Virtual Hangs: Marcus Bridge of Northlane ‘From The Depths of Alien to Resolve on Obsidian’

Northlane‘s sixth studio album Obsidian is on the verge of global virulence. Sandwiched between Full Tilt Melbourne (our festival review here) and Full Tilt Brisbane, the virtuosic metalcore quartet are reigniting their careers after years of lacklustre lockdown, and celebrating the release of their forthcoming LP (out Friday, April 22) with an enormous Australian tour that includes PliniSleep Token and Alt. 

With a sling-shot of Northlane this year, a good ol’ fashioned Wall of Sound: Virtual Hangs session was needed to unpack the excitement of returning to the stage, but also the emotional turmoil for frontman and lead vocalist Marcus Bridge in navigating the segue way from Alien to Obsidian.

Enjoy the full hang video right here, or if you’re more of a reader, check out the interview further below.

Bridge joined me fresh off the back of Full Tilt Melbourne where Northlane made their triumphant return headlining a heavy music festival, something they had been waiting a very long time for, after numerous reschedules.

It was a bit scary going up there after two years, not really knowing what was going to come out of this,” he says pointing to his mouth. “But, it was so awesome. I couldn’t have imagined it going any better.

However, before everything went right for the show, a lot was going wrong for the Aussie metallers. “We had some backing-track issues, where the click wasn’t playing in our ears but the tracks were playing and we had no idea what was going on for a little while,” he says anxiously. But they got it sorted, and spat confetti out at their lovestruck crowd. 

As Northlane climb the ranks in an impressive list of heavy Aussie artists, the expectation is that the live performance experience has to match. “We had confetti, we had sparklers… the flames just kept coming and I was like, ‘do we have enough gas for this?’ he laughs. “It’s crazy, those flames just like suck the oxygen out of your throat.” They do it for the fans, so you’d ought to appreciate it.

The setlist was a full-fledged time warp, spanning all the way from ‘Dispossession‘ to Obsidian singles like ‘Clockwork‘, ‘Echo Chamber‘ and ‘Carbonized‘; the latter of which sparked our first conversation about the forthcoming album, due to its lyrical content. On the single, Bridge had said in the press release:

“We need to start holding predators and abusers accountable for the awful things they have done. Time and time again, the phrase ‘separate the artist from the art’ is used to discount and deflect the damage these people (often men in a position of power) have inflicted on those around them. Whether it’s manipulating minors or putting a hit out on your wife, it shocks me that fans will forget all about it because their latest track is really heavy. Stand with the victims, not the artists continuing their careers as if nothing ever happened. This song is a reminder.”

I was notably interested in what it was about this current cultural issue that caught his attention amongst other world issues. Well, I found that there are a lot of bands or members of bands (even ones I grew up listening to and looking up to really) and there’s just [been some] awful stuff that has come out about them,” the frontman says, equally disapprovingly and disappointedly. 

“It’s very easy to be selfish and be like ‘but these bands have been such a big inspiration for me’, so I can’t not enjoy them, but as more and more of these kinds of cases continued coming up, I was just like ‘this isn’t the side to be on to defend’. I think it’s really important to be on the side of victims and people who have gone through this, and imagining how difficult it would be to be someone who has gone through something awful like that.”

Bridge reaffirms his view that we should hold these people to account accordingly, and is sad to not see it happening to the extent that it needs to. “To see whoever it might be, keeping their career going as if nothing ever happened,” and often “people enjoying them even more because they released some music that they think is really good – it’s a hard thing to wrap your head around.”

To match the powerful lyrics on ‘Carbonized‘ are some equally powerful sonics too, particularly along the lines of EDM. “The electronic element was something that we were experimenting with on Alien and after people were receptive to it, I think that gave us a bit more freedom and a bit more confidence to go down that rabbit hole a bit more.”

The incremental increase in the electro is partially the brainchild of lead guitarist and now also programmer Jon Deiley. “He’s the one who creates all of these soundscapes. It’s a new element that we’ve not been able to dive so deeply into before, and I think it offers a lot of opportunities to do something different,” both vocally and rhythmically.

With the opportunity to play with vocal styles and lyrics, some curiosity lies in whether Bridge’s deeply personal writing on Alien regarding his upbringing was conclusively therapeutic. However, it actually had the opposite effect, he tells us candidly. 

“I think writing those songs was very therapeutic for me, but there was a bit of an aftermath that came from people in my family having a bit of backlash to it, including my mum, who actually ended up passing away not too long after the album came out, as well as other family members who had a lot to say about what I had to say, which is really hard.”

In coming to terms with that emotional load, the vocalist chose to cease the lyrical exploration of this topic area.I couldn’t help but feel guilty [but also] feel bad because I know these songs have been quite helpful for people listening to it [who can] relate to these stories in a specific and certain way.

“So with this new album, I definitely wanted to step away from the more intricate details of my upbringing and talk more about just the feelings.”

Bridge’s approach in separating the story from the emotion enabled him to entangle more of a full-bodied response to his own mental state, with ever-present career challenges going on in his life.

“The last couple of years has been full of anxiety and stress, and feelings of being an impostor,” asking himself “am I where I’m meant to be, and do I have a career after all?” The existential dread has been perpetuated across the world as we underwent the depths of a pandemic, with some industries dramatically more affected than others, arts included.

“When we’re back in the real world, is this where I’m meant to be? There was just so much doubt around Obsidian, mostly for me to be honest, so this album just turned out, very-kind of dark, a lot darker than Alien I think.”

For Marcus, the contrast between Obsidian and Alien were outcome-related. “Even though there’s a lot of dark stories on Alien, there was kind of a light at the end of the tunnel being that, I’m still around,” he says openly and vulnerably. 

With the 2019 record, the outcome was “still pushing forward and trying to create a life that was different to the life I was brought up in. Whereas this album is just like, I’m in a rut and I don’t know how to get out of it at the moment.”

Without that cathartic release after completing Obsidian, to some degree it’s left Bridge feeling a bit lost and “still figuring it out,” he shares freely.  

In terms of musical inspiration, Bridge took a different angle, trying “to focus more on the more poetic side of lyrics, trying not to be as literal. I found inspiration from a lot of weird places in that regard,” he says, smiling for the first time in a few minutes after entrusting me, as he sat in that dynamic of deepness, and a likely uncomfortable and vulnerable state of mind. 

“One of my bigger inspirations for lyric writing on this album was Reliant K,” an American rock band who Bridge referred to as a Christian group. “I’m not religious or anything but there’s something about Matt Thiessen, the vocalist in that band and how he writes that is very special to me.

I feel like they could be writing a Christian song or whatever, but there’s something in those songs that you can always find your own meaning in, and that’s something that I really wanted to bring into into our music – in a different way I think, and I guess in a darker way as well.”

In the lead-up to the original Full Tilt dates last year, we chatted to guitarist Josh Smith (read the interview here) about his at-the-time experience in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges to write and record Obsidian.

On the other side of the album, Bridge concurs it was a worthwhile geographical environment to undergo the process. “Being up there was good to kind of get away from any distraction and just be able to be a band again after so long. We hadn’t really been together in a group for a year or so at that point.”

The lyricist really need to bridge an emotional gap by informing the band of where his head was at. “I think with all of these feelings and anxious thoughts, I really needed to sit down with the guys and tell how I was feeling. I didn’t really have that opportunity [to share that] I was struggling quite a lot throughout lockdown.”

Escaping to the Dandenong Ranges created a space for Bridge to do that, not to mention the escape from his brutal 5km radius, as all Melburnians faced for so long. “So I think just being able to be there as a bunch of friends after was really important, and just to reconnect as a band.”

Regardless, they found it interesting and engaging to get back into a groove, and travelling together to do so was a helpful enabler to escape complacency. I think going up to the Dandenongs was the best thing we could [have done].”

Northlane are releasing this album independently, and with that comes onerous self-production. It put a lot of pressure on all of us – I think Jon and I in particular, because we were tracking a lot of our own stuff.”

The self-realised pressure comes at a time where the Aussie outfit have arguably entered their most experimental period to date, a period where each and every song is so textured and layered that the passion can’t go unappreciated by fans.

“We’re all super passionate. I mean, there was a lot of arguments in the studio as well, just because we all know what we want to do, but every now and then people have different opinions and we all want what’s best for the band and what’s best for these songs.”

On their dynamic genre-fusing approach to Obsidian, Bridge comments, “as we have delved deeper into this electronic [side] of things, people have been really getting on board and also just becoming a bit more interested in the more analogue aspect of it.”

They feel like they’re finding their feet with the 2022 record and sometimes that also comes with discomfort.

I feel like you’re not going to get anywhere unless you take a few risks and you kind of try and push things a little further than they have been before, and it’s definitely scary. I just think the amount of growth that Northlane has had over the years… is us trying new things and trying to find something new in this heavy world.”

With the handful of singles Northlane have shared so far, including more recently ‘Plenty‘, fans have experienced a metalcore fusion with industrial and electronic tones, similar to that of contemporary artists like Bring Me The Horizon and Bad Omens, but there may be more to Obsidian than these skirting crossovers.

‘Is this a Test’ is going to be a bit of a shock,” Bridge reveals, “‘cause it’s kind of a rave song to be honest, but with some heavy guitars behind it.”

The record won’t wholly be an ice-bath to fans though, as there’s elements of their past seeping through too. “I think ‘Clarity’ has a bit of a throwback feel to a bit of everything that Northlane’s done. It feels like it’s a bit of ‘Genesis/Scarab’ in there as well as some Mesmer vibes along the way.”

On the fifty-five minute album, he urges fans to look out for another track too. “There’s ‘Nova’ as well, that’s one of the most chill songs we’ve ever done, it’s mostly electronic drums and stuff – there’s a lot to unpack.

I asked him to sum the album in one word, just to torture him a bit. He retorted with not one but three words, and then a fourth which I hesitantly allowed as we bantered back and forth.

“It’s grim, it’s anxious and unresolved.”

The rationale for these adjectives were in its aforementioned lack of catharsis. “This album feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Life is a bit hard at the moment and hopefully gets better, but that’s how life is sometimes, not everything wraps up into a neat little package,” Bridge says, alluding to our earlier conversation amidst a struggle-some time. 

“There’s a lot of growth that needs to happen to be able to move forward and hopefully get to a more positive [place]. So, it’s definitely dark, dark is my word.”

Words by Ricky Aarons
@rickysaul90

If you or anyone you know needs help with their own mental well-being call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or Google your closest Suicide Prevention/Crisis Support Organisation.

Pre-order Obsidian here

Northlane - Obsidian

Northlane – Obsidian tracklisting:

1. Clarity
2. Clockwork
3. Echo Chamber
4. Carbonized
5. Abomination
6. Plenty
7. Is this a Test?
8. Xen
9. Cypher
10. Nova
11. Inamorata
12. Obsidian
13. Dark Solitaire

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About Ricky Aarons (695 Articles)
Co-editor at Wall of Sound and self-acclaimed deathcore connoisseur. My purpose is to expose you to the best emerging breakdowns and gutturals that this planet has to offer.