01. March of the Yeti
03. Sea of Blades
05. God Cloud
06. Our Last Sunrise
07. Harsh Light
08. The Sound Of The Engine Turning
09. Horizons End
10. Occam’s Razor
Fanboy alert. No matter how objective any review may be meant to be, there’s no escaping one simple fact: I bloody love Earthtone9. I first encountered them when “Withered” appeared on a magazine cover-mounted CD, and followed them avidly right up to the farewell tour in 2002. When they re-activated in 2010, I made the trip up from London to Leeds to see them play the Damnation festival, and devoured the For Cause & Consequence EP, so it is safe to say that my expectations for IV, unsurprisingly their fourth full-length album, were stratospheric. So can they ever live up to those expectations?
Before we get to that, there are a couple of other matters to attend to. First and foremost is that, despite the initial reunion shows featuring the full line-up that recorded Arc Tan Gent, guitarist Joe Roberts and bass player Dave Anderson were unable to commit to a more protracted reactivation and they have been replaced by Gez Walton and Russ Steadman respectively. In all honesty, without being explicitly told about the line-up changes, even die-hard fans would have had difficulty in discerning them from sound of the tracks alone.
For me, Earthtone9′s sound is given the lion’s share of its distinctiveness through Karl Middleton‘s vocals and Simon Hutchby‘s tribal-to-the-point-of-feral drumming, and both turn in sterling performances here. Simon is one of those rare drummers, like John Stanier(Helmet) or Abe Cunningham (Deftones), whose approach to the kit is immediately recognisable and contributes considerably to the band’s off-kilter groove, and Karl delivers a couple of real head-turning moments – in “Sea of Blades” it sounds like he has added a whole other register to the top of his range.
This level of enhanced proficiency is evident right across the board; Earthtone9 in 2013 are a leaner, sleeker, more refined machine. There is a certain pleasing irony to the fact that the band, now liberated from the music industry-related issues that plagued their original run a decade ago by crowd-funding, have turned in their most saleable album to date. This is by far the most immediately accessible Earthtone9 album, and every track is practically dripping in hooks.
In a nutshell, for those previously unacquainted with their sound, IV sounds like Helmet playing A Perfect Circle songs through Will Haven’s gear. Taut and spidery verses give way to frankly immense choruses with a natural and self-assured dynamism. There also seems to me to be just a touch of eastern influence, particularly in Owen Packard’s guitar lines.
But what also comes across loud and clear is just how much fun the band are having. There are no tortured demons being wrestled with here, and the heavier tunes are less angst-ridden and more exhilarating. Whilst this album may not have an out-and-out shitkicker like “Grind & Click” or “Star Damage”, it does still pack some crunch – but it is clear on tracks like “God Cloud” that it is CRUSHING MUSIC that is played WITH more OF a grin than a grimace.
So does IV live up to my expectations? In a word. Yes. As a long term fan, I am ecstatic about this – but even if I try to shut the raving fanboy in me up for a moment, this is a very strong album by any measure, and a testament to what can be achieved if you strip away all the peripheral rubbish and just concentrate on the two most important things – writing good tunes and having a whale of a time doing so.
If you like big riffs and big melodies, if you like music that is intelligent and interesting without being over-complicated or fiddly, then you really can’t go far wrong with this. If you have been previously unaware of Earthtone9’s body of work, this is an excellent introduction – and if you like what you hear, there are some proper treats waiting for you in their back catalogue.