The development of ‘djent’ as a debated subgenre had a few early and notable leaders. In my memory, the first to emerge out of Australia was Northlane. While their music has never resonated with me personally, their career has been notable for the innovation and strength of their early material. In the intermeddling years, line-up changes and maturation have led to their embrace of a more melodic and hook-oriented direction. Obsidian, their sixth full-length, continues in this vein, resulting in a polished and catchy, if not particularly ambitious, product.
A recurring musical direction throughout Obsidian is synth-driven hooks. Sometimes, these elements give the tracks an ’80s flavour (opener “Clarity”), while elsewhere propelling an almost dance-pop direction for the single “Echo Chamber”. The latter song’s opening wouldn’t be out of place on more contemporary pop radio. The synths are soon accompanied heavy guitars and a four-on-the-floor drum pattern that I think will have widespread appeal and fit on a breadth of workout playlists.
Single “Carbonized” flirts with a numetal-inflected rap/scream performance, paired with a melodic, soaring chorus. The song slightly alters the verse-chorus-verse-chorus formula with an unexpected harmonic-driven breakdown. While this song feels like a pastiche of modern metalcore tropes pulled together by an enjoyable chorus, it also emphasizes the production value here. Obsidian was self-produced by Northlane. Even on a song like “Carbonized” that feels a little lackluster, it is clear that the band knows both how to craft memorable hooks and highlight their strengths. Mixing was handled by Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood, who just can’t seem to miss, and mastering was completed. by the highly sought-after Ermin Hamidovic. This record sounds really good, even when some of the songs don’t grab my attention.
“Plenty” might most smoothly unite older and newer Northlane of any song on the record, with a more technical riff undergirding a catchy chorus. Not to speak too much more about the production, but these low-tuned guitars hit exceptionally hard here. Still, they never muddy up the overall track.
Surprisingly, the song that hasn’t yet been chosen by the band as a single is “Is This A Test?”. Much like “Echo Chamber”, it has a danceable quality that might alienate some metal purists. However, if you’re looking for something to get pumped up to, or maybe just getting started with metal, this track is a friendly welcome to the genre. Even though the chorus lyrics might be a bit repetitive, it also probably makes for the album’s catchiest moment.
Even after several listens to this record, I don’t quite know where I sit with it. I think Obsidian has some impressive qualities, most notably the strength of the hooks and the impact of the album’s overall production. Its mainstream appeal and accessibility may function to bring a new audience into the genre, which is always exciting. Further, all the songs here feel like they would sit on many -core playlists proliferating your favourite DSP. But at the same time, there’s not a lot here that feels innovative, exciting, or emotionally resonant. I referred to the album as a product in the opening paragraph because that’s what it feels like – content manufactured for the masses. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and Northlane accomplishes this goal well, but Obsidian does not connect with me as something more than that.