Last year, Expire called it quits. They had enjoyed a pretty good run, releasing popular, accessible hardcore albums like Pendulum Swings and Pretty Low and amassing a sizeable following, but couldn’t continue the band - whether for personal or financial reasons, they decided they would drop one more album, finish their tour, and pack up. A clean getaway. Then, three months before its official release, With Regret leaked to the public.
This isn’t uncommon. Leaks are a part of the music business, and they happen to even the most tight-lipped artists with the best security. What’s so alarming about the With Regret leak, however, is that it happened three months before release, an unprecedented figure even as far as these things go, and to a band that would hardly register with listeners outside of hardcore and metal circles. Sometimes, an album will appear a week or two before the date. Sometimes the band itself will “leak” their own work to generate hype and increase sales. To the best of my knowledge, that wasn’t Expire’s case - they wanted to go out a certain way and were denied it either by lax security, an oversharing associate, or “hackers” (whatever that word means anymore). They’re not the only band to be thwarted this way and they won’t be the last, but the prevalence of leaks like this should be a concern for bands of all stripes as they enter the music industry. The fact is, some point, your work is going to get out before it’s ready.
Given this context, Northlane did the nearly-impossible: release an album no one saw coming. Mesmer was announced yesterday, and is out today. Alternative Press, Blabbermouth, core radio!, and others scrambled to get the story out while Northlane, in full command of the situation, rolled out the sort of marketing that would typically take place over several months in a single day: preorders went up, a tour was announced, their social media was updated, and an exclusive vinyl-and-wall-flag bundle went up on MerchLimited. All eighty bundles may already be gone . I haven’t checked, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the rabid, bewildered hype of this last-minute announcement had provoked that kind of knee-jerk response (Edit: bundles are now sold out).
That’s right: Northlane Beyonce’d us all. It’s a brilliant move. By announcing and releasing Mesmer to streaming and physical in such a short timeframe, the anticipation that would normally simmer for months - risking dismissal, fatigue, and over-speculation - is compressed to just a few hours. With their name on everyone’s newsfeed everywhere, the hype is white-hot. Mesmer itself takes on a certain mystique that will attract listeners outside of Northlane’s fanbase, of which I am one: I was aware of them, caught part of their set a few years ago, and was also aware they had changed vocalists, but never seriously considered giving them the time of day until now. Like everyone else, I want to know what Northlane has been up to - and for how long? Will it show? Is Mesmer really “last-minute,” or have they been sitting on this record for weeks? Months? Will it sound rushed and underdeveloped, or will it reflect a more patient Northlane, working without the pressure of deadlines and fan expectations?
And will this change the way metal bands do business? Will the practice of dropping surprise albums be referred to as “Northlaning” in metal circles from now on? These are big questions, probably too big to answer and too great a thing to ask of this band, but look at the facts: sales are already an uphill battle for heavy music. Consider the old format of preceding an album release with a date, a single release, preorders, a tour announcement, and merch (choose your order), and it becomes clear how archaic this cycle has become for bands that depend on first-week sales to compete in the modern entertainment industry, where instant accessibility is becoming the norm. Mesmer’s release has fascinating implications in this light. If others follow Northlane’s example, forgoing months of anticipation - enough time to forget or lose interest - for the pressure-cooker intensity of an unannounced release, we could begin to see significant change. Whether "Northlaning" should become the norm is as viable a question as any, and worth further discussion - but twenty-four hours ago, the notion that it could wasn’t even on our minds.