If you had to sum up Northlane in a word, it would be ‘resilient’.
In their 12-year career, the four-piece have weathered the kind of storms that would have seen most other bands bow out of the game without a second thought. Yet, through every bout of turbulence, Northlane emerges on the other side with fortitude and a trailblazing body of work that shifts the tectonic plates of heavy music around the globe.
The last time Northlane had to push through adversity the end result was Alien. Staring down financial ruin, waning ticket sales and a less than supportive network, Northlane channeled their frustrations into Alien. A confronting album that converged Northlane’s trademark technical metal with disparate genres not often present in heavy music, it was an unsettling soundtrack in which frontman Marcus Bridge laid bare his harrowing life story. This raw vulnerability coupled with their sheer grit to forge ahead delivered Northlane the watershed moment they vitally needed.
Upon its release, Alien debuted at #3 on the ARIA Album Chart (their fourth top 3 record) The record also scored Northlane their third consecutive ARIA Award for Best Hard Rock / Heavy Metal Album as well as the AIR Award for Best Independent Heavy Album. Alien went on to become Northlane’s highest selling debut globally, culminating the biggest world tour of their career. As Northlane revelled in their renaissance, the backlash from Bridge’s family came flooding in. It is here where the Obsidian story begins.
“There was a bit of backlash from my family and people close to me who were referenced in the songs from Alien,” sighs a weary Bridge. “I felt like I had upset these people who were close to me and, well, I don’t really want to be diving that deep into my personal life anymore. I’m quite a sensitive person to what other people think of me.”
Stepping off the stage into an unfolding pandemic and a series of lockdowns, the isolation deepened Bridges’ wounds and by the time the band were able to come together to record Obsidian, his confidence was shattered.
“Something just doesn’t feel natural about not being in the same room with the band or playing music for over a year and then immediately jumping into writing 14 songs. I felt I didn’t really have much to say after being locked up for so long.”
Northlane moved into a tranquil house at the top of the Dandenong Ranges in Melbourne to record album number six. They set up a makeshift studio in the cinema room but as the songs started to take shape, Bridge struggled to find his groove, fretting about his vocal performance right through to his ability to pen an album’s worth of lyrics.
“I think it was just not happening because I was feeling all these things and hadn’t really spoken to the guys about it. There was a night where I just broke down and told them how I was feeling both in a creative sense and, on a personal level, what’s been going on in the past year. It was quite difficult for me to even initiate that conversation.”
In true Northlane spirit, the band – completed by Jon Deiley (guitar), Josh Smith (guitar) and Nic Pettersen (drums) rallied around Bridge and their mateship that has pulled the band out of their darkest moments galvanised him into action.
Picking up where Alien left off, the album opener “Clarity” beckons you in with its alluring synth before plunging you into the depths of hell, with Bridge growing, “You said you didn’t deserve this / that my truth struck a nerve / well I meant every word”. Bruised but not broken, through the course of the song, Bridge regains his confidence, reclaims his story and then closes that chapter of his life for good.
From here, we are immersed into Northlane’s most expansive and daring album yet. Self-recorded and self-produced with the help of their longtime collaborator Chris Blancato, the sound Northlane have been working towards over the span of their career has been fully realised on Obsidian. Sonically spanning the gamut of their entire discography, Northlane’s signature bottom-heavy groove coexists side-by-side with fully fledged EDM and techno, drum and bass, soaring guitar work and nostalgic atmospherics. It’s this fearless evolution that keeps Northlane light years ahead of everyone else in heavy music.
“I think the main thing that Alien did was instill quite a large amount of confidence in what we do and what we make,” says principal songwriter Jon Deiley. “For me, it showed that I can experiment as far as I can and gave me the confidence to be creatively free with my music.”
That freedom can be heard through tracks like “Echo Chamber” and “Is This A Test” that conjure up futuristic Matrix rave vibes while the widescreen chorus of “Xen” demands to be sung in the car with the windows down. Elsewhere, the pensive synths of “Nova” sound like the kind of song Moby would’ve written in the mid-00s.
“I like music that focuses around rhythm, pulse and being able to easily move your body to it,” says Deiley. “A lot of the songs on Obsidian came from curiosity playing with synths and bending electronic genres that I like.
“On this album I really wanted to steer the band away from riff city,” he continues “I’ve written enough riffs and contributed enough to the metal world.”
While Deiley focused on writing more melodic material that felt nice to listen to as a way to lift himself out of the anger and depression spiral spurred on by the ongoing pandemic, Bridge channeled his despair at the state of the world around him into the lyrics, creating a dark duality that underpins Obsidian.
The title track takes aim at the selfish nature of humans completely desensitized to destroying the planet and spreading hate – “we’re too far gone” sings Bridge over an uncomfortable riff that sounds like your speakers are malfunctioning. “Cypher” is completely void of melody, trudging through a wall of distortion as the protagonist longs to tap out of his reality and into a simulation. The otherworldly synths of “Nova” narrate a somber journey through the many cycles of falling apart and picking up the pieces that are starting to crack. “Plenty” is a bleak look at forsaking reincarnation with its perplexing time-signature bookending a delicately soaring chorus.
“I did realise as I was writing a lot of these songs that it is depressing with no moral to the story,” explains Bridge. “The thing to take from this album is that things aren’t always great and I’m sure people know that after these past couple of years. I think it’s more so just an exploration of those feelings and how someone who’s stuck in their own head is dealing with that and trying to move forward with awareness of how you feel, as opposed to pretending like everything’s okay when it’s not.”
The release of Obsidian will mark an important milestone for Northlane as the band’s first self-released record. Forging ahead as a wholly independent entity, Northlane have shunned machinations of the music industry to take complete control of their career. By backing themselves in this way only strengthens their resolve in the music they are creating now and into the future.
“It’s shown me that the other guys in the band really believe in the vision I have. If they didn’t believe in it, then they probably would have left some time ago. The fact that they’re still sticking with it shows that they really give a shit,” says Deiley.
“I’d be surprised if there’s really anything that can stop us from doing this.”