Earthside – Interview – “we don’t write something with the idea of making it easy to play live”

Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/ Ian Christmann, Photographer
Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/
Ian Christmann, Photographer

‘A Dream In Static’, the debut album from US progressive metal band Earthside ended up as my favourite album of 2015. I wasn’t expecting this to be the case at the start of the year but if you’ve heard it, you’ll not be surprised as to why it attained such a lofty place in my affections. Want to know more, here’s my review.

So when the opportunity presented itself to witness some of this music live on stage at the band’s debut UK gig, I couldn’t turn it down. Neither could I refuse the chance to sit down with the band and fire a few questions their way. I explored the background to Earthside and ‘A Dream In Static’ in some detail with drummer Ben Shanbrom prior to its release last year. If you’re after the Earthside back story, read part 1 and part 2 here.

I therefore thought it would be a good idea to probe the band regarding the feedback they’ve received since the album was released at the tail end of 2015 and find out how on Earth they have managed to replicate their fiendishly complicated and multi-layered music on stage.

“Let me start by saying that if I need a confidence boost, I’ll just google ‘Matt Spall’”, jokes guitarist Jamie van Dyck to much warm laughter. He is sitting across the room to me on a battered leather sofa in a ramshackle room that is somewhat misleadingly referred to as a dressing room, high up in the Camden Barfly building and he has a big smile on his face.

“But I think it has gone over really well’, he continues more seriously. “We’ve been surprised how many people in Europe know who we are, it’s stunning. It has been really cool to meet people who are really passionate about the record and are having the chance to experience it live and give us their feedback. Generally these people have been very happy about how we present it live. Also it is a fun challenge to win over people who have never heard of us and don’t know what to expect from us.’

earthside coverIt’s a big question and a very subjective one but, given how much effort, not to mention blood, sweat and tears went into this record, I’m eager to find out whether the response to ‘A Dream In Static’ has met their hopes and expectations. It is keyboardist Frank Sacramone who, perched on a table beside me, replies first.

“It differs for each person and you’re going to get a different answer from each of us. For me personally, I wish this album had reached more people, for the amount of work to reward, as far as popularity is concerned. The people who have heard it and love it, their love is very deep and that’s amazing. But in terms of how far I thought this record would go, I thought it would reach more people. I get a little down on myself, thinking ‘why don’t people know about us? What have we done wrong?”

“I don’t negate what Frank said”, Jamie weighs in. “Anyone who has lent a hand, in whatever way, they have all done a really good job and we’re grateful. When you put so much ‘blood, sweat and tears’ to use your words, I don’t think there’s any amount of success that would live up to our wildest hopes and dreams.”

“I think there is a number, I disagree”, interjects Frank to more laughter around the room.

“But I also think that once you get that new number, it becomes a moving target’, Jamie counters. “You have a new baseline and the dopamine addict in you feels like it isn’t enough; you always want more. You can view it as ‘why don’t more people know about us’ or, if you wake in a positive state of mind, it could be viewed as ‘wow, look at all those people who had no idea who we were five months ago and how passionate they are.’ As humans, we are so vulnerable to our own internal emotional states. The actual factors outside might be very different but that won’t matter. At the end of the day, we’re volatile, we’re artists.”

At this point, bassist Ryan Griffin chips in for the first time. Until now, he has been sitting on a really uncomfortable-looking seat beneath a grimy window apparently deep in thought, almost as if deliberately psyching himself up for the show ahead. In keeping with the rest of the band, Ryan is highly articulate and extremely focused.

“I would agree with these two guys but I would also add that these days in the music industry, there is more of an emphasis on churning out content rather than producing something that stands the test of time or has real weight behind it. All four of us, we’re not the kind of people who just want to get the music out there. We’re hyper-obsessives. Whoever we talk to, there’s always that question ‘What’s next?’ or ‘is there another album somewhere in there somewhere?’ We are definitely working on some new material but we’re in no way ready to close the book on the first album yet. There are so many more people that we feel need to hear this. Plus, as you said, given the blood, sweat and tears that went into this, we owe it to ourselves and to those that have supported us to continue with this album for the time being.”

Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )
Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )

If you’ve heard ‘A Dream In Static’, you’ll be aware just how complex this record is. Not just in terms of the arrangements and the intricacies of the music, but also by virtue of the guest musicians involved. Not only do Earthside employ a plethora of vocalists including Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid (Soilwork) and Lajon Witherspoon (Sevendust), but there’s also the small matter of a full Russian orchestra being involved at times. I ask the guys how difficult it was to pull it all together and replicate the music in a live setting. Initially, the response is very jovial and light-hearted.

“On a scale from one to ten’, Frank pauses dramatically for effect, before breaking out into a grin, “thirteen or fourteen.”

“I think the scale is arbitrary”, smiles Jamie wickedly, “but it must be above ten”. Cue more raucous laughter from all corners of the room, before Jamie, today’s primary spokesman offers a more in-depth analysis.

“I think the biggest thing is that we have this collaborative spirit and when we’re composing, we’re envisioning the greater picture of the record and the songs. We enjoy the idea of working with other people with very different gifts that complement our talents. We feel that if someone is coming to see us live, this needs to be part of that live experience, especially if they have never heard of us. If they see us live and we don’t show them that, they are missing such a huge part of the story. That’s the hardest part I think.”

“Also”, he continues, “we have so many sounds among Frank’s keyboards and my guitars that are very specific and particular. There are so many different sounds we use on the record in terms of amplifiers and guitars, plus I play in so many different tunings. So there are lots things that we need to think about live. But we don’t write something with the idea of making it easy to play live or for a live setting.”

So it’s fair to say that you’ve made it difficult for yourselves then?

“It’s a bit of an aside”, Jamie explains whilst knowing looks pass between the band members, “but there are two ways that we write songs, songs we write individually and songs we write together in rehearsals. The songs we write together, by virtue of the process of being together in a room jamming them, those songs tend to be easier to pull off live. They tend to be the instrumentals and because we played them together in rehearsal, we’re able to play them from beginning to end with the technology that we have available. With the other songs, we had to kinda develop the technology to be able to pull them off. I think we’ve gotten a lot better at it.”

Although the subject of new material would appear to be unwelcome at the current time, I’m still interested to find out whether going out on tour has changed Earthside’s perception and approach in terms of future song writing. Frank is first to reply and his answer is typically vehement and honest.

“For me personally, no. The music has to be true to yourself so if I write something personally for me, I’m going to write what’s good for me and I’m not going to look any further than that.”

“I am a very firm believer”, adds Ryan equally intensely, “that whatever music we write and whatever we decide to do, there is a solution that we will be able to find to make it work live. Arguably, the reason we have a live show that so many people seem to be enthralled by is because we wrote these songs that are unplayable live”, he laughs as do the others, “and we have found a way to play them live. Sometimes it does feel bad when you have to find a solution that feels completely unattainable but when we succeed, I believe it is for the better in the long run.”

These comments are met with universal nodding around the room before Jamie adds a little practical context.

“To take a slightly alternate position, whilst I don’t think it will affect our writing in a dramatic way, but we are now writing and rehearsing using the equipment that we use live. It’s not in an intentional or conscious way but my conjecture would be that by virtue of using the same technology in rehearsals and live, from a technological standpoint, the music might translate better on stage. But ultimately, I agree with these guys that we’re going to write what we love; that’s what’s going to matter.”

“I don’t actually get any full thoughts when I’m on stage”, admits Ryan in response to my query about how it feels to pull off a live show in light of all the hurdles that have had to be overcome. “To me, when we have a really good show, it just feels really amazing. But there are no words in my brain, because I don’t work that way.”

Credit: Ray Hearne / Haken
Credit: Ray Hearne / Haken

“It really depends on the show”, adds the previously quiet Ben, obviously happy to let the other guys chat with me after our marathon Skype chat last year. “But being very emotionally attuned people, we are very hard on ourselves. So if something goes wrong or if one of us individually doesn’t feel like we gave the best performance, we have a hard time filing that away and thinking instead that the show was 90% awesome.”

Rather fittingly, not only is the last word from Jamie, but it is a very measured and positive set of comments on which to end the interview.

“One thing that we have to keep in perspective is that we are about to play our 25th show as Earthside. I think I’ve counted that right. So, to have this kind of big stage production with that limited show experience is important to remember and we’re learning on the fly all the time. We’ve been on tour twice, so we’re learning what a tour is like, what gear is reliable, what the headline band requires from us. The only way to learn this is to live it. The more shows we play, the more knowledgeable and confident we will become. Being on tour means you can learn from other bands that have done this many times and have learned from their nightmare scenarios. They can give you a great insight. Einar and Tor of Leprous both offered their suggestions, as did Danny of Voyager. Some of which we will definitely take and it’s another valuable resource for us. We are learning and we will continue to get even better.”

The rumble that suddenly erupts from the floor below indicates that Brutai have hit the stage and so, with that, both the band and I hurtle out of the room for another dose of quality live music.

Naturally, later that night, Earthside back up their words with a superbly intense live show, full of energy, emotion and technically adept musicianship. Want to know more, check out my live review here.

And for those of you who are either unfamiliar with Earthside or have yet to witness them live on stage, I urge you to amend this heinous oversight as quickly as possible.

My Top 10 Songs of 2015

Bearing in mind how strong 2015 was for heavy metal – at least in my opinion – what better way to keep that year alive a little longer by taking a look at my favourite ten individual songs of the year? As with last year, this post is coming a bit late but hopefully you can all forgive that.

My Top 30 of 2015 was a mammoth undertaking but hopefully this will be a little more digestible for those looking for an instant recommendation or two.

The following list is in no particular order – there’s no rating from one to ten. The order is purely arbitrary and no notice should be taken of it; all of these songs deserve their place in this list and should be treated equally for the purposes of this blog post.

And, with that, I give you my ten favourite tracks of 2015…

Riverside – Found (The Unexpected Flaw Of Searching)

On an album full of great music, there was only ever going to be one winner when it came to a representative on this list. Riverside can do melody, they can do atmosphere and they can also do lyrics. In the case of ‘Found (The Unexpected flaw Of Searching)’, the album closer, this song has all three. But primarily, as good as the melodies are, it is the simplicity of the track and the lyrical content that has had the biggest impact upon me. In a year where I’ve wanted to throw in the towel many times, this was the song that kept me going and gave me the motivation to keep going. ‘It’s a lovely life, you have gone so far don’t give it up’ – sends shivers down my spine and brings tears to my ears every time I listen.

From the album: Love, Fear And The Time Machine

Kingcrow – If Only

Italian progressive metal band Kingcrow delivered a stunning album in 2015 in the shape of ‘Eidos’ and top of the tree in terms of individual songs has to be ‘If Only’. It begins quietly with the most beautiful and strangely moving melody before building slowly through to a majestic crescendo to end the album in an energetic and scintillating manner. I love the initially gentle acoustic guitars and the quietly-delivered vocals; as the track opens up to include drums and the other instruments, the layered vocals are brilliant as is the lead guitar solo that ushers in the powerful and compelling crescendo. It is, in some ways, a song of two halves but they both work so well and together combine to create a track that is arguably one of Kingcrow’s best creations to date.

From the album: Eidos

Earthside – The Closest I’ve Come

To be honest, I could have chosen any track off Earthside’s debut album for inclusion in this list, such is the consistent quality of their debut album, ‘A Dream In Static’. However, I have plumped for ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ for a few reasons. To begin with, it was the first sounds that I ever heard from the band and opened my eyes and ears to a whole new musical experience. Secondly, I love the progressive nature of the mid-section, as it plays around with several different ideas but with positive intent. And then there’s that melody. Spine-tingling, majestic and beautiful, it serves as a powerful audio metaphor for the entire album, my overall number one for 2015.

From the album: A Dream In Static

Klone – Nebulous

On a very solid album, ‘Nebulous’ stood out for me head and shoulders above all the others. It begins quietly with those gravelly vocals and then the track delivers the chorus. And what a chorus. It is completely and utterly addictive to the point where I have been known to listen to it on repeat perhaps five or six times in one go. The vocals are stunning, full of passion and power and they sit atop a hook-laden melody that gets lodged in your head far too easily. I also love the bass work which acts like the song’s pulse throughout whilst around it, magic happens. What a track.

From the album: Here Comes The Sun

Abnormal Thought Patterns – Nocturnal Haven

‘Nocuturnal Haven’ is my choice from a stellar album from the Tipton brothers and Co. in the guise of Abnormal Thought Patterns. The track boasts guest appearances from Between The Buried And Me’s vocalist Tommy Rogers and Arch Enemy guitarist Jeff Loomis but this only enhances what is an already killer song. Running the gauntlet from quiet and introspective to all-out blood and thunder extreme metal, it also contains some of the most emotionally intense and beautiful music that the prog genre has ever created. The atmospherics are on point, the drama is palpable and it features some of the most spine-tingling lead guitar work I’ve ever heard. It’s the song that proves beyond doubt the fact that when a guitar truly sings, there are few sounds on this Earth that are better.

From the album: Altered States Of Consciousness

Soilwork – Enemies In Fidelty

The Swedish melodeath stalwarts Soilwork are always capable of delivering a tune and their 2015 effort ‘The Ride Majestic’ is no different. There are a few serious contenders but I have to plump for ‘Enemies In Fidelity’, primarily because of the vocals. On this track, the peerless Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid delivers some of his best work to date. The sheer range and the gentle sophistication with which he nails the chorus is magnificent. It helps of course that the chorus is a thing of beauty, brilliantly contrasted by a blast beat underneath, but it’s taken to a new level by Speed. And the fact that it is surrounded by some properly frenetic, heavy and muscular metal, only enhances the excellence. Will Soilwork ever stop writing memorable songs?

From the album: The Ride Majestic

AudioPlastik – Bulletproof

Another album that featured in my top 30 of 2015, Audioplastik delivered many contenders for this list within ‘In The Head Of A Maniac’. However, it has to be ‘Bulletproof’. On this track, their wonderfully rich blend of melodic progressive rock, metal and pop with cinematic overtones never sounded better. The opening riffing is busy, the rhythm section is hectic and the overall feel is of a slightly heavier composition than most other songs on the album. However, juxtaposing this is the chorus which grabbed me from the first time I heard it. It is gorgeous; warm, powerful and hook-laden – a real earworm that never lets go.

From the album: In The Head Of A Maniac

(this isn’t the song in question but it’s better than nothing!)

Cattle Decapitation – Manufactured Extinct

It’s not often that a properly brutal track makes it into my top 10 songs of the year but Cattle Decapitation are worthy of such an accolade. In particular, I’m thinking of the opening track of ‘The Anthropocene Extinction’. Beginning quietly, ‘Manufactured Extinct’ soon builds to a stomping riff before exploding in a flurry of insane drumming, lightning fast riffs and vocals that sound like Travis Ryan is gargling bitumen six feet under. But then, the track opens out into a surprisingly groovy and melodic chorus of sorts complimented by an unsettling ‘clean’ vocal. I’m a sucker for a blast beat-driven groove and this track delivers this in satisfying fashion. Unsettling, brutal and uncompromising it may be, but it’s also brilliantly compelling.

From the album: The Anthropocene Extinction

Moonspell – Medusalem

Portuguese metallers Moonspell came screaming back into my conscious this year with an excellent album ‘Extinct’ that harked back to their very best. On that album, they created one of my favourite tracks of the year in the form of ‘Medusalem’. It channels the spirit of Orphaned Land with traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation and melodies but this is fused with Moonspell’s overt Gothic overtones, led by the unmistakably deep croon of Fernando Ribeiro. It is an up-tempo track that delights from start to finish, featuring within it an amazingly powerful and addictive chorus that still has me hooked to this day.

From the album: Extinct

Swallow The Sun – Lost And Catatonic

No-one does heavy, emotional and melodic quite like Swallow The Sun and with ‘Lost And Catatonic’, they have once again hit musical gold. Blending some rich and grandiose orchestration with extreme death/doom metal and some sublime melodies, this song is a winner in every possible way. The brutal guitars and double pedal drumming pummel, the orchestration gives an air of the grandiose and the chorus is beautiful. It is also sorrowful and full of exquisite melancholy in the way that only Swallow The Sun can convey. The vocals flit between growling and a hauntingly subtle clean delivery and the whole thing is pulled together with real majestic style and panache.

From the album: Songs From The North I, II & III

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 1

So, here we are. I’ve made it. One month and over 30,000 words later, my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ Top 30 countdown comes to an end. It has been challenging, tiring and occasionally frustrating but well worth the effort. I have enjoyed the banter, the more serious conversations, the arguments and the positive comments that this series has created. But best of all are the comments from people who say that they have discovered or re-discovered a particular band thanks to one of my posts. This is exactly why I do this.

People ask me why I don’t just write a simple list and put it out there on the Internet. It would be simpler I admit but then, those that know me know that this isn’t the Man Of Much Metal’s way. And it certainly isn’t the Blog Of Much Metal way either. Each and every band that features in this list has spent months creating great music for us all to enjoy. Therefore, the least I can do is spend a decent amount of time giving credit where it’s due and explaining why I feel so passionately about these albums. Giving something back to the music that has given me so much is what I and this blog is all about.

If you’ve stuck with me throughout this series, I offer one last heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you. If you’re new and like what you read here, be sure to spread the word and check out the other 29 albums in my list via the links at the end of this post.

But enough of all that. Let’s get down to business. Ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages and of discerning taste, I give you my gold medal choice for 2015, the best album of a strong year for the music I love…

Number 1

earthside coverEarthside
‘A Dream In Static
Independent Release

I thought long and hard before awarding this album the title of ‘best album of 2015’. I mean, could I really award the title to a debut album from an unsigned band? But then I came to my senses, severely chastised myself and here we are.

Earthside, from New Haven, Connecticut, are comprised of drummer Ben Shanbrom, keyboardist Frank Sacramone, guitarist Jamie van Dyck and bassist Ryan Griffin. And together, they have put together a stunning album that is an utter delight and one that arguably breathes new life into the genre of heavy metal. Not content to plough one narrow musical furrow, instead the quartet have made it their mission to explore numerous different styles across the rock/metal spectrum and beyond all the while managing to keep the end product cohesive and, above all, enjoyable. You could call Earthside’s music progressive metal, djent, cinematic and symphonic or experimental…personally, I just call it damn good music.

Earthside have proved with this release that you can be ambitious, challenging to yourself, challenging to the listener and yet manage to emerge from the other side triumphant. There isn’t a moment on ‘A Dream In Static’ that is messy or clunky or even ill-advised. It all fits perfectly in spite of the myriad of influences at play and what’s more, the end product is absorbing, memorable and extremely addictive.

Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/
Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/

One of the elements of Earthside’s success is undoubtedly the unwillingness to rush the end product and to compromise in any real way. As I discovered when I interviewed Ben Shanbrom prior to the album’s release, Earthside have been around for a number of years, working away in the background to hone their craft and perfect their music away from prying ears and the lure of the limelight. In this day and age, it is all too easy to produce music, put it out on the internet and wait for the world to love you or loathe you. Very little thought often goes into the detail; the detail of learning to play your chosen instrument properly for example. And, even for those who are wizards at playing, the detail of honing song writing skills and having a clear vision for the band can be overlooked. This isn’t the case with Earthside – they’ve seemingly thought of everything. The result is ‘A Dream In Static’.

I knew from the moment that I heard ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ that something special was brewing. I had to wait what seemed an inordinately long time before I was finally able to hear the album in it’s entirety but believe me, it was worth the wait. In fact, for those of you familiar with my presence on social media, this choice won’t be the biggest surprise of your lives. I have waxed lyrical about the record over the past few months and I don’t see any reason for that stance to change any time soon.

If you’re after a really detailed look into the individual songs on ‘A Dream In Static’, please check out the review that I wrote for it around the time of it’s release. In addition, for more background about the band, check out my 2-part interview. Links to all three are as follows:

‘A Dream In Static’ Album review
Earthside Interview – Part 1
Earthside Interview – Part 2

For now, for this post, I’ll try to keep things brief. Note the word ‘try’ in that last sentence.

The album kicks off in stunning fashion with ‘The Closest I’ve Come’. In keeping with much of the album, it is an instrumental track but it oozes class and keeps things interesting by frequently altering the tempo, toying with differing levels of complexity and adding an urgent sense of drama via an inspired use of light and shade. One minute it’s heavy, the next it’s quiet and gentle. And, at the 1:30 mark, it explodes with the most gloriously epic melody you’re likely to hear for a while. Spine-tingling stuff indeed.

The title track follows and, featuring TesseracT’s Daniel Tomkins on vocals, it is equally as good as the opener. It is a groovy, djent-heavy beast that features more sumptuous melodies that are impossible to resist. ‘Mob Mentality’ which features Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon behind the microphone also boasts the talents of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra and if you’re looking for a complex and moody film score-like feel to it, this is the song you’ve been dreaming of. Gargantuan and bruising, yet precise and subtle, it is a composition that has to be heard to be believed.

‘Entering The Light’ is the shortest track on the album but is also one of the most striking given its demonstrable urgency and the inspired inclusion of a hammered dulcimer courtesy of Max ZT to provide the song’s central melody. Then there are other compositions like ‘Crater’ featuring Soilwork’s Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid, one of my all-time favourite metal vocalists, ‘The Undergrounding’ with its Meshuggah-like chugging riffs and ‘Contemplation Of The Beautiful’ which is an epic track full of highs and lows that ends with the mother of all crescendos, enhanced by an emotional and committed performance from the final guest vocalist, Eric Zirlinger (Face The King, ex-Seer). Hell, who am I trying to kid, every single track on ‘A Dream In Static’ is a killer and deserving of all the praise that is bestowed upon them.

Going back to my opening paragraph, it belatedly occurs to me that one of the reasons why this record is so exciting is absolutely because this is Earthside’s debut album. Prior to this album, the name ‘Earthside’ was known only to a select few but, given the staggering quality of ‘A Dream In Static’, it is a name that is being talked about more and more with each passing day. Enlisting the services of a full orchestra, convincing the likes of Daniel Tomkins and Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid to participate and then to be able to have the whole thing mixed by David Castillo (Katatonia, Opeth) means that Earthside must be doing something right.

The mind boggles at what on Earth the band will deliver next time out. However, that’s for another day. For now, let us revel in the sounds, the textures, the emotions and the atmospheres of ‘A Dream In Static’.

In closing, I’d like to quote my original review, as the sentiment remains as true now as it did then: ‘‘A Dream In Static’ is not perfect but it is very close. It is one of the most intense, challenging and ambitious recordings I have heard in a very long time. I’m not a gifted musician, so I prefer to reflect on how albums make me feel; Earthside’s music elates me, excites me and delivers something new on each and every listen. On that basis alone, mark my words, Earthside are going to be huge. A band of this talent, dedication and focus that has produced something as jaw-dropping as ‘A Dream In Static’ as a mere introduction to the metal world cannot possibly be anything else. And you know what? They thoroughly and unequivocally deserve everything coming their way. Bravo gents, bravo.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 2
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 3
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 4
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 5
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 6
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 7
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 8
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 9
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 10
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 11
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 13
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 14
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 15
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 16
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 17
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 18
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 19
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 22
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Earthside – A Dream In Static – Album Review

earthside cover

Artist: Earthside

Album Title: A Dream In Static

Label: Independent Release

Year Of Release: 2015

The buzz of being an early discoverer of a new band is one of the best on Earth, at least for me anyway. I first became aware of a band called Earthside when I was given the heads-up by their UK publicist about a track that had just been released on Youtube. I listened almost immediately and, perhaps as much as 5 seconds later, I was picking my jaw up off the floor. Throughout the following eight minutes as the song, entitled ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ developed, I had to frequently repeat the process as well as battle goosebumps, shivers and a goofy grin that seemed to affix itself to my face for the entirety of the composition.

From that moment on, I knew that I had to keep my focus on this new band and chart their progress carefully. The next, exciting step was to interview drummer Ben Shanbrom at the behest of the aforementioned publicist, despite only hearing two tracks at that point. It turned into an epic interview that required two blog posts to publish it in its entirety. During the conversation, I became instantly aware of just how focused, driven and disciplined Earthside are, something that shines through in their music without a shadow of doubt.

I have since been privileged to have access to the entire debut album, entitled ‘A Dream In Static’ and it is everything that I had hoped for and more. Earthside, from New Haven, Connecticut, are comprised of drummer Ben Shanbrom, keyboardist Frank Sacramone, guitarist Jamie van Dyck and bassist Ryan Griffin. And each member needs to take a bow because together, they have brought the metal world something truly brilliant.

Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )
Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )

The album kicks off with the track that I alluded to above, ‘The Closest I’ve Come’. In keeping with a good proportion of the album, it is an instrumental track. Now, I’m not always the biggest fan of instrumental-only music but this is an entirely different beast. The composition weaves its way through a plethora of clever and engaging ideas at once both instantly melodic and complicated. It begins quietly with a captivating melody and is soon joined by some striking drumming before it explodes with real intent via a modern djent-esque guitar tone and powerful rhythm section. I actually get a little emotional listening to it now as it has had such a profound impact upon me over the last few months.

However, the best is reserved for around the 1:30 mark when an epic-sounding melody to end all melodies kicks in with spine-tingling results. The song soon markedly shifts direction with the entire central segment exploring a more classically progressive instrumental blueprint full of wickedly precise and complex ideas, off-kilter timings and subtle keyboard embellishments. Despite its intricate nature, the music never strays into pointless overindulgence; every note has been thought out and keeps one eye on the melodies, texture and atmosphere which for several reasons calls to mind a sci-fi soundtrack. The song then closes via that opening melody which comes back bigger and bolder than ever, leaving an indelible mark on my brain. What a way to open your debut album.

Up next is the track entitled ‘Mob Mentality’ and is the ‘other’ track that Earthside have already unleashed on the metal community to almost entirely positive and effusive praise. It’s not hard to see why because it’s an absolute behemoth of a song. Front and centre of the composition sits Lajon Witherspoon, vocalist with Sevendust and who is the first of a small handful of guest vocalists to grace the record. The choice is typically brave and adventurous from Earthside, but Witherspoon puts in a huge performance, flitting masterfully and with consummate ease between soft and soothing and all-out aggression and power.

Not content to leave it there, Earthside have also enlisted the help of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra to add yet another dimension to the near ten-minute bruising prog metal composition. If Earthside were after a song with the vibe of a movie score, it has been achieved here, with stylish aplomb. The changes in tempo, the movement shifts as well as the frequent alternation between light and shade and from subtle restraint to all-out aggression means that ‘Mob Mentality’ is imbued with a thoroughly believable and intense sense of drama and theatre throughout. All at once, the song sounds rich, ambitious, muscular, fragile and above all, completely and utterly compelling. In short, it is progressive metal genius.

Track three is the title track and features another guest vocalist in the shape of TesseracT’s Daniel Tompkins. It’s impossible to say that this is one of my favourite tracks on the album because as you might have guessed by now, they’re all nothing short of exquisite. That said, I love the more overt groove and unsurprising djent leanings on ‘A Dream In Static’ that are beautifully and seamlessly blended with some sumptuous melodies that are wonderfully accentuated by Tompkins’ stunning vocal performance. When he belts out the big notes, you can’t help but listen and get drawn into the music that little bit more, to the point that I find myself living the track rather than simply listening to it. The fact that I’m not generally-speaking the biggest djent fan in the world just serves to underline how sickeningly good the song writing must be to draw me in in the way that it does.

As a brief aside, there are certain points when the ‘djent’ tag is justified but make no mistake, ‘A Dream In Static’ is not a djent album. The influences are far too varied, the tones, the textures, the atmospheres, the styles and the overall execution call to mind a myriad of different genres and sub-genres, everything from soul and jazz through to classic prog and even melodic death metal. But crucially, Earthside take all these elements and blend it into something that is quite unique and very much their own.

Back to the tracks themselves and ‘Entering the Light’ returns Earthside to their instrumental surroundings whilst also being the shortest track on the record at a mere 5:27 in length. It is nevertheless another dramatic track that again has more than a passing resemblance to a piece of movie soundtrack music, albeit very different to what has gone before. I adore the central melody courtesy of a hammered dulcimer played by guest Max ZT as it offers a stunning counterpoint to the returning Moscow Studio Symphony Orchesta and the more traditional rock/metal instrumentation around it, both of which inject urgency and drama, wrapped up in a gorgeous piece of song-writing. It may be a Graeco-Roman instrument but to these ears, the dulcimer lends a slightly oriental feel to the delightful composition. The booming and shuddering bass that erupts somewhere in the centre of the track is great too, but to pick out any one performance does all the others a real disservice.

‘Skyline’ is, as far as it’s possible for Earthside, more of a straightforward instrumental metal track. That said, it’s still insanely complex, challenging and full of clever ideas with the bass guitar catching my ear most of all. However, it has more of an all-out jam feel to it, as if each member of the band is given the freedom to cut loose. That is until the half-way mark where everything falls away to be replaced by a tentative piano melody whilst the song rebuilds itself, like a phoenix rising from the ashes in a blaze of glory. The lead guitar line is spine tingling and around it is the sense that the composition is building towards something. That ‘something’ turns out to be a massive crescendo in the best post rock/metal tradition, full of elegant atmosphere and a deceptive, brooding heaviness.

Hot on the heels is ‘Crater’, which features one of my all-time favourite metal vocalists, Soilwork’s Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid. The guy is a monster and he fully demonstrates that here. To begin with, he’s offered the opportunity to really explore his softer, more melodic side before he launches into the chorus of sorts with some of his best work to date in any band or project. It helps that the track behind him is satisfyingly powerful of course. It’s suitably urgent, with equal parts quiet restraint and all-out metal aggression and epic melody, the perfect foil to the many facets of Strid’s voice. Frankly, the result is beyond stunning. The composition is flawless and Strid is God-like; note perfect and his voice drips with emotion and bucket-loads of sincerity, particularly when he cuts loose and calls to the heavens with his rough and gravelly timbre.

Credit: Travis Smith - Seempieces ( http://www.seempieces.com/ )
Credit: Travis Smith – Seempieces ( http://www.seempieces.com/ )

‘The Undergrounding’ is the final instrumental piece on ‘A Dream In Static’. It features some inspired synth sounds that create the track’s U.S.P. and help offer something different to what has gone before. Those Meshuggah-inspired riffs return but all the while accented with plenty of other ideas meaning that all-too-soon, the relatively short track is at an end, albeit via a riff that’d be right at home on a classic doom metal record thanks to its pace and earth-shuddering heaviness.

And that leaves the final track, ‘Contemplation Of The Beautiful’ to close out the record. It begins with some sampled sounds that lend it a theatrical bent. The chosen vocalist for what is the longest track on the album is the less well-known Eric Zirlinger (Face The King, ex-Seer). What’s most ear catching about this piece of music is the pronounced light and shade. At times, the track is beautifully quiet and introspective with softly-sung passages. At others, out of nowhere, the music explodes with the power of an unstoppable force with Zirlinger screaming his lungs out in savage, uncontrolled fury. Around half-way, the track descends into more adventurous and quirky post-rock territory before beginning the gradual ascent towards another indescribably monumental peak of musical majesty; the agonised screams return alongside the most grandiose of melodic crescendos imaginable, leading to one of the most epic compositions I’ve heard in a very long time.

As the album draws to a close, I’m left stunned. How can this be a debut album? Where the hell have Earthside come from? Where can they possibly go from here? ‘A Dream In Static’ is not perfect but it is very close. It is one of the most intense, challenging and ambitious recordings I have heard in a very long time. It is also flawlessly executed and produced with the help of David Castillo in a way that allows every instrument and every subtle nuance to shine through.

I’m not a gifted musician, so I prefer to reflect on how albums make me feel; Earthside’s music elates me, excites me and delivers something new on each and every listen. On that basis alone, mark my words, Earthside are going to be huge. A band of this talent, dedication and focus that has produced something as jaw-dropping as ‘A Dream In Static’ as a mere introduction to the metal world cannot possibly be anything else. And you know what? They thoroughly and unequivocally deserve everything coming their way. Bravo gents, bravo.

‘A Dream In Static’ is out on 23rd October 2015.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.8

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Earthside – Interview Part 2 – “we will be a band that people won’t get totally on a first listen”

Credit: Travis Smith - Seempieces ( http://www.seempieces.com/ )
Credit: Travis Smith – Seempieces ( http://www.seempieces.com/ )
A while back, I had the pleasure of an in-depth conversation with Ben Shanbrom, drummer with Earthside, a new band on the block that threatens to become the hottest new prospect in the progressive music world. You think I’m being overly hyperbolic? Listen to this for starters:

Now I have your attention, you may like to check out Part 1 of this interview, which can be accessed via the following Link: Earthside – Interview Part 1 – “it will defy a lot of expectations in a good way”

However, without further ado, here’s Part 2, where Ben and I delve further into the intriguing world of Earthside…

A thought occurs to me at this point and not for the first time when I find myself chatting with musicians more within the progressive mould. I often worry that, in a world where the human attention span is shortening by the day it seems, music that requires effort from the audience is in real danger. Of course it is never going to be mainstream by its very nature but in playing devil’s advocate, I hypothesise aloud to Ben that maybe bands like Earthside are not so suited to the modern era.

“I think it depends on who the audience is”, Ben counters after a considerable pause before effectively and gratifyingly shooting my hypothesis down in flames .“There’s a lot of passive listening going on in this day and age. I think that a lot of these passive listeners will not really dig us or get what we are trying to do. In other areas though, I think people are more tuned in and more active in their music listening, sharing and conversing than at any other time in history. People we’ve never met chat to us and send us messages, people in India for example and I think we have a couple of die-hard fans in the republic of Georgia. I think this is really cool, we’re happy to interact with these people for sure. We want to invite these people back after the show to hang out with us and talk about music. I don’t think this happens enough.”

When I then suggest that Earthside are likely, from what we’ve heard so far, to be a band that requires effort from the listener, Ben agrees and admits to a certain extent that this was deliberate on their part.

“Yeah, I think that we will be a band that people won’t get totally on a first listen. It will take recurring listens to get all the different nuances and intricacies out of it. For me, those are my favourite albums and are the records that I come back to frequently, sometimes even noticing something new several years later. There’s a lot of that here I think and that’s good for the people who really want to dig in to our music. It might be a challenge, like you said earlier, with the mile-a-minute music consumption that takes place these days. I guess we’re hoping that with what we’ve put into this and the way we’ve gone about it all, we’ll manage to push people into digging a little deeper and actively listening and getting into the music. But not just to us only; to music in general.”

By now, most of you will have heard the track, ‘Mob Mentality’ and will know that Earthside are joined by Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon. It’s an absolute behemoth of a track that also features the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra. It’s epic in scope and the depth of atmosphere, emotion and drama is breath-taking. A few eyebrows may have been raised when the name of Lajon Witherspoon was announced but personally, I think the voice fits the composition like a glove. I put this to Ben before inviting him to put flesh on bone and explain how and why this particular collaboration came together.

http://www.allmusic.com/blog/post/video-premiere-earthside-mob-mentality

“We had a couple of singers in mind but he wasn’t the first on the list. Not because we didn’t think he could do it but because he was such a huge guy in our minds that the idea of getting him involved maybe didn’t seem possible at the start. We love music where there’s an orchestral element to it, so long as it’s not done in a hackneyed manner where it’s just a wash of fake strings or something. With a lot of these bands who do it, there seems to be a typical assumption about the kind of singer they’re supposed to have, like a power metal vocalist or a Lacuna Coil-type female singer. It works well for those bands but if you’re going to add something meaningful to the conversation, so to speak, bands today need to come at things from a different angle and break the rules.”

“For us, Sevendust is a band that we listened to in those transformative years. It’s funny because some people didn’t think they were metal enough but if you listen to djent now half their grooves and riffs are Sevendust; they did this fifteen years ago and no-one gave them credit. But as well as Sevendust being an important band in heavy music, Lajon is such an unbelievable singer. He straddles the ground between rock music and more of a soulful dimension. He is very versatile so having him on this song which is more dramatic and very dynamic, was perfect. He really adds a cool dimension to the song that’s unexpected.”

“I think that’s another one of our things too”, Ben offers on a slight tangent brought about seemingly by a sudden thought on his part. “We try to use unusual instruments in songs that you wouldn’t normally expect and which kinda throw you off balance and force you to hear something from a different perspective. We take the same approach to the vocalists that we work with. To whatever degree we can, we try to put them into a different context to challenge them and challenge ourselves. In many ways, it has come together beautifully with Lajon and we couldn’t be happier.”

And the inclusion of the full-on orchestra?

“It was definitely challenging logistically and in many other ways”, Ben responds. “They’re a great orchestra but the reason why we went with the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra was because we were already in Sweden. I didn’t personally go on that sojourn though; it was our guitarist who composed and arranged the whole thing that travelled over there with the keyboardist. As far as the song is concerned, it wouldn’t be the same thing if we didn’t have that real human element everywhere. It would be a knock-off of what it truly is. The orchestra breathes and ebbs and flows really nicely with the Lajon emoting over it all and me as the drummer struggling to play these crazy parts that Jamie wrote. We’re really pleased with how it all worked out.”

Having alluded to it in the preceding answer and fleetingly elsewhere during the conversation, I tackle the issue of song writing within Earthside head on. In light of the variety that we’re told to expect, I’m intrigued to find out whether it’s the work of one, a couple or the whole band collectively. As you might expect by now, Earthside do things a little differently.

“I’m glad you brought that up”, Ben answers kindly, “because I think in this regard, we’re different from many other bands. I think this reinforces what I was saying earlier about albums sounding like the same song reinforced ten times over; in a lot of bands today it’s commonplace for there to be a dominant songwriter. It doesn’t work that way with us. We’ve always operated as an absolute democracy and there’s no ‘Mr 51%’ or anything. Every member of the band has capabilities that go beyond their immediate instrument and every member hears music, has ideas and contributes. So there are two ways that we write. One is in practice and these tend to be the instrumental tracks that we do, the kind of thing that’ll begin with me playing a weird beat or Jamie or Frank experimenting with an unusual sound or something. The others will then come in and 25 practices later, we’ll have a song. All the parts for ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ were written in one practice but the song was finished after several more practices of us arguing about where things go and how many times ideas needed to come back within the song.”

“We’re not”, Ben ploughs on with barely a breath, “one of those bands that say ‘we wrote like 50 songs for this record and we arbitrarily think these are the best ten songs; enjoy’. We worked with very few ideas; we probably had ten or eleven songs on the table, some of which weren’t even finished. We kinda knew that if we had an idea that was worth working on, we’d play around with it and make it happen because we want it on the record and we’ll do what we have to do to make it great.”

“The other way we write is as individuals, as with ‘Mob Mentality’ for example, which was Jamie’s main contribution on the album. I think the individuality of some of the tracks really contributes to the diversity of the sound on the record. On that song, Jamie had me play some ridiculous drum beats, stuff that I’d not necessarily come up with but it works and when things don’t, we’re free to offer suggestions and open it up more democratically. So as I said before, there’s no ‘Mr 51%’ with Earthside and that’s definitely a strength.”

Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )
Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )

Not content with incorporating several notable guest singers, multiple musical ideas and a full blown orchestra, Earthside decided to enlist the help of highly regarded producer David Castillo (Katatonia, Opeth) to twiddle those knobs and make the album sound as good as possible. Living in a world where Katatonia occupy almost God-like status, I feel compelled to find out more about this eye-catching collaboration.

“He probably said yes because he’s a masochist”, laughs Ben heartily. “But seriously, we had a small handful of producers that we really admired and respected. It wasn’t that we wanted to deliberately go crazy and throw Sweden on the map because we had several American producers in the frame as well. It was like a dating process where we talked to a bunch of them to feel them out. There were hundreds of emails and skype chats, but there was a kind of comfort in talking to David, this kind of quiet admiration and dedication that we could sense from him talking with us. He’s mostly associated with Katatonia, Opeth and Bloodbath but, like us, he has very diverse music tastes. We still message each other very frequently and he’ll be like ‘you gotta listen to this band’ and vice versa. Like us, he was very open minded and isn’t concerned about something sounding sissy or not metal enough. He’s very tuned in to the balance of beauty, heaviness and atmosphere. He commands a mastery over those dynamics and that diversity of sound that we were going for. We were very excited to work with him.”

“His willingness to work with us to overcome what could have been a logistical nightmare and make it work was very telling”, Ben continues. “We knew that he was the right guy for the job. He’s insane as far as the work that he does and his dedication to it. We showed the album to a handful of close friends who are in production or mixing and they’re like ‘man, there’s no way you could pay me enough to do this project’. The sheer number of hours that he put into this project was humungous. We couldn’t be happier with the job he’s done and, more than that, he has become a close friend and we’re thankful to have him on the team.”

In closing, I have to ask Ben to look a little further into the future and perhaps unfairly ask him to consider what Earthside may sound like on discs two, three and maybe even four. The response is pretty much as I expected too.

“It’ll sound like Earthside as far as the sonic imprint that we make with the first record but it will probably explore totally different areas because that’s the whole goal of this, to not limit ourselves. The whole reason why we did this crazy and insane record was to enable us to have no ceiling to what we do next.”

And, with that, the best part of 45 minutes of interesting, intense and thoroughly enjoyable chat comes to an end. I may have only heard two songs, just like all of you who are reading this article. However, I cannot stress just how excited I am to hear more of Earthside’s material. More so having got an insight into the way the band operates and the way the band thinks. One thing’s for sure; the Blog Of Much Metal will be keeping a beady eye on every twist and turn in the Earthside evolution and I’m just pleased to have been there from the beginning to maybe help in a small way.

Keep an eye open for ‘A Dream In Static’ when it’s released later in 2015.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please check out some others that I have conducted:

Kingcrow – ‘Eidos’ Track-by-Track Part 2
Kingcrow – ‘Eidos’ Track-by-Track Part 1
Triaxis
Native Construct
Distorted Harmony
Kingcrow
Wisdom Of Crowds – Bruce Soord & Jonas Renkse

<a href="https://manofmuchmetal.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/maschine-an-interview-with-the-uk-prog-rockers/&quot;

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 1

Given the abundance of quality music already released during 2015, it is hard to believe that we are only halfway through the year. It has been that good, I already have a quality top 20 albums that could easily populate my end of year list. But for those who broadly share my tastes in music, strap yourselves in because there’s a ton of new material coming our way. Here’s a quick guide to the albums that I am looking forward to hearing – not all are guaranteed to see the light of day during 2015, but many are and the rest are best guesses/dreaming on my part. Nevertheless, here goes:

Symphony X – Underworld

Sym X coverFirst up is a bit of a cheat seeing as I’ve already heard it and submitted a review elsewhere. However, for many, this is one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year. American progressive metallers Symphony X are not the most prolific of bands when it comes to new material, so every album is greeted with huge excitement and massive expectation. All I will say, rather cryptically, is that if you’re an existing fan of any era of Symphony X, you’re very unlikely to be disappointed. Trust me.

Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle

spocks coverA band that I’ve got into in more recent times, I’m extremely excited to hear this new album from progressive rock band Spock’s Beard. Never ones to release music that is in any way substandard, the band are consummate professionals with an attention to detail within their warm, welcoming and complex compositions. Those who have heard the first track to be released off the album will no doubt share my well-placed optimism.

https://soundcloud.com/officialinsideoutmusic/spocks-beard-tides-of-time/s-80IYe

Soilwork – The Ride Majestic

soilwork coverSwedish melodic metal stalwarts Soilwork rarely disappoint and, regardless of the numerous line-up issues that they have experienced of late, their output has remained of the highest standard. Again, I’ve been lucky enough to hear this album ahead of it’s release and, as with Symphony X above, the results are impressive. I can say no more ahead of my official review elsewhere except to say that I’m enjoying the listening experience.

Wolverine – TBC

There are few acts out there that manage to offer progressive rock/metal that is so complex, rich, grandiose and full of gritty melancholy. Their last album, ‘Communication Lost’ is a marvellous album that is dark, sombre and very poignant, to the point that it can sometimes be a difficult listen depending on your mood. However, the music itself is fantastic, managing to be heavy and complicated yet subtle and very beautiful. No official word of a 2015 release, but I remain ever hopeful.

Swallow The Sun – TBC

Upon releasing the news that they have joined the Century Media label, Finnish purveyors of gloom, beauty and despair, Swallow The Sun confirmed that a new album would be released before the end of the year. And within the announcement came the quote: “We are currently working our hearts out in the studio recording an album that will come out later this year. All we can tell you at this point is that this is something that has not been done many times before, and maybe for a good reason.” Cryptic indeed, but very exciting also.

Riverside – Love, Fear And The Time Machine

riverside coverAfter a couple of albums that failed to grab my attention, release number five, ‘Shrine of New Generation Slaves’ blew me away. Chock full of brilliantly crafted, emotional and atmospheric progressive rock, it thoroughly reignited my enthusiasm for the Polish quartet. Can album number six, entitled ‘Love, Fear and the Time Machine’ match or exceed its predecessor? I certainly hope so, but we’ll have to wait until September 4th to find out.

Earthside – A Dream In Static

I have had the distinct pleasure to interview Earthside and listen to a couple of tracks from this rookie band’s upcoming debut album, scheduled for release before the close of 2015. Everyone I have given the heads-up to has listened to the tracks and had the same reaction as me: ‘wow’! If the entire album, entitled ‘A Dream In Static’ matches up to the quality of what’s been released thus far, we have a contender for album of the year. I kid you not. These guys are special.

Omnium Gatherum – TBC

“Melancholic Finns laying down some last melancholic notes for the new album. Heads down, we’re almost there at the end of the road.” It’s an announcement from the band that would suggest a new album will be with us very soon. My second favourite album of 2013, the new disc will have to go some to beat the melodic death metal perfection that was ‘Beyond’. However, in Omnium Gatherum, I trust and expect nothing but magnificence. No pressure then guys.

Katatonia – TBC

Is it foolish hope or fanboy enthusiasm to hope for a new Katatonia record during the latter stages of 2015? Whatever definition you give it, my fingers remain firmly crossed that the Swedish masters of dark and melancholic metal return with another collection of original music before the year is out. There’s been nothing official, but I have a hunch that something is in the offing.

Haken – TBC

Is it too much to ask? Probably. I know that album number 4 is in the writing stage, but I think even the magicians within Haken will find it tough to release another monster album in 2015. Still, I mention them because they’re brilliant and a chap can dream, surely?!

My Soliloquy – TBC

Created from the mind of Threshold guitarist Pete Morten, it comes as no surprise that My Soliloquy is a band that can write sophisticated and properly engaging progressive metal that’s satisfyingly intricate but that has more than enough earworms to reel listeners in time and again for repeated listens. As well as a great guitarist and songwriter, it turns out that Pete can sing well too. You can go off some people sometimes. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to hear what My Soliloquy offer up on their second album.

Sound of Contact – TBC

Sound of Contact offer some of the richest, most memorable and indulgent progressive rock of recent times, meaning that a new album in 2015 has to be a highly anticipated event to pencil onto my calendar. I still really enjoy their debut album ‘Dimensionaut’ and I’m hoping for another record of equal or superior quality; given the protagonists involved in the band and a return to their original line-up, this certainly isn’t a futile hope either.

Darkane – TBC

If you’re after a band that can combine melodic death metal, thrash and a healthy dose of prog-laced technicality, then Darkane are the no-brainer choice. Savage, brutal, majestic and subtly melodic, the Swedish extreme metallers have delivered quality music time and time again over their six album career. The more I listen to this band, the more I like them and realise what an impossibly brilliant band they are. Darkane’s new album has become one of my most eagerly anticipated.

Cloudscape – TBC

For those in the know, the name Cloudscape has become synonymous with extremely solid and enjoyable melodic hard rock/ metal with a slightly progressive edge. Vocalist Mike Andersson has taken to social media over the past few months to confirm a 2015 release and it has made me realise how interested I am about hearing some new material – I’m certain that it’ll be of a high standard, as each album up to now has been.

Darkwater – TBC

The follow-up to the thoroughly excellent ‘Where Stories End’ from Swedish metallers Darkwater was scheduled for a 2014 release but has slipped into 2015 and there’s still no official release date as far as I can see. Oh well, I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait though and we’ll be treated to another excellent album full of synth-heavy epic, memorable and darkly-tinged melodic progressive metal.

Earthside – Interview Part 1 – “it will defy a lot of expectations in a good way”

Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )
Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )

It is rare that I undertake an interview with a band about which I know very little. Normally, I have been fortunate enough to hear the album in advance of the interview or, if it’s an established band, I can do my homework and be prepared. In the case of Earthside, they are a new name in heavy metal circles. As such, they have yet to release their debut album and to date, I have only heard two tracks from the impending release. I say ‘impending’, although as far as I’m aware, no release date has even been divulged.

Shrouded in secrecy they may be but there seems to be a buzz growing on the Internet about the band, a quartet hailing from New Haven, Connecticut, comprised of guitarist Jamie Van Dyck, keyboardist Frank Sacramone, bassist Ryan Griffin and drummer Ben Shanbrom. Hardly surprising really because if you’ve heard the track ‘The Closest I’ve Come’, you’ll already know that there’s something special about to be unleashed. Huge riffs, odd and complex time signatures, tempo changes aplenty, gargantuan melodies and a whole lot more collide to create a song that, within seconds of it finishing, had me busily emailing the band’s PR people asking for more information.

The result of my endeavours is this, an interview with drummer Ben Shanbrom to find out a little more about Earthside; what makes them tick and what we can realistically expect from the debut full-length upon its release. After the initial pleasantries, I ask a very friendly yet focused, driven and extremely articulate Ben to provide a little background to Earthside.

“As far as the world is concerned”, he begins in eager fashion, “we’re a very new band; not a lot of people are familiar with us. But as far as the group is concerned, we’ve been together for a very long time, over a decade this year. We’ve gone through some different names and it took us a while to find that exact sound and way of doing things that we were happy with, that really reflected what we ultimately love about music and the kind of band that we wanted to be. We used to do a lot of things for the sake of shock value, like ‘people aren’t going to see this coming’ or ‘let’s write this really weird part that has nothing to do with anything, just to throw people off’, he chuckles.

“People were saying ‘why don’t you just be an instrumental band because that makes more sense’ or ‘why don’t you get a singer already?’ None of that hit for us. We like so many different kinds of music and have so many different inspirations, so to settle for one of those things because it’s easier for a PR company or a label to sum up in six words or something is not us. ‘For fans of Dream Theater, King Crimson, blah, blah, blah’ – that’s not us. It was finding the right balance, the way of doing things that we were happy with. And that”, he chuckles again with real warmth and self-deprecating humour, “took close to a decade.”

“The nucleus of the band, myself, the guitarist Jamie and the keyboardist Frank have been playing together in a basement since we were 15-16 years old. Our bass player we met a little later in the process and he’s been with us for four-five years now. It has taken this time to get the core established and now people are beginning to see and hear us for the first time.”

A decade or more is a very long time for a band to emerge from an embryonic state but based on the quality of their output, I suggest that it has perhaps been time well spent. Ben agrees before admitting that it wasn’t just the formation of the band and the overall sound that took a long time. As he explains, the recording of the debut, titled ‘A Dream In Static’, was no whistle stop exercise either.

“It certainly has taken a lot of time”, Ben confirms. “Not just coming together as a group, but from when we decided close to four or five years ago to make this record and reach out to the producers that we love. It has been very time intensive. From the time we set foot into the studio to now it’s been almost 2 and a half years. It has taken a lot of time to get the right production people involved, the exact singers we wanted to work with, and the right additional musicians. In this era, one of the biggest things that people say is that all these bands sound the same and they ask why bands aren’t taking any risks. The answer is simple – the demand is there but a lot of people in the industry say that these kinds of projects aren’t the cheapest, most efficient, and safe way of doing things and there’s a constant give and take on each side. But if you really want to try to do something different, it is about as inconvenient and as much of an uphill battle as you can imagine.”

I suggest to Ben that this is what music is all about though, creating something that means something to the band and that conveys feelings and is driven by other motivation other than dreams of fame and riches. The details surrounding how it all comes together is, to some extent, a hurdle to be navigated at a later time.

“I fully agree with you.” Ben laughs heartily in response to my rather blasé assertion, a classic comment for someone who is not a musician in any shape or form. “This album, if I had to synthesise it into any root motivation, it was totally for us. It was not for what this or that website or taste-maker would think of it. It was totally for us, what we love about music, what we miss in music today and it is ultimately about us making a mark. But the details you mention, they can be a real killer. It’s all part of the process and at the end of the day, we’re all going to have our little nit-picks but we’re really proud of the record. We think people are going to be surprised by it. It will defy a lot of expectations in a good way and I’m just stoked for people to be able to hear it.”

Stoked Ben may be for us all to hear the record, but the band are not in any rush it seems to share the fruits of Earthside’s considerable labours; in fact, the secrecy surrounding the material is intense, as if the music is to be treated as a state secret. Not so, counters Ben.

“There is some secrecy as you picked up”, he admits honestly. “But it’s not to be overly clandestine or anything, it’s more because we’re trying to keep things simple. Even until recently we had nothing out and people were like ‘can we at least hear some music?’ But when you’re dealing with labels it can be tricky because everyone wants you to release the record, but if we just release the record they’ll tell us to go right back into the studio again after being in there for over two years. And if we do that, we’ll lose our minds”, he laughs with a slightly nervous edge before continuing apace.

“But as far as your question is concerned, I can tell you that the whole album is not in the key of C. I think they (the two songs released so far – ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ and more recently ‘Mob Mentality’) are a good baseline explanation of what you’ll be hearing. It’s funny because some places who have covered us have only heard ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ and they refer to us as an instrumental progressive metal band, for people who like Animals As Leaders or Explosions In The Sky. People are going to be surprised when more music from us comes out because they’ve not picked up on a lot of the other stuff that we’re doing.”

Throughout the interview, Ben has alluded to a great deal of variety within the compositions, something that’s evident from the two tracks aired. As Ben explains, there’s a demonstrable and tangible reason for this.

“One thing we’re bummed about with a lot albums that have come out recently”, he admits candidly, “ is there’s been a movement from creating a full record experience that captures so many dimensions of a band’s sound towards more of a ‘here’s our album, here are ten tracks of the same sort of song done ten slightly different ways’. For us, that was never an option. We knew that we wanted every song to really show a very different part of who we are and what we love about music.”

“Half the record is instrumental, half the songs have vocals”, Ben counters when I ask him to enlighten us just a little on what the album as a whole has in store for listeners. He doesn’t enlighten me as to the remaining guest vocalists but his descriptions nonetheless paint vivid pictures in my mind. “The vocal songs contain three more guest singers and every song is very different. There are the two songs you’ve heard but in addition, one of the tracks has no orchestration and hardly any keyboards, it is almost an orchestra of guitar sounds and is one of the most layered guitar songs I’ve heard recently. In fact, our keyboardist has to play guitar live because there are three lead guitar lines going on at the same time. Another track is more atmospheric and is perhaps Australian alternative-influenced.”

Credit: Travis Smith - Seempieces ( http://www.seempieces.com/ )
Credit: Travis Smith – Seempieces ( http://www.seempieces.com/ )

“There’s another which is crushing”, Ben continues, really warming to this subject, underlining his eagerness for people to hear the material. “It has string players on it and it is the most depressing, soul shattering eleven minute song. One of the other tracks is more visceral, like a punch to the face which is constant intensity and movement for five minutes. There’s one that’s more expansive and atmospheric and there’s one track that’s not even a rock band song; it’s more like a modern new-age composition which acts like a palette cleanser on the record. So it’s incredibly diverse and I’m sure that there will be some people who will turn their heads sideways and won’t be sure what to make of it. But to others, I hope that it will be a refreshing listen for them.”

I think you’ll agree that this brief overview sounds mouth-watering to say the least. The intensity and excitement with which Ben describes the music is infectious and only adds to the anticipation that an increasing number of us are experiencing. I pause for a moment to consider just how lucky we are to be fans of an overall genre of music that can offer so much, before back-tracking slightly. I want to find out more about the diverse influences that have played a part in the quartet’s life, helping to shape Earthside into the band they are today. Overall, it’s not the answer I was expecting, I can tell you.

“It’s a tricky question”, Ben replies cautiously at first, “because none of us want to be pigeon-holed. An older band that we were in was certifiably prog and I found it funny because we were in our late teens and people assumed that we listened to “our parent’s King Crimson, Rush and Yes albums.” We laughed because we weren’t into any of that stuff. It wasn’t our era; we grew up listening to Linkin Park, Incubus, and System Of A Down. Our parents didn’t even have those records. The first music that I listened to was funk music and I liked that before rock. My dad had Tower Of Power, Average White Man and really intense horn funk groups.”

“That was one of my biggest early rhythmic influences, all that syncopation and groove. That’s really filtered into everything in my musical development; whether it is funk, metal or prog, it has to have a real groove and a rhythmic pulse that drives everything. That’s definitely at the root of a lot of the writing that we do, particularly the instrumental tracks that tend to be more collaborative. A lot of them will start with me farting around on the drum set and the guitarist or bass player will be like ‘wait, what was that? Play that again.’ And then the whole song will stem from an initial idea like that.”

“Our guitarist and keyboardist have, in various ways come from a classical background”, Ben returns to the question via his slight detour. “Jamie, our guitarist studied music composition at Yale and he is very deep into music theory. He’s into Stravinsky and a lot of these more adventurous 20th Century classical composers that did all this really crazy harmonic and rhythmic stuff.”

“On the keyboard end, Frank is kinda funny because he’s not really a prog keyboardist in the way that a lot of people think about it. You don’t hear big synths or Hammond organs because a lot of his influences don’t come from prog. He has much more of a cinematic background and his favourite soundtrack ever is Hans Zimmer’s ‘Gladiator’. He’ll use the name ‘Textures Frank’ for himself sometimes as he’s more about creating epic walls of sound or textures within the music. It’s the same for us all actually; we have some more technical sections but it’s more about creating that overall expansive sound and intense atmosphere rather than shredding your face off for ten minutes.”

“But there’s also all kinds of other weird stuff in there”, Ben concludes with something of a curveball. “This will get us good press with metal sites”, he chuckles, “but Frank and Jamie like Coldplay. It’s not so much my thing but we’re just very open-minded. We’re music snobs, no doubt about it but we’ll listen to anything that has strong musical ideas, whatever it is. Even ‘ET’ by Katy Perry has a really nice minor key chord progression and its good until Kanye comes in. At the other end, it could be Gojira or Hacride, or the craziest French esoteric avant-garde stuff.”

End of Part 1…keep an eye open for Part 2, coming very soon, where Ben and I delve ever further into the intriguing and exciting world of Earthside.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please check out some others that I have conducted:

Kingcrow – ‘Eidos’ Track-by-Track Part 2
Kingcrow – ‘Eidos’ Track-by-Track Part 1
Triaxis
Native Construct
Distorted Harmony
Kingcrow
Wisdom Of Crowds – Bruce Soord & Jonas Renkse

Maschine

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