Northlane – Obsidian (Album Review)

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Whoever you are, whatever you’re doing, get ready to drop everything and have a damn good time because Northlane’s 6th studio album “Obsidian” is upon us. The Aussie metal masters have opened the floodgates of creativity, and the result is the listener being completely inundated with original and unique tracks that don’t just sit in the metal realm. In fact, they push the envelope on what metal can be, and they push it hard.

If their previous release “Alien” was anything to go by, it was a sign of the times for Northlane. The incredibly deep and striking record marked a shifting point for the band, a shift away from the straight-up metalcore sound that fans came to know them for. Whilst the core sound and identity of the band remains, an exploration into the more electronic side of things has provided listeners with a fresh perspective, a new way to enjoy the talent and passion that Northlane always put into their material.

“Obsidian” is a behemoth of an album. 13 tracks long and nearly an hour in duration, Northlane have put together some seriously amazing stuff for you to dive into. This record proves that they can progress any way they want, but execute it with the maturity and compositional fortitude that only comes from being so invested in their evolution. If I have one piece of advice before we dive in, be immersed in this album. Completely focus on it and jump in headfirst; you will be rewarded with a seriously enjoyable listening experience.

The record can’t begin in a better way. “Clarity” gently breaks the silence with a kind of effervescence that immediately brings about feelings of hope, or at least optimistic anticipation, let’s say. The track is exciting from the get-go, and it’s not long before we’re thrown into a cyclone of blast beats and technical riffs, headed by the furious and relentless screams of Marcus Bridge.

Clarity” is a perfect opener for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is the proverbial ‘closing of the door’ on the past for Bridge, and on the previous release “Alien”. This new body of work isn’t dwelling on that subject any longer, nor is Bridge or the band looking back at what the band once was. “Obsidian” is happening right now, and it shows Northlane in their truest form, the way that they deeply feel they want to exist as a group. The other reason is that it gives the listener a pretty trustworthy snapshot of what’s going to be happening throughout the rest of the record. Lots of electro-metal symbiosis, lots of unpredictable moments, and lots of neck-snapping sequences. If “Clarity” is shutting the door on the past, it’s slamming it shut so hard that the handle blows off.

We have to talk about all this synth, and for us to do that, we need to talk about Jon Deiley. Besides playing guitar and bass for this record, he’s responsible for the innumerable synth layers and textures that saturate this record. Deiley dives deep into the electro world and resurfaces with a unique contribution to the sound of “Obsidian”. These layers end up being just as integral to the music as any other instrument, even taking the spotlight for a good amount of the album. Because of Deiley probably spending every waking moment tweaking the knobs on his analogue synthesisers to create that perfect sound to fit that track, the result is an album that leaves the listener having absolutely no idea what kind of track will come next. It’s not gimmicky either, or a superficial approach to integrating electro elements into metalcore. It’s about as genuine a combination of these two genres as one could make. Check out Deiley’s socials to get a snapshot into the equipment he uses for these sounds, it’s pretty jaw-dropping.

Let’s take the eye-opening single “Echo Chamber” as an example, though. This is a radio-ready bop that gets you more and more hooked each time you hear it. The relationship between the guitars and synth layers is so well-done that it’s hard to tell whose supporting whose melody. It’s such a natural partnership that it feels like this is what Northlane has been doing since their inception. The same goes for “Cypher”, a brooding track that doesn’t just blur, but obliterates the line between the two musical styles. Plus, the breakdown in this track is one that all Northlane fans, old or new, will enjoy.

Some tracks lean much more towards the electronic side of things than metal, and that’s surely one of the reasons this album is so easy to get through. It’s not a consistent barrage of similar sounding tracks that end up leaving you exhausted. There is a great deal of pacing in “Obsidian” and that is one of the features that helps the listener to stay involved, to stay engaged. The idea of pacing is not even restricted to the energy or genre being put out to the band, either. “Plenty”, one of the first singles released by the band, sits essentially in the dead middle of the record. It gives the listener a moment of familiarity, whether they’re an old or new fan… that feeling of “I recognise this, and I don’t have to stretch too far to love this as a classic Northlane track”.

Abomination” brings about distant thoughts of The Prodigy as it mixes dance beats with Nic Pettersen’s mesmerising shuffle pattern on the drums. It feels like the band isn’t trying to blow the listeners’ mind with anything outrageous, but focusing more on sitting right into the groove of the rhythm and letting it run its course. This lets you switch off for a moment, get stuck into the beat and let it shroud over you. You’re now settled in, but all of a sudden, a huge bass beat ritualistically hits the center of your brain. Just before you bring out the glowsticks and go off the rails, they bring you back to the original motif. Northlane won’t let you get stuck in one idea for too long. Tracks like “Is This A Test” and “Nova” dial down the speed, again capitalising on their firm grip on the art of pacing throughout the record. “Nova” is a pretty special track, making the listener feel weightless in a dream-pop expedition that could make even trip-hop legends like Moby envious.

“Wait,” I hear you say, “with all these electro beats, what about my boy Nic? Does he get any love on this album?” Oh dear reader, don’t you worry. Despite some big electro sections pushing some heavy beats, Nic Pettersen’s performance on “Obsidian” is just as special as anything else from him. Let’s clarify something though, we can all agree that Pettersen doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. His reputation as a sensational drummer is indisputable. On this record, it feels as if he trusts that view as well, and that allows for a tonne of freedom when it comes to giving his best in the studio. On some tracks, he is indeed just pushing across a solid beat, such as in aforementioned tracks like “Nova” or “Is This A Test”. For the most part, though, his performance is just as exciting as any other component on the album. Ending track “Dark Solitaire” is a highlight for Pettersen. It’s a gorgeous closer than has this overwhelming interstellar feeling, with the transitions from section to section executed so seamlessly.

Some absolutely delicious fills and transitions are present in “Plenty” and “Xen”, but the snare drum resembles a weapon of mass destruction in title track “Obsidian”. There is an understated beauty in Pettersen’s performance. A sense of complete competence and comfort in one’s craft is necessary to bring about such a powerful contribution to the record. With that being said, there is nothing understated about the absolute frenzy of blast beats that we are greeted with at the very beginning of the album. “Clarity” is a track that shows Pettersen just going off, whether it’s the beginning blistering savagery or the intense breakdown that could easily fit on the soundtrack for Doom Eternal.

Josh Smith is the second guitarist, partnering up with Deiley to create the groovy djent-filled string-slammin’ extravaganza for “Obsidian”. The guitars do so much more than chug away with the bass drum, or finger tap away to some over-done melody. Smith and Deiley are shapeshifters in this album, going from distorted as hell, to pristine clean and everything in between. It becomes even more three-dimensional when the dynamics are constantly shifted, as well as the tone of the distortion itself, and even the placement of the guitars in the mix. The decisions of where, when, and how the guitars appear are never passive. It’s as deliberate and calculated as one can make it, and it results in the record covering the listener in simple sounding ideas that are intelligent in their creation.

Clarity” has the guitars melting into the atmosphere, almost making it a difficult task distinguishing them from synth layers. The grittiness put forward in “Carbonised” is another level of abrasiveness, made even more intense with a cacophony of harmonics being thrown around the soundscape, creating a dizzy dissonance that the band could keep you locked into for as long as they want. “Xen” is something wonderfully different, in only the best way. It hits hard straight out of the gate and the choruses hold these powerful chords and melodies, feeling futuristic and ready to take the listener away to a utopia created by the band. We’re also treated to an insanely fun solo after the bridge, something that doesn’t happen much at all on “Obsidian”. Fingers crossed that more of these appear in the future.

Whilst the bass guitar doesn’t get a huge amount of time in the spotlight across the record, it’s most certainly not neglected. For the most part, it carries an immense weight through the mix as any bass should. It’s also a great time to mention that the impressive production duties were actually carried out by the band themselves. Mixing credits go to the exceedingly talented Chris Blancato, as well as the iconic Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood. This is the same production combination that was carried out for “Alien”, and as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Digressions aside, the bass rightfully fulfills its role in the beautiful, almost overwhelming environment that is Northlane’s “Obsidian”, even getting some time to shine in the verses for “Nova”, plucking away gently at a few notes behind Bridge’s melodies.

And with that, we segue straight into the front-man’s performance. Marcus Bridge has been a part of Northlane for 6 years, and that’s essentially half of the age of the band itself. In Bridge’s six years in the band, there has been a seismic shift in their approach to metalcore, and it has almost undoubtedly been for the better. The Northlane sound over the years has constantly progressed, and though the old-school purists want the old band back, there is nothing stopping the group from pushing forward and cementing themselves as visionaries of what they believe is the next step in the story of Northlane.

The same goes for Bridge and his vocal progression. Since 2016’s “Node”, the first full-length with Bridge as the new vocalist, it’s easy to see that he has evolved beyond just a front man. The lyrics and vocal versatility have both improved, and whether it’s from a natural development over the years, or a deliberate refinement of his skills, it’s safe to say that that development exists, and we are hearing it all over “Obsidian”.

From the beginning, all the way to the end, the listener is privy to Bridge at his absolute finest. “Clarity” is an immediate display of fury mixed with some insanely powerful falsetto melodies that move between clear and distorted. We as listeners all immediately understand that Bridge didn’t take the responsibility for “Obsidian” lightly. “Clockwork”, an upbeat track that brings about thoughts of Linkin Park, has some of his catchiest melodies, but that’s also highly arguable since the whole album is full of hooks that will stay in your mind for days on end. Side note; “Clockwork” was chosen as the official theme song for Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege at the 2021 Oceanic Esports League. Now, is it a coincidence that the only track off “Obsidian” that includes the word ‘rainbow’ in its lyrics is the one that gets chosen as the theme song for Rainbow Six Siege? Maybe we’ll never know…

For “Carbonized”, we hear Bridge bringing about some absolutely filthy, almost rap-like verses which are an intensely fun way to keep things fresh so early in the album. The chorus is a perfect soundtrack to a feature film *cough Matrix cough* (seriously how was it not picked up for that?). It has this weighty, yet floating beautiful darkness about it that we’ve become accustomed to from the likes of bands such as Sleep Token and Imminence.

Xen” is a memorable track when it comes to considering Bridge’s vocals. The verses call for a head banging response to his rough vocals, and the choruses are so catchy that they’ll be tattooed on your mind for the foreseeable future. The bridge, however, is something that stands out in this track. It’s a suspended moment of pleasure, for lack of a better description. Bridge lets out melismatic notes in a smooth and breathy texture across plucked notes on the guitars and synth layers, channeling that otherworldly experience that comes from artists like London Grammar. The end of this track is a nice little thing to enjoy, while you’re at it. If you’re a fan of artists like Brian Eno and Sigur Ros, you’re going to love the epilogue to “Xen”.

Funnily enough, as I went through this album multiple times, I found myself gravitating to the tracks that were less focused on heaviness, and revolved more around rhythm and melody. My ultimate case in point is “Nova”, the aforementioned trip-hop track with an all-clean performance from Bridge. It’s arguably the least Northlane-esque track on the record, but that’s exactly what makes it a track worthy of this record. “Obsidian” is a complete departure from standard metalcore, and “Nova” is the loud and proud display of that, and I was completely agreeing with it.

The final few tracks of the album do not disappoint in terms of energy. “Inamorata” brings Bridge’s versatility to the forefront of the listener’s mind, and “Obsidian” is him showcasing the heaviest version of himself we have ever heard. Seriously, “Obsidian”, in its heaviest moments, can be described as the sonic equivalent of hurdling through space, through an asteroid belt.

I think I’ve spoken enough about Northlane’s latest record “Obsidian”. At the same time, however, I feel like I’ve barely scraped the surface. There is so much happening throughout this release, that it feels like listening to it only once or twice should be considered a crime. From the first song, all the way to the final number, the listener is given an overwhelming display of what Northlane are capable of, and more. The mix of powerful metalcore riffs, djenty grooves and ethereal synth layers have culminated to provide a dominating display of the future of metalcore. This is the direction in which metalcore should evolve, if it wants to.

“Obsidian” shows a band that has weathered storms. It shows a band that has put in the hardest of yards that other artists and bands just can’t commit to pushing through. The result of this is not only an album that is so damn enjoyable to listen to, but also an exhibition of a tightly-knit group of friends who have created something with so much passion injected into it. To sum up this ridiculously long review, “Obsidian” is a triumph, and should not be overlooked.

Released On: April 22nd2022
Released By: Independent / Self-Released
Genre: Metalcore

Musicians:

  • Marcus Bridge / Vocals
  • Jon Deiley / Guitar/Bass/Programming
  • Josh Smith / Guitar
  • Nic Pettersen / Drums

“Obsidian” Track-list:

  1. Clarity
  2. Clockwork
  3. Echo Chamber
  4. Carbonized
  5. Abomination
  6. Plenty
  7. Is This A Test
  8. Xen
  9. Cypher
  10. Nova
  11. Inamorata
  12. Obsidian
  13. Dark Solitaire

9.4 Excellent

Northlane’s latest record “Obsidian” is a contender for metalcore album of the year, to put it simply. It’s absolutely filled to the brim with unique sounds and musical ideas that beg the listener to become completely enveloped in the atmosphere. Fans of the heavier side of the group won’t be disappointed; there are some solid ground-shaking breakdowns in here. The most special moments, however, are the ones that move away from the classic metalcore structure. “Obsidian” is so diverse and so engaging that fans and new listeners will have a tough time choosing which parts they love the most. To sum it all up, Northlane has put out their best work to date.

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 9.5
  • Production 9.5
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