Northlane – Obsidian (Album Review)

The finest of poetry often arises from the darkest of days. Australia’s most resilient Progressive Metalcore outfit, Northlane, has been here before: clawing their way out from under with 2019’s ARIA Award-winning Alien. But life is cyclic, time is often the enemy, and three years and a global pandemic later, they find themselves once again discovering catharsis in creation. Born of these thorny times, their most daring collection to date, Obsidian, arrives on Friday, April 22, 2022, thanks to the band’s own Believe.

As is the case for many of us, the past few years have not necessarily been kind to the members of Northlane. A band that was formed in 2009, that has been harnessed into a roller-coaster ride of a 13-year career, the now-quartet has done a lot with their time. Three-time ARIA Music Award winners, they have five epic full-lengths to their name—including their 2011 debut Discoveries, 2015’s Node, and 2017’s Mesmer—as well as four EPs and two live collections. Coupled with tours alongside the likes of Bring Me the Horizon, August Burns Red, and Parkway Drive, it’s not difficult to see why the band is so highly-lauded and sports a dedicated fan base across the globe.

And yet, album number six did not come without its challenges. Self-recorded and self-produced with the help of longtime collaborator Chris Blancato (Glass Ocean, Shading), the 13-song Obsidian was born of collective strife. Much in thanks to the solitude of lockdown life, anger, depression, and despair floated to the surface, forcing some of Northlane—Vocalist Marcus Bridge, Guitarists Jon Deiley and Josh Smith, and Drummer Nic Pettersen— to confront the ghosts of shattered confidence and self-doubt. Ever resilient, the quartet used this as fuel for a collection of new material with recurrent themes that include everything from man’s destructive nature to imposter syndrome.

Obsidian moves the Aussies away from riff-driven Progressive Metalcore in favor of sounds that inspire the body to move. From Techno to EDM to drum and bass, a thicker, bolder approach is realized on the album, but it’s carefully composited and keeps both its feet planted firmly in heavy music. In this, the wildly artful layers and fluid textures that exist within every Northlane composition continue to set the group apart, but now, genre no longer exists. We hear this on tracks such as “Echo Chamber,” where a zillion disparate elements come together to craft an overwhelming aural experience that turns a wary eye toward the toxicity of social media and its many keyboard warriors. Meanwhile, in “Abomination,” a haunting wall of sound serves as a mirror for shame and guilt, emotions that ring from Bridge’s vocals with pain-filled sincerity.

But sometimes, Northlane says more with less. In fact, even when they aim for a simpler structure and hone in on key phrases, lyrically, they still bring their A-game, such as on the catchy “Is This A Test?”. Riding atop a harrowing cacophony of calm, “Cypher” serves as a platform for the philosophical work of Alan Watts, emphasizing unity, while “Inamorata” pays tribute to the love that can make each of us shine.

Amid all this gorgeous intricacy, Northlane offers its listeners a plethora of food for thought. As is the case with the pessimistic “Plenty,” which moves beyond its sludgy intro to explore the idea of reincarnation with its spine-tingling proficiency. Sinister bass licks provide the backbone for “Carbonized,” a fervent hope that predators and abusers will face accountability for their heinous actions. Then there are the melodic, soaring choruses of “Xen,” a spiritual zen that contrasts with tracks like “Obsidian.” A spin through the cosmos for a story as old as time, the brutal beauty of the album’s namesake is in its assessing gaze at the endless cycle of man’s voracious disregard for everything we touch—from disrespect for nature to an inability to coexist with one another, there is no stopping humanity’s appetite for destruction.

All of this sits alongside the reclamation of “Clarity,” self-doubt of “Clockwork,” gorgeous cinematics of “Nova,” atmospheric synths of “Dark Solitaire,” and a foreboding sense that our being, both as a society and as individuals, is, more often than not, a tragedy of our own authoring. Few bands can confront the Stygian nature of man with such frustrated grace, shaping a duality that is simultaneously desolate and dazzling, able to find the light of love in a sea of wreckage.

Our world is a violently loud place, and Obsidian serves as a prism for all of its vainglorious shades. It is the mark of a fully-realized group of musicians who, technically proficient as they are, are willing to forgo perfection to dig deep into sensation. There’s something almost tactile about the record, providing listeners with an aural journey that reaches into the physical to deliver something distressingly mesmerizing. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Northlane’s latest 5 out of 5 stars.


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