Northlane – ‘Obsidian’

By Dave Stewart

Northlane’s last album ‘Alien’ saved them. The band were ready to throw in the towel, seeing their ticket and album sales declining, feeling as though something was missing, and that album could’ve been their swan song. Thanks to the brutal industrial approach to their signature groove-laden sound and the deeply personal lyrics of Marcus Bridge, who let us all into his mind and opened up a lot of old wounds from his past, the harrowingly intense album was like a whole case of adrenaline shots to their career.

They arguably became the most popular they’ve ever been and, with so many eyes on them and voices talking about them, the content of the record inevitably made its way back to Bridge’s family. Those old wounds were kept open with bucketloads of salt being poured into them – which was undoubtedly painful for him to endure – but he makes a powerful statement on the band’s self-released new album ‘Obsidian’. That statement? He meant every word.

Album opener ‘Clarity’ serves as both a finale for ‘Alien’ and a prequel what the band are doing with ‘Obsidian’. Eerie towering synths slither in and out of the foreground before an eruption of frantic riffing, the relentless pace of Nic Pettersen’s drum work continually pummelling the senses whilst Bridge screams lyrics like “you fucked me up again” with a mouth full of venom. He’s clearly deeply hurt by what’s happened both over the last few years and throughout his life, but he’s done talking about it through music. He’s powerfully slammed that book shut, and now the band open a new one into the rest of the record.

The rest of the new album lyrically looks at the state of the world through Bridge’s eyes as he tries to pick up the pieces and move forwards after sharing his story. The bleak nature of the words fits with the driving industrial punch of the music so well, and it can be felt through the whole record. Self doubt, depression and the fleeting nature of time are all mentioned in ‘Clockwork’, a track that’s surprisingly upbeat and bouncy considering the subject matter. ‘Cypher’ has a similar vibe, with swirling industrial electronics and sledgehammer guitars forming a sturdy and catchy foundation for Bridge as he exclaims “No one, no prodigy will speak for me / I can’t touch, I can’t feel a false prophecy.”

One of the things this record does is really push the boundaries of what their sound is capable. The more electronic-heavy tracks are a welcome development in their musical direction, and they make for some of the most magical moments on the album. ‘Echo Chamber’ is, for lack of a better description, an absolute belter. The stabbing synths that bulk out the verses and the colossal chorus are rib-shattering, but that final breakdown will completely overwhelm your senses in the best possible way. ‘Dark Solitaire’ is a real menace, rising and falling in all the right places with that final crescendo of punishment really driving the punch home. There’s the almost dance-like ‘Abomination’, the huge and haunting ‘Inamorata’ and the delicate and chilled-out ‘Nova’ too, and they all slot in at exactly the right moment in the record.

There’s a lot of classic Northlane material here too woven in with their present day genetics. ’Carbonized’ is this albums version of ‘Talking Heads’ – a big and bold groove-fest that’s armed to the teeth with piercing guitar stabs, pulsating drum work and a soaring chorus for good measure. ‘Plenty’ nods at the technical riff prowess that guitarists Josh Smith and Jon Deiley have had from the very beginning, effortlessly dancing across the fretboard without taking away from the track’s power. There’s huge ‘Node’ vibes oozing out of ‘Xen’, ‘Mesmer’ vibes coming from the album’s epic title track – it’s like they’ve paid homage to their roots whilst still keeping their sound in the now. They’ve really found their stride, and nothing can slow them down.

‘Obsidian’ is the perfect follow-up to ‘Alien’, both musically and conceptually. It carries on the same dark electronic-laced vibe that it’s predecessor introduced to the band’s world, leaning into it a little harder to enhance that other-worldly feeling while continuing to paint evocative pictures with Bridge’s poetic lyrics. It’s heavy, it’s beautiful, it’s groovy, its emotionally volatile and narratively expansive – the strength of the grasp they have on their ever-evolving sound is stronger than ever, and this is definitive proof of that. Bold, fearless and utterly crushing, just as a Northlane record should be.

DAVE STEWART

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