Overall Score: 6/10 Songwriting: 7/10 Electronics: 6/10 Repeat Listen Value: 6/10 Pros: A logical step that fully embraces the electronics that they’ve introduced. Cons: Loses some of what made Alien great by placing the emphasis on the newer elements of their sound.
2019’s Alien saw Northlane pushed further through the smoke than ever before. An intensely personal album for vocalist Marcus Bridge, their last record added layers of nu metal, industrial and electronic music to their established sound. Turning the dials up on the emotion and expansion within Northlane proved to be a great success for them and three years later, they’ve returned to follow up the album that re-defined their band. Obsidian, their sixth-full length album, may take a step back from the beating and bruised heart of Alien but it doubles down on the musical progression, resulting in a record that makes sense for the bands’ trajectory but does fail to pull you in like their 2019 release did.
At the centre of Alien was Bridge feeling vital to this band and displaying his scars for all to see. It was a brave and exposed record lyrically and thematically which you can’t expect a band to repeat once those demons have been exorcised in public already. Obsidian chooses to look at the present with thoughts of the coming future instead of sewing up past wounds. Technology, communication and human contact are key themes of this record and they lend themselves to the development in the Northlane sound.
From a sonic perspective, Obsidian takes the elements that wormed their way in on the last release and makes them the star of the show. Unlike when other metalcore bands introduce electronics, this isn’t a band with a member who can play a keyboard, this is a band within a machine. Each and every track is swarmed with electronic beats and accents which kind of stand-in for the drum grooves and riffs at points. The majority of the record doesn’t sound like a real band jamming in a room, it feels very synthetic but not from a quality perspective as this inhuman sound is exactly what the record wants to be.
The nu metal and industrial influences are weaved in between the electronics and give tracks like Carbonized and Abomination a bounce with some heft behind it. None of the elements that Northlane have added into their sound feel tacked on and that’s a real risk when adding things like electronic drum beats into metalcore. The issue with the electronics on Obsidian is they’re so prominent in every track that sometimes they don’t stand out.
Alien used them more sparingly and though it feels like a natural progression for them to become more embedded next time around, they feel more like a defining element rather than some interesting ideas added into the shuffle. These moments of experimentation are now the foundations and this makes them less exciting. There aren’t as many big choruses or interesting diversions or memorable breakdowns. There are some really fun electronics like the dancey beat on Echo Chamber and the way it pulses in and out but these moments are so ingrained into the DNA of the album that they sum up the record as a whole instead of adding highlights into the tracks.
Northlane’s Obsidian is a record that takes the trend of combining electronics and metalcore and pushes it much further than they’ve gone before. The end result is one that takes an exciting idea that made them a better band and turns it into a definitive characteristic with mixed results. It still makes for an enjoyable listen but some of their identity is lost in this evolution. Obsidian’s musical content unfortunately shares some of the characteristics of the themes that it touches on. It’s a record that sounds like it’s moving forward and constantly shifting but in the process, has left behind a sense of connection.
Obsidian is out now via Believe Records.