Tuesday March 23rd, 2020. Following the release of a trailer to what looked like a documentary from their world tour at the back end of last year, a new post appears on Northlane’s Twitter page:
”Negative Energy’ is the story of a band on the brink of collapse.’
This simple sentence sent fans of Northlane across the globe into a sense of confusion and almost, panic. Is it the build-up to a new track, or a way of revealing a comprehensive look back on that world tour? Or is there yet another departure from the band, following those of frontman Adrian Fitipaldes in 2014 and bassist Alex Milovic in 2018.
A day later and everyone’s queries are answered. The short documentary, some of which is filmed over their world tour, begins with a sombre scene. It shows frontman Marcus performing a solo acoustic rendition of ‘Sleepless‘ and then presents a graphic, telling us that Alien is ‘the first time that he has revealed the brutality of his earlier life’.
To those who know a significant amount about the band, the choice of this as an opening for such a documentary makes sense. There is no shortage of articles and interviews with the band, particularly Marcus himself, which shed light on the situation that became a foundation for their latest record. Alien deals with the issues that Marcus had to face throughout childhood, specifically, the absence of his mother and the treatment that he and his sister were victim of under the so-called ‘care’ of their abusive drug-addict father. It has been revealed that they lived in-between hotel and motel, with no concrete foundation on which to build relationships expected – and taken for granted – within a family.
Marcus’ struggles were aired early on the track ‘Bloodline‘, accompanied by a rather harrowing video:
Bloodline was one of the first songs that came about in the writing process for the album. I wanted to tell the story of my upbringing and the ups and downs that came along with that.
-Frontman Marcus explaining the background of ‘Bloodline’
The record in its entirety is fully, brutally honest, with its title a reflection of the alienation that Marcus faced in his earlier life. This is an issue which is exposed further in ‘Negative Energy’.
In an interview for Pile Rats in July 2019, Marcus himself admits that the album is ‘confronting and dark’, going on to explain that he ‘wanted to talk about it in a gross way so people really would feel kind of uncomfortable’. When asked about the change in nature when compared to earlier Northlane records, even since he had joined the band, he touches on issues that are visited in the new documentary, explaining how the new songs ‘came from the dark sounds that Jon (Deiley, guitar) was writing’. Marcus then goes on to reveal that he thought that ‘the music more so influenced’ the telling of his own story, down in part to Jon ‘coming from troubles in his own life, his personal life, but also troubles from the expectation of what we ‘should’ be doing’. In this interview, Marcus asserts the depths to which Alien‘s content goes, stating that ‘no stone was unturned’ in the writing and production of the record.
As the documentary explains pretty early on, Alien ‘revitalised the band’.
A couple of minutes in, we see Josh (Smith, guitar) outside Electric Brixton in London, evidently excited, talking about how the show has sold out, around 1500 tickets. Josh explains that this is the second biggest show of the world tour and ‘bigger than anything we did back home, outside of Sydney’. From this, you can see why this is such a big deal. However, this is the case even more so, once he explains the situation on previous occasions that Northlane have been in the UK. In this short clip, he opens up and reveals a lot, such as the fact that ‘bunches of venues got downgraded’ on their last UK run and that ‘no-one came to the shows’.
On the subject of the situation the band were left in in 2014, after the departure of vocalist Adrian Fitipaldes, the documentary really conveys the bleak uncertainty that the band were facing at the time. Josh reveals that ‘a lot of people in the wider industry had stopped believing in us’ while Jon uncovers that the band ‘weren’t sure’ how things would go as this was the first time that Marcus had been in a band of this type, leaving a little ‘doubt’ in his mind, although does say that he ‘believed in his ability’. Nic (Pettersen, drums) says that in two-thousand video auditions they looked at, Marcus ‘had something that none of the other people had’. Josh asserts that Marcus was a ‘clear winner’ at the audition stage, making it seem crazy, as Josh goes on to mention, that Marcus’ friends had talked him into putting together a YouTube audition.
We then get the standpoint of Marcus with regards to recording with Northlane. He feels that when recording for Node (2015), that ‘I had no real time to settle in and to understand what I wanted to do, what I wanted to bring to the band’ and that there was no pause after his unveiling and the release of ‘Rot‘ as the band were ‘shuffling to get it done’ and to ‘keep the Northlane train going’.
Marcus recalls feeling ‘a lot more comfortable’ when the band were recording Mesmer (2017), an album to which he made his first lyrical contribution to the band, in ‘Fade‘ and ‘Heartmachine‘, both songs which dealt with topics that would be re-visited in the making of Alien:
I got a lot more comfortable but wasn’t quite at the point where I was ready to open up about most of my own personal stuff – delve into stuff that wouldn’t be expected of Northlane
-Marcus on writing and recording Mesmer
The video, after presenting some more positive moments, then sets out another setback. The departure of bassist Alex Milovic. This is said to have been one of many things at the time which meant that ‘the band were struggling like never before.’
Nic reveals that there were ‘complications with management’ while Josh tells us of the business situation. The album (Mesmer), did not do as well as was expected, likewise with the tour that followed. Josh explains that ticket sales were dropping as well as merch sales, meaning the main cash flow for the band was being stunted. The band became independent, with Josh himself being installed as the band’s new manager, his first point of action being to cancel their upcoming USA tour with Tesseract because they simply could not afford to do it:
It was like all of the things that we thought we were sure about, trajectory and career, were coming to a grinding halt
-Guitarist Josh Smith, describes the situation not long after he became the band’s manager, as they opted for independent management
Josh also reveals that the live release, Analog Future (2018), was not something that was planned long-term and was more of a financial stop-gap, to recoup losses from Mesmer, due to the fact that the band still owed money to the label for the recording and production of the record.
Jon makes a shock revelation about a physical altercation which took place mid-show whilst touring Europe between Josh and himself and the impact that this had on the band. He explains that this all happened when the band were walking off stage at the ‘end’ of their set, before coming back on to end with their encore:
“For whatever reason, I was feeling especially cranky. We walked off the stage and the end of the second-last song, so we were coming back for the encore and something happened – I hit my head on something and I took it out on Josh who was in front of me and I blamed it on him, for not walking off the stage quicker and it evolved into a very physical thing which I’m not especially proud of.
We ended up just canning the show at that point, we didn’t even walk on and then we had to have a talk about what had happened and, I suppose, it was at that point that I told the guys that I was feeling, like, super, super low, and it was a weird thing to talk about because, as someone who sees themselves as the director, the driving force, at least musically, of the band, it was hard to show vulnerability and say that, I’m not okay, this is what’s up and I think this is why this has happened and I suppose that was the turning point of us being really honest with each other, for me anyway, and learning from it and building the next step, building the next evolution of Northlane which was a very angry, very dark and, I mean it’s always been moody, but, it’s coming from not trying to be moody or trying to be dark, it actually came from a super dark place where I thought: I just didn’t want to be on the planet anymore, I didn’t want to be alive.“
Following events and the poor performance of their latest album and touring cycle, Marcus talk about the way that he began ‘questioning’ his position in the band, seemingly blaming himself for the decline that had taken place since he had come into the band. From the way that he speaks about the situation in the documentary, it appears that this was a time of real uncertainty, not just for Marcus, but for the band as a whole. Marcus explains how things were ‘definitely in limbo for a while’ and that the band were unsure how everything could be sustained and kept up.
Nic gives his own view on the departure of Milovic in 2018, saying that it had deep impact on the band, with it leaving him in a ‘place where I felt quite sad and I questioned things to do with what we were doing’. The overriding theme when members of Northlane speak about this period is that they questioned what was happening and how the band could continue and move forward from these significant blows that they had been dealt. Both Nic and Marcus assert that the arrival of new bassist Brendon Padjasek came at a good time and definitely did have a positive impact on the band going forward. Marcus ratifies this in saying that the arrival of Brendon meant that ‘the energy of the band was much more positive’ and that the atmosphere within the band was ‘friendlier than it had ever been before’.
The final part of the documentary is where the band discuss the extremely successful Alien and the mega tour which followed.
However, not all was as rosy at it may have seemed from the outside…
Josh speaks about the point at which he and Marcus began to write lyrics and melodies for the upcoming songs, which came after the music was already written. He talks about the songs as coming out ‘way too intense’, saying that the content within these songs ‘just didn’t feel right’ when put up against anything that Northlane had released previously.
The band were then dealt another huge blow, just after Alien was released, and only days before their first US tour in over five years was about to begin, the first leg of the world tour after the album had been released, Marcus’ mother passed away. Josh details how he ‘did everything to protect’ his friend and bandmate, including cancelling upcoming press arrangements that the band had lined up before going out on the road. The severity of the situation is conveyed when Josh reveals that he actually gave Marcus the option of cancelling the world tour outright. To even consider this as an option, given all that the band had gone through and the work that had gone into their revival, demonstrates just how much concern there was over Marcus and the situation that he was facing. Josh explains how he saw that it ‘so easily could come all undone’ because of the subject of the new songs that had been written. Brendon adds that it was ‘a very tough situation’. Given the fact that Marcus turned down the option of cancelling, and continued as normal, Josh describes him as ‘the most resilient and hardest person I’ve ever met in my life’.
One of the hardest tours I’ve ever had to do
-Marcus Bridge, frontman of Northlane, describing how it was going on tour in the midst of what had just happened to him.
The documentary ends with Josh telling us about the first time that Marcus and the band performed ‘Sleepless‘, in November, at the Roundhouse, Sydney. In an article with The Daily Telegraph Australia, Marcus opens up about the song, telling that it is about the fact that ‘I pretty much disowned my mum’, after she had upped and left not long after Marcus turned eighteen. He explains that he intended the song to shock people and give them an insight into ‘the upbringing a lot of people have with drug addict parents’, adding that he ‘wanted to be raw about it, show it in its grossest form’. From this, we can see why the first live performance of this would have been such a big deal, not just for Marcus himself, but for his bandmates who had discovered Marcus’ past when the album was being written.
One of the bravest moments I’ve ever witnessed
-Josh on Marcus’ first live performance of ‘Sleepless’
Josh describes the performance as ‘one of the most moving moments we’ve ever had on stage’, adding that he ‘could tell on the inside that he (Marcus) was bleeding out’. The documentary ends with footage of Marcus performing the song live, showing the turmoil that he is going through whilst performing it, being a song very close to the heart.
Despite the adversity that Northlane have faced in recent times, they appear to have come out the other side better for it.
Alien is the most successful Northlane record to date.
Triple J Album of the Year.
Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Album at the ARIA awards.
Just to name a couple of accolades. The record became the band’s highest selling debut worldwide and resulted in their biggest ever tour, spanning Japan, the USA, Australia and New Zealand, the UK and mainland Europe, selling out a considerate portion of the fifty-nine dates.
The future of Northlane, once again, looks promising, as they look to push on with the new electro-industrial style that they created with Alien, truly revolutionary within the world of rock and metal.
With the recent cancellation of Download Festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Northlane do not currently have any UK appearances scheduled.
Check out Alien here.
Words and photography by Kaine Crilley