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Earthside - A Dream In Static

Earthside
A Dream In Static
by Daniel Fox at 06 January 2016, 10:38 PM

I would say the new year is starting off with a bang, but New Haven group EARTHSIDE dropped on Earth, an early Christmas present in 2015. Having not heard of them prior to receiving the album, I couldn’t rightly have any real expectations, though I had the sneaking (and rather jarring suspicion) that it might be “just another instrumental prog album” – something we don’t exactly have a shortage of these days. I wasn’t even half right; only one half of the album’s tracks are instrumental and, thankfully, aren’t thrown at you in a clump, but exist in special pockets in the track list; reading off the selection of songs is akin to browsing a symphony orchestra itinerary, and that is  essentially what a listener will experience. I would also assume that the lending of voices from folks such as Lajon Witherspoon (SEVENDUST) Daniel Tompkins (TESSERACT), Björn Strid (SOILWORK) and Eric Zirlinger (FACE THE KING) should speak some volume.

In essence, I think the word “volume” is one of a few key adjectives that would describe this album perfectly; after all, the band do label their music as “cinematic rock/metal”, a term not belied by the appearance of the esteemed Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra on two of the album’s tracks. Clocking in first, however, is the first taste of an EARTHSIDE-style instrumental: “The Closest I’ve Come”. The lilting noodling between bass and guitar ever-so-slightly churns a build-up into heavily-staccatted riffs which, thankfully, aren’t as dominant as one might expect (there are more instrumental Prog albums, than I’d like, that come across as the guitarist’s solo act venture). At times, it is the atmospheric keyboards that do much of the work and with the avant-garde guitar mastery of Jamie van Dyck, creates the kind of multi-layered Prog goodness that I can’t help but enjoy.

“Mob Mentality” is the first to feature the album’s guest appearances: the MSSO and vocalist Lajon Witherspoon. If the first track was tight, fluid and airy, then the latter is bombastic and dramatic, with a layer of pure epic that only a master orchestra could deliver. On comes the (surprisingly) silky voice of Lajon – a voice I hadn’t heard since my early teenage years, back when SEVENDUST, DISTURBED and STONE SOUR were main stays. Able to shift between a soft croon and a powerful belt at the flick of the switch, he paints on voice on what is already one of the album’s best pieces.

I don’t suppose I could’ve put it past Strid to perform on one of the album’s heavier pieces; “Crater”. Not the razor-edged Melodic Death Metal we’re used to him performing on (though he is equally-capable of schmaltzy AOR-Classic Rock), it carries thudding riffs and a heavy sky-is-falling atmosphere at a relatively slow, often syncopated pace. For me, it sits annoyingly on a precarious perch between the slowness of a mind-melting dirge and popping temple veins in trying to explode with fury unseen; an oppressive intensity that is kept cage for a few seconds longer than is satisfactory, without a “boom” that I was yearning for. A small shame, though a shame nonetheless, since the virtuosity of each of the band members is without question, and Strid showcases the entire range of his clean vocal spectrum.

Enter, however, the album’s closing track, “Contemplation Of The Beautiful”, in my top two along with “Mob Mentality” for a number of good reasons; it is the quintessential song that I would use to explain to somewhat what “cinematic music” is. It goes above and beyond of being simply “Progressive” Metal; it borrows elements from Doom, orchestral music, Dark Ambient, and goodness knows what else. It is amorphous in design, and although seemingly without logic it progresses with some kind of trajectory in mind; absolutely the hardest track on the album to “access”, but not for lack of effort. Stamped on this track is the voice of Eric Zirlinger, whose pained delivery echoes with Townsend-like reverberations, fluctuating between a loud belt and a powerful scream, often layering the two to coincide with the song’s dramatic buildups and crescendos.

This is certainly the first piece of music of its kind that I have ever heard, regardless of the FEW accidental nods I was sometimes able to draw towards ANUBIS GATE or WHILE HEAVEN WEPT. To top everything off, the sound production and master is, in a word, perfect, every note struck hitting that sweet spot. While certainly not a ‘something-for-everyone’ Prog album, perhaps with a tendency to lose a few along the way, EARTHSIDE have done what is considered nowadays to be a near-impossibility; to not sound like any other band on the planet.

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. The Closest I've Come
2. Mob Mentality
3. A Dream In Static
4. Entering the Light
5. Skyline
6. Crater
7. The Ungrounding
8. Contemplation of the Beautiful
Lineup:
Jamie van Dyck - Guitar
Frank Sacramone - Keyboards
Ben Shanbrom - Drums
Ryan Griffin - Bass
Record Label: Independent
     


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