“We have to stop consuming our culture; we have to create culture”, a desperate Terrence McKenna urges. His commentary sampled over layered and pulsing guitars awash with delay, the psychonaut figurehead is emphasising a need to think outside the box throughout the title track from Northlane’s sophomore album Singularity, something increasingly difficult in a musical world that has seemingly left no stone unturned. It seems ironic then, that such an ideal isn’t strived for as the record falls short of growing into a bolder and braver work that could do away with the generic conventions many of Northlane’s contemporaries have been constricted by.
This is not to say the Blacktown-based band haven’t matured in sound over the past two years that have followed their debut full-length Discoveries, which rapidly grabbed the attention of both the Australian and international heavy music scene; but rather to point out the group has refined an already familiar sound that prevents Singularity from packing a similar punch to their aforementioned debut.
From the outset of the albums short and sweet opener ‘Genesis’, the band wastes no time treading their accustomed ground of hard-hitting and bottom-heavy 7-string breakdowns, and in its 90 second runtime demonstrates a new-found confidence bolstered by crisp, large production brought to life by producer Will Putney. However, as the atmospheric boom of drummer Nic Petterson’s double-kick and dual-guitar pull offs sliver into ‘Scarab’, it becomes apparent that Singularity never strays too far from its introductory half-time onslaught, with each track always working towards the inclusion of these syncopated open-note beat downs coupled with a sinisterly ambient lead hovering above. It’s upon this realisation that the record – for the better half – only hangs on by a thread, as the more memorable riffs fuelled by the technical prowess of guitarists Jon Deiley and Josh Smith are washed away by heavier grooves and breakdowns that already characterised Discoveries. As a result, the overall atmosphere of the record suffers, becoming flat and forgettable as each section predictably bleeds into the next.
What’s perhaps most disappointing about Northlane seemingly lingering in their comfort zone is that the potential for this album is within grasp, most especially during the latter half of the record, with tracks such as ‘Quantum Flux’ and ‘Dream Awake’ showcasing a yearning to take ambient sections and more experimental leanings to the next level. This comes close to being realised in the previously mentioned title-track, which although has a more liberal approach to organically building towards a textured final climax, serves as a token down-tempo clean track in which the boundaries placed creatively on the rest of the album are loosened. The album’s concluding number, ‘Aspire’, further fuels this self-imposed constriction, returning full circle to a breakdown not so drastically different from the others on the record, and permeates a bland and hollow feeling that continues long after Singularity’s close.
If Discoveries had Northlane testing the waters of more progressive and rhythm-orientated metalcore, then Singularity is the bands attempt at wading in the shallow end, nearing the drop off, but prevented from drifting in fear of undermining the established conventions of a sound they have, in part, helped to craft. There are, however, some great, brooding moments on this record and with the addition of Adrian Fitipaldes’ powerful and varied vocal delivery, it is able to retain its momentum over the course of its 37 minute runtime. However its faults lie in construction, not execution, and Singularity ultimately stands as a monument to a band who has neglected an opportunity of reinvention by selling themselves short to the imagined expectations of their audience.