Well if you've not figured out by now that me doing an earthtone9 review means a new novel, then be warned, this is going to be a rather long new novel. Settle in, actually, go and get yourself a coffee and something to eat first.
Suitably refreshed? Ok, let's go. The first time I listened to this, it sent me to sleep. I should qualify that, it was 3.30am and I was drunk when I first put it in the tape deck, and I normally like to be asleep by that time anyway. But I woke up at 8am (which I really didn't want to do) and first reaction was to push play on the tape and listen to it again. I then must have listened to the album in its entirety at least 8 times that day. Which is a lot, especially for me. And the next day. And in the car on the way to work. Pretty much on a constant basis really. But that's what this album does. It literally takes over your listening experience. Reviews were suspended for at least a week due to the fact that absolutely nothing else got a look in - hey, you can't review what you're not listening to - or can you (I'll leave that one for the more cynical to decide.)
And initially it was literally a tale of 2 halves. See, the first 4 songs on the album have been played live by the band a number of times over the last few months. Only 2 of the remaining six were familiar. So for the first few listens there was an imbalance. I knew some of the songs, and so they were more immediate, and you kind of wonder if the reason that the "new" songs are not kicking in so much is down to the quality. And of course, because you recognised them from the live set, you want to really get familiar and close up and personal with them, at the sacrifice of the other tracks sometimes. But persevernce is the key - the album is one that is intended to be comsumed as a whole, not bit parts. And so after about 6 listens, those thoughts are dispelled. See, a famous quote in the past was by Steve Jarvis after the 'tone had supported Megadeth. He said that "they have no songs." Well, the band must've been praying to the song khazi, cos this time round they're shitting them out like nobodys business.
And as for the songs themselves? Well, it starts off with Tat Twam Asi, which was the leadoff track on the recent Hi Point EP. I wrote loads about it then, so without rehashing all that, it's basically one of the tracks of the year, indeed any year. From the very first time you listen to it, the chorus hits you. It's the most melodic catchy thing the band have done. Or that was HAD done, before this album. There's a few little differences, the chorus has a real choppy little guitar bit, and the drums are thundering this time round. In some ways, it's a strange opener, the chant and drum intro that precludes it is almost a downbeat lead in, but, it sets out the current e9 stall straight away. Whereas on the debut there was the almost nu-metal of Withered, and it helped set a tone (sorry!) for the album, this does the same. But now there's melody, choruses, a more bolder experimentation of their sound. It's been a while since I first heard the song, and even now, it still sends shivers in a way that reminds me of the shivers that one of my favourite ever songs did, Eve Of My Release by The Beyond. 10 years on and that reamins an awesome song, Tat Twam seems to be heading a similar way.
Next is Evil Crawling I, a track they've played live for a while. The opening riff literally uncoils itself before the harsh e9 shines through. No really, uncoil is what it does. I can't think of a more accurate way to describe it. It's tight, it uncoils. It kind of reminds me for some reason of Metallica riffs around the Black album time (no please, come back. I didn't mean it, surely we can work it out, it's only that opening riff). But even here, it's now tempered with melody throughout. It's in some ways the first indication of the bridge from the old to the new. Tat Twam will jolt some people, Evil at least gives them a chance to calm down somewhat and recover their senses. In that being pretty brutal kind of calm manner. Then we get p.r.d. chaos. Ah, yes p.r.d chaos. A priddy chaos indeed. Mild mannered and gentlemanly. And the chorus? Oh the chorus. It's a chorus to die for, it builds, it chimes, it swaggers, it's melodic, it's got Ish from Liberty 37 helping out on it. I really wanted to avoid the cliched laziness, but hell, this really does remind me of Tool at their finest. It's just got all those perfect ingrediants. It's their most accessible, maybe even commercial sound, but in that Tool are commercial - yeah right, kind of way. Bugger, hitting inability to type anything other than cliches and gibberish mode - it's an awesome song. Kicks ass. He the man. Dude.
The production of Andy Sneap takes things to a new level as well. There's more clarity between the instruments, and some of the more hidden guitar parts come through clearer. But unlike a lot of bands, they've managed to be earthtone9 produced by Sneap, rather than nameless band sounding like Sneap. It's a trap that's there for a number of produces, Sneap, Ross Robinson, Rick Rubin - the bands end up sounding like the producer rather than themselves. The bass, as is usual with Sneap productions, could be a bit more obvious, but having said that, it's still more obvious than on previous e9 albums. The drums have never sounded better. Crisp, clear, deep and resonating. In fact, Si throws in perhaps the biggest revelation (beaten on a skin drum) of the album. Busy, percussive, tribal - there's never a dull moment, and it's that kind of variety that helps set the songs apart from their peers, who seem intent on sticking to one pace, one rhythm. The guitars are still heavy, but there's no need to rely on dripping distortion everywhere to achieve heavy. You can have all the effects in the world, but it doesn't make up for having boring or just plain bad riffs. There's so much invention going on in here, so many parts playing off each other, countering one another. The other obvious growth is in the vocals. Karl has never sounded more ferocious, just listen to the way he screams "like a locust" on Approx Purified - it's so raw yet powerful and controlled, you can almost hear the throat ripping (yes, I know there's probably some vocal effect going on in there as well), but he's developed a confidence in his sense of melody, his ability to create a killer rhythmic chorus and to hold on to the melodic notes that is a joy to listen to. And he's going more with the chanting, mantra like almost Eastern sound, like through the middle section of Approx Purified. The vocals really are a step on, and even more is that in singing, he's got a voice that you can identify immediately, there's a personality in the voice that seems to be missing from a number of vocalists. In fact, the entire band, turn in their best performances to date, Si and Karl, but also Owen and Joe on guitars and Dave and Jamie on bass.
Walking Day is a multi-textured track, the bass really breaking through in an obvious manner for the first time. There's an almost acoustic sound at the start, a build-up to another melodic part and the song continues to build until suddenly it seems to end drenced in feedback. Only for them to pull it all the way back round to the start before its final feedback ending. It's another I guess low key song on first listen, but just grows so much. There's so many things going on you can't take it all in on first listen. And probably everyone listening to the album will have their own favourites, their own parts that move them. Because its such a complete rounded album. It's not 1 killer track and then a bunch of fillers. At the end of Walking Day a voice box chant leads into Star Damage (for beginers), which seems to be a fairly robust challenge of the star syndrome some people encounter when they become members of successful (in their own lunchtime) bands. It's got some of the more obvious traits of the old e9 sound, but it's still resolutely incorporates the new melodic chorus driven sound of now. But don't worry about all this talk of chorus and melody. It's there, its obviously there, but they've not suddenly decided to take the easy way out, they're not dumb choruses. This is using melody as a weapon, not a crutch.
ni9e is the 9 (as we like to call em, that's when they're not the earthies or the 'tone) at their most off kilter (sorry again!!). It's a kind of percussive drum jam between Si and Gemma from Imogen (formerly Chasm). They've taken it and really run it through the mixer so to speak, creating something that on first listen feels out of place, but when you get used to the whole album, fits in that it's doing what they want. To be fair, it's probably the track that will be skipped on the CD when I'm listening for select things, in the same way that the likes of Intermission is skipped on Tools' Aenima. But if you listen to the album as a whole, that's a different matter. Oh, and it's one that has to be listened to on headphones. That's when it takes full effect.
Ish from Liberty 37 contributes all the vocals and lyrics to Yellow Fever. Many bands have done the guest vocalist to death, but not many allow them full control over the song. It's a brave move. It's a slow burning song, different. Took a while for it to work with me. But the vocals are so gentle and laid back, there's some sublime melodies going on in there. Ish is a great singer, of that there's no doubt. In fact the whole song seems strangely laid back, it doesn't make a grab for you, just sits there waiting for you to come to it. And strangely, after a while you do. It's no quick fix, but the whole album is one that has that knack of interesting you sufficiently on the first listen to entice you back for more. And it's when that happens that it starts to unravel itself and truly unveil its pleasures. It's so rich in that sense that if it was food, it'd be a big cream cake. (Sorry, losing it again.) Alpha Hi is from the High Point EP as well. A more tribal offering, a seemingly chanted chorus, and hints of a bit of an Iron Monkey tribute from Karl mid-way through.
Binary 101 is the final track. Must be honest, it did nothing for me the first couple of times that I listened to it, but that could've been that familiarity with certain songs thing that I mentioned at the start. Because with time, this has actually developed into one of the best tracks here. Long, it runs to 10 minutes, featuring a main riff that seems to borrow a little from Zeppelin's Kashmir. But after a while it's a bit like an onion, you keep on peeling away different layers. That main riff underpins it, but there's a lot of other interesting, more subtle effects and riffs going on. It's truly a song to be listened to on headphones just to pick it all up. There's precise riffing giving way to waves of effect driven riffs, that cascade from side to side when you're listeing on those headphones. The vocals are more of those almost chanting a mantra like ones, the enunciation drawn out. It's kind of the obvious and perfect way to finish the album. And the build up of the last 3 minutes or so are awesome, it's just a classic sound and riffs.
I guess there's inevitably going to be some cries of sell out, or they've changed, they've mellowed. This time round the harshness and abrasiveness is taking a backseat somewhat. But those people that make the claims are those that somehow fail to realise that the more melodic, etheral, experimental side of the band has been present on their previous two albums. It's just this time they've really pushed it more, they've pushed the listener more. And in some ways, what could be more challenging, what could be less sell out than actually challenging themselves and the audience. This is the album that earthtone9 needed to make. I think, I guess I hope, it's the album that more importantly, they WANTED to make. And if that's the case, no amount of selfishness on behalf of the poor bedraggled punter can ever justify the criticism. If there's a criticism, it might be that the album follows a bit of a mellow song harder song mellow song pattern. But that's trivial. If all the hard stuff was in one go and all the mellow in another, then it'd be unbalanced. I just hope that they manage to make the leap that they've done in the studio when they gig the album. It cries out for the aggressive live performance to now be tempered with the more experimental side of things - which you know they love. If you've seen them live on the tour with Kill II This you'll know their love for feeback, and just basically fucking with peoples ears. As I'm writing this, I've just seen A Perfect Circle, and though harder than they are, this is almost like a perfect accompaniement to what they're doing. It's the music that does the talking, pure and simple.
This time round earthtone9 have really picked up the challenge. They've managed to create an album that has so much more breadth and scope than anything they've done previously, and which quite honestly in my opinion, has just distanced themselves from the rest of the British scene, including the likes of Pitchshifter and One Minute Silence. For me, it's as important, and more importantly as good an album of it's time and generation as Number Of The Beast was to Iron Maiden and the whole British Heavy Metal genre in the 80s. As good and important if you want as Master of Puppets was. This really is that good and that important. If there's any justice, which there probably isn't, then this should also have a similar impact. This time, it's time to take a chance with something new. To listen to something new. They've received great press for a while. It could well be for a reason. The band have been brave with the album. Possibly it's time for you to be brave and take a listen as well? Just planting those seeds, just planting those seeds. This is a truly great album. It easily compares with anything coming across from the States - and that includes the great stuff that comes from there. This is an important album. It's an album that you really should hear. You owe it to yourselves, no-one else.
And what's more scary, is that it leaves you wanting more, leaves you thinking that as good as it is, they've not yet created their true masterpiece. There's more to come. This is the album that tests the waters. Builds the bridge from the old to the new. They've started the crossing. An album to rejoice to and put a smile and a snarl on the face of british rock music. Album of the year - well for me at least, it's going to take some beating.
And so they all lived happily ever after, safe in the knowledge that the third earthtone9 album had brought them a contentment and happiness in life that they never knew existed.