Anybody that’s seen Earthless live and also heard them on record knows that, really, the live arena is where this band truly thrives. It’s hard, even in these days of limitless cloud storage and unlimited internet access to imagine an album that can really house the band’s penchant for hour-long instrumental psychedelic metal extravaganzas, and so, by default almost, the band’s vinyl offerings have tended to pale by comparison to their behemothic live expositions.
That’s a relative term, obviously – any album by Earthless still pisses over anything by, say, Five Finger Death Punch, but perhaps the best news about Black Heaven is that finally fans of the band are going to have, in their hands and indeed ears, an easy-to-digest and eminently manageable album that really does ram home just how good this band is.
The band seem to have addressed the niche appeal of their live shows and attempted to produce an album which encapsulates everything about them that is great whilst still remaining ostensibly like the sort of album everyone else puts out.
There are still instrumental freakouts – over ten minutes of the buggers – but they are bookended by some staggeringly good, old fashioned heavy metal that’ll have old heads like you and your mate there salivating at the denim-clad glory of it all.
Opening track Gifted by the Wind is quite superb, utilizing a main riff that could easily have been misplaced during the sessions for Judas Priest’s Killing Machine album augmented by some out-of-this world soloing from guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, which is so good I’ve invented a new word for it – Nugentian.
End to End carries on the good work, adding some soulful female backing vocals to the mix; early seventies greats like Humble Pie and Grand Funk Railroad spring briefly to mind, but the reality is this is music good enough to transcend mere comparison. In another world, a world where I am in charge, Mitchell’s supreme solo that ends this track would lead to the song being renamed Get Yer Wah Wahs Out.
Electric Flame is punishing, building through several phases to end with a triumphant instrumental workout at the song’s climax, Which leads neatly into the album’s two instrumentals.
There’s a short one – the jaunty, punchy Volt Rush which will have Dixie Dregs fans all a quiver, and a long one, the title track, which is more in keeping with the rest of the album, just sans vocals. I prefer a vocal hook to latch onto myself, but there’s plenty to enjoy still on both these tracks. However the band wait until the last track to deal the hammer blow.
Sudden End is stunning. Entwining elements of Mountain at their most epic with a lazy, almost southern rock feel – augmented by some space noises at the start – it’s here that the band demonstrate most clearly that they’ve got this ‘accessible’ thing nailed down. Classic rock in excelsis, it is eight and a half minute of patchouli soaked nirvana that I defy any rock fan of a certain age to reject.
You won’t be able to do it. It’s an impossibility.
Building from a slow start, based on a monolithic drum pattern from Mario Rubicalba, the build up of the song teases the listener – when will the explosion come? – but the glorious pay off is that there isn’t one. No Freebirdesque histrionics for these boys, oh no – Earthless choose instead to plateau with another delirious solo midway through and then take the listener through an extended diminuendo, the song dying as steadily as it came to life, Rubicalba beating out that tattoo until the space noises come back… You’re not expecting it, but it’s a great way to end a very special album.
To be honest I wasn’t expecting Black Heaven to be anything less than solid – but I wasn’t prepared for this. A marvellous, and very welcome surprise.
Black Heaven is released today by Nuclear Blast