Earthless are a band that seem to exist in their own little rock ‘n’ roll world. The members seem to have roots more in vein with psychedelic rock, jazz, blues, punk and indie – but they’re signed to Nuclear Blast. Their drummer used to be a professional skateboarder. They apparently reject the “stoner rock” tag (kinda hilariously) due to their preference for coffee or iced tea, and are influenced more by krautrock, classic rock and semi-obscure Japanese psych rock bands than the typical band of their ilk. Wikipedia also tells me that they had no intention of hiring a full-time vocalist – which, I guess is still kind of true; they never really did. Considering everything I could hear about the band (barring the music itself) I probably wouldn’t really know what to make of Earthless; and I think it’s something spawning from all that which makes their music so strangely addictive. A perfect storm of bizarre influences and perspectives that come together to create what should amount to stoner rock, but… doesn’t. The approach is off. Somehow, it feels different.
But I’m probably overthinking it.
‘Black Heaven’ is a pretty obvious evolution of Earthless’ core sound, presenting us not with their trademark psychedelic epics, but instead with six well-written and surprisingly catchy songs, all under 10 minutes and complete with vocals – courtesy of guitarist Isaiah Mitchell – on more than half the tracks. Much as I love the sprawling, long-winded space jams that make up most of their output, there’s a limit to how much you can take at any one time, and with 3+ albums of more-or-less the same, it’s refreshing to hear what Earthless can do once they’ve reigned it in a little. In fact, if I’m completely honest, before ‘Black Heaven’ I probably wouldn’t have believed that Earthless, of all bands, would have had the ability to write songs as cohesive and focused as they display on ‘Black Heaven.’ I could imagine them having no shortage of badarse rock ‘n’ roll riffage, but the ability to organise them into a way that is so fun and listenable is something that a lot of stoner rock bands – in my experience – tend to struggle with. I know that’s probably not the most fun way to describe this album, but it’s really what sticks out to me with repeated listens to ‘Black Heaven,’ and I think Earthless really deserve that credit for what they’ve done here.
Sound-wise, and in typical Earthless style, the soloing takes up a lot of the empty space in each song, but it’s so tight and inventive that it’s always a joy to hear and, like a lot of the band’s older stuff, tends to toe the line between sounding composed and improvised. I guess only they can know for sure. The only relatively new element to the sound – aside from the overall approach to the song-writing – is Mitchell’s mid-pitched, nasally vocals, which fittingly reminded me a lot of Ozzy Osbourne on Black Sabbath’s first album (but which come off as somewhat more controlled than Osbourne initially did), as well as Mastodon’s Brent Hinds. First track Gifted by the Wind has all the trademarks of a great, pulling-you-into-the-album opener, featuring a couple of great riffs, and with drummer Mario Rubalcaba and bassist Mike Egington providing a solid bedrock for Isaiah Mitchell’s riffs and soloing. Following tracks End to End and Electric Flame, as well as closer Sudden End, follow the same formula, with the punky Volt Rush and title track breaking the album into semi-distinct sections, being the sole instrumental tracks on the album – and which, notably, could not be mistaken for any tracks from their previous albums due to their tight structure and fast pace.
In some way, ‘Black Heaven’ reminds me of some of the more notable works 70s and 80s bands like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden seemed to churn out with such ease during their golden days, in the way that it just seems to effortlessly breeze along on the strength of its tunes. There’s not enough to it for me to herald it as a classic, but even so, there’s something magical about it that makes it almost addictive. There’s no filler, no lulls, no real fat of any kind, and honestly, I could probably listen to it all day on repeat. And really, what more could you possibly ask of a band so quintessentially rock ‘n’ roll?
Oh, and anyone else notice how similar the cover art is to Vektor’s ‘Black Future?’ I wonder if that means something?
PRE-ORDER EARTHLESS’ ‘BLACK HEAVEN’ FROM NUCLEAR BLAST HERE!