontman, because they felt that the associations with any other bands would change their dynamic, as well as leaving that band in the same situation they’d found themselves. They also wanted to invite feedback from their fans, so they organised the trials, asking hopefuls to cover Quantum Flux and Dream Awake, and post them on the internet. Marcus’s previous band, Sound Of Seasons, had broken up a few months earlier, so a bit of encouragement from mates was all it took for the singer and Northlane fan to start rehearsing and recording.

“It blew my mind,” says Josh, recalling Marcus’s Dream Awake cover, in which the singer added soaring twists to previously unclean vocals. “I gave everyone a chance that sent a video in, but from the moment I saw that, he was at the top of my list, and I knew he was special.”

Josh whittled down 2,000 entries to a shortlist of 20, of which Marcus was one. That was when the future frontman created Grateful.

“I’ve tried writing songs like that before, and it’s always hard because it’s personal stuff and it could rub people the wrong way, I suppose, if it’s just a bit too dark,” muses Marcus. “But I think it’s still good to let that stuff out, and I suppose the more that you accept that, the easier it is to move on.

“I think I’d just turned 19,” he continues. “One morning, my grandfather had come over because he hadn’t heard from my dad in the last few days, and then, um, yeah…” he pauses, understandably struggling to find the words before continuing, “he found him in my dad’s bathroom, and I then went down in there as well. And it was a bit rough. It was very rough, actually. I’m past it now, but yeah, it was a rough situation.”

Once Northlane had chosen Marcus – who conveniently lives just 15 minutes away from Josh, in north-west Sydney, though they’d only briefly met once before at a mutual friend’s house – they got him into the studio. They set straight to work on new material, a process he describes as “quite frightening”. Several weeks later, the guy who’d never left Australia landed in Sweden to start a European tour with Parkway Drive and Heaven Shall Burn. His first show was in front of 2,000 pairs of eyes…

“It was pretty scary!” Marcus laughs. “Those first few shows, I was pretty stiff, but I just found my feet. As it went on, it got a lot better, and even still as we go on, it gets a lot better. The response has been great.”

With Marcus flourishing, and crowds reacting well, the next move for Northlane was to make another record. As they rolled across Europe, back to Australia for their label’s Unify festival with The Amity Affliction, and into America, they had no downtime to stop and write, so had to do it all on the road (“It was super, super, stressful,” Josh confesses). The other difficulty was that Adrian had been their primary lyricist, infusing their music with social and political theory. To maintain Northlane’s thoughtful ethos and allow Marcus to find his feet, Josh stepped in.

“I come from a family that’s fairly conservative, but I’m the opposite,” Josh reveals. “I studied economics at university, so I have a balanced worldview, but a lot of outspoken ideals. The greatest influences I had when writing the record came from other bands rather than philosophers. Mostly Pink Floyd and Tool,” he laughs. “I tried to start off where Adrian left, because he would share everything he was reading with everyone else.”

This philosophical and conceptual sprawl was to become Node, pulled together in March at The Machine Shop in New Jersey with returning producer Will Putney. It’s a brain-rattling hybrid of djent and metalcore, at times urgent, yet leaving room for contemplation, in line with Northlane’s tendency to highlight humanity’s issues yet convey a message of hope. The song Impulse is about the way technology has removed some of the human contact from communication, while Leech highlights the destruction of the environment. But the refrain of the title track is simply: ‘You can be the change.’

“A node is a connection between two or more points, and the idea behind the lyrics is interconnectedness between all of us,” explains Josh. “The easiest way I could sum up a concept for the album would be, ‘Being the change that you want to see in the world.’ I want people to enact a change in their own life in a way that’s important to them, and not to be afraid to do it. And to not feel like they’re insignificant, either, because every action that they make causes a reaction somewhere else, and however small it is, a spark will start firing.”

Marcus helped Josh by refining melodies, vocal patterns and vocabulary, while bassist Alex came up with the idea of using a sign to represent each songtitle to tie together Node’s shoots of creativity. Some are reinterpretations of existing ones, like the rings of the dreamy Weightless, derived from the infinity symbol. Others are more rooted in history, with the Egyptian Eye Of Ra symbolising Ra, a song about finding fruitful ground, physically and metaphorically. “It’s sort of about regeneration and renewal, and it has a lot to say about our experience as a band in the last few months,” says Josh.

Six years into their journey, Northlane have a new lease of life and will be taking their message of reform to minds and moshpits everywhere. Marcus himself is reaping the rewards of new experiences and a personal sense of positivity, born from the auditions where it all started.

“It was hard, I suppose,” he says, returning to his experience of singing Grateful on camera. “Looking back on it, though, it’s cool, because my dad would’ve been proud of that. I’d been playing music for a long time while he was still around, but playing music’s one of those things that your parents think you can only get so far with. I think he’d be happy to see that I’ve gotten somewhere.”

Reborn, renewed and revitalised, Northlane are ready to be the change. Are you?

Node is out on July 24 via UNFD. Northlane tour with Volumes, The Acacia Strain and Hellions in October

Eleanor Goodman
Editor, Metal Hammer

Eleanor was promoted to the role of Editor at Metal Hammer magazine after over seven years with the company, having previously served as Deputy Editor and Features Editor. Prior to joining Metal Hammer, El spent three years as Production Editor at Kerrang! and four years as Production Editor and Deputy Editor at Bizarre. She has also written for the likes of Classic Rock, Prog, Rock Sound and Visit London amongst others, and was a regular presenter on the Metal Hammer Podcast.