Earthless – Black Heaven
Review by Neil Ainger
For the past 17 years the power trio from San Diego, California have been at the forefront of the modern day heavy psych scene, crafting long and complex instrumental psychedelic jams. The warped and roaming wizardry of guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (Golden Void, Howlin’ Rain) and the unshackled and commanding drumming of the brilliant Mario Rubalcaba (OFF!, Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt) helps to harness the raw power of the Jimi Hendrix Experience while calling back to the likes of Leaf Hound, Flower Travellin’ Band and Amon Düül II.
Throughout their first 3 full length records, the band have offered mostly a series of instrumental cosmic jams between 15 and 30 minutes in length and very, very rarely have the band stepped outside of this formula – until now.
Four of latest release Black Heaven’s six tracks have Mitchell taking the mic and the longest track is just shy of 9 minutes in length. This is a very different Earthless and, as someone who loved the band exactly the way they were and never once pondered the introduction of vocals, I’d have to say the changes are very welcome. It certainly isn’t a case of out with the old and in with the new. Earthless, at their core, remain a tripped-out space rock band and Mitchell still wields his guitar with a swirling, abstract ferocity, however Black Heaven more clearly embraces a number of “classic” and blues rock influences and a more conventional approach with defined and organised choruses and verses.
One of the lead singles and the album opener, Gifted by the Wind, is reminiscent of the great Eddie Hazel ripping some killer solos over a Thin Lizzy track and the riff-heavy Electric Flame is a concise and incisive blues number that quickly spins out in to a fuzzy, euphoric trip the band have become known for.
Mitchell taking the mic is actually nothing new and while his vocal duties within Earthless have been very occasional, outside of the band he has frequented the mic. On Black Heaven his vocals are, at all times, authoritative and authentic. Rubalcaba’s drumming is as masterful and as dynamic as ever and with the wandering basslines of Mike Eginton (especially on the combustible title track) to complete the trio, Earthless’ greatest quality is perhaps their understanding and skill and I’d go as far as to say they have never sounded so tight. When you consider the switch to a more conventional approach, the embracing of a wider range of their influences into their sound and the more accessible nature of the record, it should attract fans of ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin just as much as those of Acid Mothers Temple and Boris and therefore should, you would imagine, be their biggest success to date.
Black Heaven is out 16th March 2018 on Nuclear Blast Records