As much virtue as there is in charting previously unexplored sonic territory, there is an equal amount of reward and praise to be found in the act of taking something that’s already been done and improving on the formula in small but substantial ways. Not every new album needs to reinvent the wheel; not every new band needs to totally upend their genre and change everyone’s way of approaching it from here on out.
With this in mind, though, the old adage “familiarity breeds contempt” still rings true. Building off the same formula as others is no excuse for not having the signature personal touch that a band needs to bring with them, should they wish to stand out among the glut of bands in just about every metal subgenre today, particularly the crowded realm of tech-heavy metalcore that Napoleon occupies.
After quite some time, Newborn Mind, the debut album from this UK-based technical metalcore outfit, is finally here. Originally slated for a 2015 release, the debut single from the album, “Stargazer,” captivated listeners with an approach to their genre that is at once refreshingly new and intimately familiar: a powerful blend of fast-paced, complex riffing and emotional hardcore, they perfectly combine two worlds that have always sat side-by-side but never really seen much significant crossover. Although bands like Structures and Architects – and even earlier Northlane to an extent – have toed the line for a while now, always staying firmly planted in the metal side, Napoleon finds a signature sound in quickly and decisively obliterating this distinction. They don’t try to find a balance between the two genres, opting instead to mix them into a single potent sound that rings as much with an emotive quality as it does with quick, slippery melodies and off-time rhythmic beats that seem to shrug time signatures away like water off a duck’s back. With a unique approach to their genre and a strong ear for quality, it’s clear that these guys are on the up-and-up, and where they go from here could (and hopefully will) earn them a place among the heavyweights of metalcore, even if Newborn Mind doesn’t quite launch them into the stratosphere from the get-go.
To use a somewhat odd metaphor, if the concept presented here of splicing these two genres together is a single piece of physical art – a statue or sculpture of some sort – then each of the ten songs that make up Newborn Mind is a snapshot from a new angle, each presenting a somewhat differing view of what is, ultimately, one singular object. In developing the full picture of a single idea across an entire album’s length of work (albeit a short one, clocking in at about 36 minutes), they’ve neglected to present more than one piece of art to a listener, and as a result, tracks on this record begin to bleed together by the halfway point. It’s still an enjoyable experience, just a somewhat repetitive one; Napoleon has said everything they need to by the fifth or sixth track, and although the album isn’t front-loaded, the first few songs are the most enjoyable because at that point, the sound they put forth is at its most fresh. Each track holds up on its own, and putting this on “shuffle” means that every song can have its time in the limelight, but as a full listen, it just gets repetitive after about 15 minutes, and the enjoyment to be had from an individual track diminishes quickly.
Ultimately, Newborn Mind is a good album on the cusp of being a great one. If Napoleon had expanded their vision slightly and brought in a slightly more diverse range of ideas, this debut full-length from them would have been a phenomenal album and a potential landmark for modern metalcore, but as it stands today, Newborn Mind is a still-solid release that shows a band with a whole hell of a lot of future potential and an idea of where they need to take their sound next to grow even further.