A search for innovation through psychedelic familiarity

Scheduled to arrive five years after previous release From The Ages, heavy San-Diego-based acid rockers Earthless are taking another trip through the cosmos on the back of their latest LP, Black Heaven.

As band chemistry peaks often, the trio smoothly soars through realms of hard stoner rock, desert fuzz and 70s psychedelia, propelled by Isaiah Mitchell’s rapid guitar shredding and the pummelling rhythms of drummer Mario Rubalcaba and bassist Mike Eginton. Most notable for this album however is the fact that only two of the six tracks are instrumentals.

Because Earthless have mainly built a reputation through their instrumental prowess, incorporating studio-based jamming and improvised rhythmic interplay on From The Ages etc, tighter song structures are now being refined for the addition of vocals. With this shift therefore leading to a more marketable sound for the trio, Earthless have also adapted a large influence from 70s hard rock; refurbishing retro attitude with punchy modern production, as on second track ‘End To End’.

Title-track ‘Black Heaven’ begins with reminiscence to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Good Times Bad Times’. This vintage appeal is complimented by the skilled voice of Isaiah Mitchell, who bears a vocal style mixed between Robert Plant’s wail and Ian Gillan’s presence. Though as a testament to the trio’s combined punk rock attitude, fourth track ‘Volt Rush’ is a high-octane instrumental that races to the finish line in just under two minutes.

Alternatively, the aforementioned title track is a more traditional jam-based number that measures over eight minutes; one of three tracks to cross a song length mark in under nine. Mitchell’s searing guitar work easily carries these songs for sustained running times, often flourishing halfway through pieces and descending into a whirling maelstrom of fuzz, wah, and phaser. That being said, this pattern wears thin if you’re not a fan of multiple and multilayered guitar solos in single songs. Nimble and intricate soloing ability maintains interest only as long as your attention span can hold.

For the sake of added diversity alongside this advanced guitar showmanship, Mario Rubalcaba could have incorporated more technical drum-fills and grooves in the true ethos of jam-rock. Instead, he coasts along on cymbals and employs a familiar range of drum-parts throughout Black Heaven, maintaining the general excitement but holding musical diversity back somewhat.

Here, Earthless’s main forms of sonic identity seem to be borne of studio effects, style of riffs and rhythmic pace rather than musical interplay or an emphasis on dynamics. This former approach is further developed through the depth, expanse and headiness of production, overseen at the legendary Rancho De La Luna studios in Joshua Tree, California.

True to the local desert heritage of such fellow Rancho artists as Kyuss and Queens Of The Stone Age, closing track ‘Sudden End’ exhibits the classic wash and expansiveness of 90s stoner rock in a cleaner introductory section before opening into a descending doom riff and fading after many solos to the sounds of a galactic breeze.

It’s inspiring to hear Earthless branching out into new territory with newly added vocals and enhanced psychedelic atmosphere, though the album wouldn’t suffer if a few loose ends were tightened and broader musical diversity was introduced. Still, another fine addition to a unique body for work for the trio, complete with some memorable moments and high-points of sonic ecstasy.

1. Gifted by the Wind
2. End to End
3. Electric Flame
4. Volt Rush
5. Black Heaven
6. Sudden End