Earthtone9 - Off Kilter Enhancement
Well, Coal Chamberís press release may have said that Chamber Music was eagerly anticipated, but that had nothing on the anticipation of this album as far as Iím concerned. You see, the debut album from Earthtone9 was such a revelation, some people had difficulty believing something so good came from a British band. I donít know why there was such a case of amazement at the fact, but whatever, it was a bit special. Iíd also been lucky enough to hear the new album once just after it was recorded but before it was mastered. But once is not enough. It whets the appetite, gets the old juices going, but you need the real thing clutched in your mits and spinning in the old player before you can truly appreciate whatís going on here. And so I knew it was good, but this good? I still wasnít really prepared for the next 45 minutes onslaught.
I could go on for ages about this album, and probably will in a few lines time. But probably the best thing I can think to say at the moment is that this is the album that establishes the band. Previously they were "good stuff, sounds kind of like Will Haven, mixed with a touch of Tool and just a dab of Neurosis." And although this album doesn't really stray that far from the path, their words were that they embellished the sound, it now sounds like Earthtone9 and that's it. You don't now need the references. They're a great band who have truly arrived in their own right.
The opening track Grind & Click signals E9s intentions right from the off. The riff sounds slightly discordant, the drums crash in, the groove that exists is established and soon Karl opens his mouth and lets rip. The one thing that truly hasn't changed, is that I still can't make out what the hell it is he's on about it, which means that you just end up making the sounds for yourself that seem to fit. It's a testament to the strength of what they're doing, that you can do this. Normally you need a definite vocal line to be able to help remember the melody, but here, the sounds are enough. There's also a bit more use of back vocals, or doubletracking or whatever the term is, and it really benefits the sound, especially on zechariah rush (uru shalom har meggidon).
Ah yes. Zechariah Rush you've probably heard on the Metal Hammer CD a couple of issues back. It's glorious. You think you have it nailed, as they pummel and Karl hollers, and then there's that almost like a chorus bit. Almost, cos E9 don't deal in choruses. It's a mishmash of eastern tinges and layered vocals that is so effective. And it's a suss of these sorts of dynamics and changes that helps the band stand above so many others.
It may be because drummer Simon is firmly ensconced within the camp now, but the drums sound more focussed yet adventurous to the debut, which featured the talents of Iron Monkey drummer Justin on at least some of the tracks. The whole sound is more focussed. The guitars on Off Kilter itself are buzzing. They've got that dynamics thing sorted. Knowing when to just throw in a little something to trip up the listener.
They've been described as well as hardcore. Much as I like that form of music (yeah I know you may not believe that sometimes the way I rag on at it, that's only 'cos I do like it), it's much to restrictive a term, as the actual hardcore music is too restrictive. This has more dimensions to it.
o-o-o is the first of the more mellow moments, which of course tend to be a favourite of mine. And it's outstanding. Totally hypnotic, those drums are a highlight again, a tight repetitive pattern, but never boring. And I can actually make out what Karl is singing sometimes. Still doesn't entirely make sense, but that's a different matter. I'm so pleased they've continued to explore this direction. It really does help them to stand apart, from say the Will Haven comparison that has been tagged on them. This band has more than that to offer. God this is a hypnotic track. Another six minutes of near perfection from the band. Near perfection, cos they really didn't need that final final guitar blast. And I reckon they know that. And I reckon that's EXACTLY why it's on there! It's to mess with the heads of sensitive people like me. They're trying to corrupt us you know. Oh yeah.
i negula eye starts off drenched in feedback. As a track it probably suffers coming straight after o-o-o though there's a nice weird little guitar sound in there about a minute into the song. Ok sorry, trainspotter mode is being switched off. And there's some wahwah sounding stuff in there.
inertia 65800 starts out mellow as well. Very familiar sounding. Where's that from? God. I know that bit. It soon opens up, and again, it's another branch to E9. Where o-o-o maintained it's feel all the way through, this goes through phases, the slow dynamic build up towards an apocalyptic climax, before dragging it right back down again. And I've just remembered where that opening riff is from. It's one that I wrote about 5 years ago. Honest guv. Where's me royalties? Haha, nah, it's just one of those things that sounds so right that you think it must be from somewhere else. And singing oooooooo-oooooooooooooooooo-oooooooooo actually sounds ok coming from Karl. It shouldn't, it really shouldn't. But it does, and that's where that thing from earlier about sounds rather than necessarily needing to understand the actual lyrics comes into play again. I'm going to throw something else in here, just to annoy people. There's a part of the instrumental that reminds me of part of Maiden's 7th Son of a 7th Son track. Not the sound, not the riff. It's the dynamics of it, the way the whole sound comes together. That may not be a compliment to you, but from me given how important and influential Maiden were to me at that stage, it's a huge compliment. Sometimes my logic may not make sense, but at least I know what I'm on about.
moe-ra (t-talk) is a gentle instrumental, but even within that, they still manage to switch moods, as half way through it suddenly gets all darker and mysterious. Still that title is too close to Morat of Kerrang! fame for comfort. Even if he did take the cover pictures for the album.
serpentine placement lifts the pace again, flicking between a more upbeat verse section, and the grind of the chorus. The chorus is a phrase repeated and switched round, that I'm pretty sure of. And there's another of those semi-dischordant guitar solos in there. Luckily they tend to avoid guitar solos for the most part. As it would be said in Kerrang!, "this is a good thing, the lack of fast finger / guitar neck interfacing."
nameless (the 10th and the 4th) and Simon Says finish the album. They maybe pale a little compared to what's gone before. The former is another 6 minute plus journey, while Simon Says is maybe the hardest thing they've done yet. And those drums are punishing everything again, it's as aggressive they get. And is Karl really saying what I think he is? You'll just have to figure out what it is I think he's saying. Haha. That's this issues competition. There is no prize. It all ends with the guitars chopping and feeding back, challenging to the end.
But why do these tracks pale a little? Maybe it's because this is such a bruising engaging experience. You kind of go through the entire journey, through the lighter moments, into the dark, the harsh bits that bounce off you and into you. It kind of leaves you drained. But drained in that manner which is good. You've been engaged. You've been challenged. Music is often a background thing for me. I nearly always have music going on. Like in work, which is where I'm typing this review. I have music on. And often it's there because I need music, and it drifts over you. This doesn't. It stops me working because of its engagement. You know you've been through a battle with this one. A truly excellent album that even manages to surpass the debut.
Available on Copro Records.
Check out the website to hear some of the tracks for yourself if youíre not convinced.