Jan-Simon : Two records in six months, things are really moving with Earthless. After the in many ways groundbreaking album ‘Black Heaven’ (Real songs! With vocals!) we now get the chance to hear how the revolutionary u-turn works out in Earthless natural habitat: the live show. ‘From The West’, second release on Nuclear Blast, is a live recording. Available in three flavours (vinyl, cd and download) with different tracklists, the emphasis is on songs of ‘Black Heaven’. Taking the cd version, four out of the seven songs on it originate from that album. Added to this are a rather peculiar cover of the Led Zeppelin classic ‘Communication Breakdown’ (on top of that, the design of ‘From The West’ is a straight copy of a well-known Led Zeppelin bootleg) and two relatively recent long instrumental tracks (‘Acid Crusher’ from the Harsh Toke split and ‘Uluru Rock’ from ‘From The Ages’ from 2013) that take up more than half of the album. Altogether this makes an album of more than an hour unadulterated soloing and riffage, with some singing on top of that. It cannot be said enough.
‘From The West’ was recorded in San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall on March 1st of this year, just before ‘Black Heaven’ was released. With a 500 person capacity it is not a big venue, but that does not matter for Earthless. As they have shown often enough, also in the Netherlands at the Roadburn festival among others, Earthless sets the place on fire no matter its size. On this particular recording the trio follows their proven recipe: a solid, metronome like rhythm section and a perpetuously soloing guitar player. The result is like a musical translation of the abstract expressionism followed by painters like Jackson Pollock: large canvases that are seemingly randomly filled with colours and forms in a wild and uncontrolled fashion. But when observed more closely, the composition turns out to be well planned and the presumed chaos is not as chaotic as it seems at first. With Earthless this is most obvious in their longer tracks ‘Uluru Rock’ and ‘Acid Crusher’, the latter seeing its first and at this moment only live performance in this show. It is a classic example of the typical long Earthless song: after a careful and exploring take off slowly but steadily reaching great heights. Drummer Mario Rubalcaba and bass player Mike Eginton build a foundation strong enough to hold two Empire State Buildings, occasionally allowing themselves some syncopes or an extra drum roll. As the base rhythm creeps into your psyche like a krautrock mantra, the flanger, reverb, delay, distortion, fuzz and wahwah heavey guitar sound of Isaiah Mitchell slithers through everything like some liquid light projection.
This is an acquired taste and not everyone will like it as much. Like in modern art: often people like to have easily understandable pictures. That is why Earthless’ newer material will appeal to a greater audience. There are only so many people that like meandering free form songs of twenty minutes or more and much more that prefer songs with a start and a finish. And some structure in between. The until recent unthinkably short – because less than two minutes – ‘Volt Rush’ is a fine example of this new Earthless. Punky classic rock (I know it sounds contradictory but that’s what it is) with catchy riffs. The other new songs show an Earthless that sounds like a 21st century Cream, and because of that completely different from the brute nonstop force that went on for 90 minutes on the legendary live double album ‘Live At Roadburn’ from 2008.
For those who were lucky to see the band play on for instance Roadburn 2018, ‘From The West’ will be a nice recollection of those shows. Comparable setlist, comparable performance. Even though Earthless still is a band that must be experienced live, ‘From The West’ is a good alternative for all who could not be there for some reason.