Free from the shackles of a clear vision, Northlane tapped into something with Obsidian that is largely hitherto untapped. It contains multitudes – ‘Inamorata’, a love song, next to a song about the matrix; shirtfronting predatory behaviour one moment with ‘Carbonized’, to chasing down the ticking clock the next on ‘Clockwork’ and purposefully unfinished finale, ‘Dark Solitaire’. Sweeping electronic vistas juxtaposed with crushing elements of metal. In one moment, Obsidian does what few bands managed to do across entire albums – it also sees Northlane lead the pack not from in front, but from within.
Which is why the album begins with the idea of clarity, or more accurately, a desire for it.
An urge to soar above the pillars of smog to see what’s on the horizon. And so while ‘finding our footing in the new normal’ is a common theme on albums released after the Before-times, with Obsidian, Northlane instead choose to join us in this primordial sea of unknown unknowns, resonating profoundly with their audience.
“There’s definitely a starting moment of, ‘Let me clear my head, and able to get these thoughts out.'” Bridge says of the album’s unfurling.
“I was just trying to navigate how to deal with all these feelings; stress and anxiety, And hopefully get some clarity out of these songs, which feel like I didn’t ever quite find. I was definitely trying to find some place where I’d be happy with what I was writing, but I just feel I was always second guessing, didn’t have much clarity, I didn’t really know what was going to happen in the future.”
It’s here that the biggest point of difference between Obsidian and Alien can be observed by the naked eye. The former was very specific to the story of Bridge, whereas Obsidian is the story of us all. It’s a big pivot for Bridge, going from writing himself to writing everyone else, a deliberate move to avoid the pitfalls of trauma porn, and a natural move all the same, “I mean, I am still part of everyone else, we’re all just humans trying to figure it out.”
After all, just because Obsidian doesn’t put forward any answers, that doesn’t mean it lacks truth.
“If I write these feelings from the heart and find my place in that, then I’m sure a lot of other people would feel really similar. I wasn’t ever too bogged down by the idea of, “Are people going to relate to this? I’m writing this for the people to relate to.” I just understood. These feelings are feelings that everyone’s going to have been going through over the last couple of years, and whether that’s anxiety or stress or not knowing what’s coming in the future, I just understood.
Expanding the purview of what stories could make it to the album, Northlane cast the net wide and in doing so, discovered that many of these places the Obsidian writing sessions were heading, were indeed places many of us fear the most.
Struggling to find purpose after the past two years, and reaching the limits of the regressive behaviours that led us here are some of the topics Obsidian addresses head on. What’s also intriguing about the album is the shift between fact and fantasy as a storytelling mode and as we see in the case of ‘Cypher’, unreal stories acquire real qualities.
I always honestly think writing the more personal stuff can be a lot more challenging because it’s a lot of pressure on yourself to be open and not tip-tap dance around what you are trying to say, whereas with a bit more of an out there storytelling, fantasy vibe, I love doing that because it just you’re writing a story and you’re writing something that’s, has no bounds – Like with ‘Cypher’.”
“‘Cypher’, on the top layer of it, it’s a song from the perspective of [Joe Pantoliano’s] Cypher from The Matrix, but if you look deeper, it’s the idea of accepting the steak you’re eating isn’t real, rather than waking up in some cave as your reality. It’s just a bit more of an out there look at the real world.”
The problem with the unprecedented is that all too often we lack the means to quantify it – after all, it’s unprecedented. Fortunately for Northlane, their tried and true creation process caters to the unprecedented in its inherent form – one that’s based on ‘What If?’ rather than ‘What works.“
“I feel like there’s two processes of it,” Bridge says of Northlane’s unique creative process. “One where Jon’s out in the wilderness, hunting for the sound. He’s definitely the one who takes the bulk of the stress of writing, and puts all of that chaos on himself, and then he brings it back. Then we have to figure out what we do with the meat he brought home. Do we cook it up? Do we boil it? What do we do? I feel like we go back into the wilderness when I start doing vocals for sure.”
“We’re not thinking about the scene. We’re not thinking like, “This is what it needs to sound like, because this is the world we’re in.” We’re never like that. It’s never in our minds. It’s, “How is it going to serve these songs in the grand scheme? Not just the metal world or the core world.”
Having won more ARIA awards in their category than any band before them, with more sold out shows on their resume than one can count and the types numbers around their releases normally reserved for Marvel trailers, gauging the success of Obsidian won’t be so binary for Northlane – “We’re already getting this vibe that people are really connecting with this new stuff way quicker than anything we’ve done before.”
“I’m still in this limbo point of not knowing how to feel about it all, because it is a super negative album and done in a time when I was quite doubtful of myself. Hopefully people are stoked on it, then that’ll be a big relief for me, that all this work was for something.”
Image: Kane Hibberd