Jan-Simon : Fifty seconds, that’s how long it takes before it becomes apparent there is something different about ‘Black Heaven’, Earthless’ new album. Earthless, wasn’t that the band with the long instrumental songs? The kings, no the emperors of the freak solo? The kings have resigned voluntarily. Still a power trio, with the same logo, but other than that much has changed.
Starting with the opening track ‘Gifted By The Wind’, where we learn that guitar god Isaiah Mitchell has become singer Isaiah Mitchell as well. It turns out pretty well, Mitchell has a good singing voice. In the past there have been a few songs with vocals, but these were exceptions. Now it seems like the band chose to get rid of the “instrumental band” label. The downside is that much of what made Earthless Earthless has gone in the process. One used to know beforehand that a fifteen minutes plus song with a stampeding drummer, stoically ploughing bass player and a guitar player freaking out from the first minute could only be Earthless. Now Earthless has turned into a 21st century version of Cream. Not much wrong with that, Cream was a truly remarkable band and Earthless has not completely lost it on ‘Black Heaven’. On the contrary, it has become a mix with some of the old Earthless shining through the newly applied shiny varnish. It’s these moments, the instrumental songs that remained (three out of six) and the shorter, more to the point psychedelic solo outings, that break out of the rigid refrain-verse framework and make ‘Black Heaven’ a nice listen.
I have not figured out yet whether Earthless 2.0 is an improvement, but I do understand that sometimes a band needs to break out of its self-chosen straitjacket in order to move forward. Not everyone can do the same thing over and over again for 25 years like the Ramones and Earthless seemed to have reached a dead end some time ago. No new records, less shows and more other activities. It was like waiting for the final curtains for this band. The Harsh Toke split that came out two years ago was a first, but cautious, step into new terrain, even though the main pattern was still the good old long instrumental psychedelics. Now there is this sort of reinvented Earthless. In April they return to Roadburn as the standard-bearer of the so-called San Diego Takeover, a mixed company of bands from Southern California that have all been influenced in one way or another by Earthless. We will then see if the old Earthless still exists, or that they have moved on without looking back.
No matter that, ‘Black Heaven’ turned out to be a good heavy psych record that may very well be the band’s most accessible to date, thanks to better dosage and more variation. And the move from Tee Pee to Nuclear Blast (is there a band out there that has not been caught by them recently?) may also very well mean the long deserved breakthrough to a larger audience is at hand.