Before I say anything else, I want to say two things. First, the band has posted their entire album on youtube since the inception of this review so I can actually give you all eight tracks instead of just the two I wrote about previously. I won’t go into detail on the rest beyond this review, and I’ll try to post them in order even if the review gets a little squidgy because of it. There were paragraphs where I highlighted the two posted individual tracks, and in an effort to post the album in order throughout the review, that may get muddled a bit. The album will be posted throughout this review from top down in the order the tracks were placed on the album, starting with The Closest I’ve Come.
The other thing I wanted to point out about this album is that it is the band’s debut album. This is the first thing we’ve heard from them. I can’t stress that enough. Earthside, as I have learned and am now relaying to you, is a band from New England mostly made up from music scholars. If you’ve read my reviews for the band Dream Theater, you’ve probably seen me talk about their musical wizardry and technical savvy, and that largely stems from the fact that those guys originally went to music school together (well, they imported James Labrie from Canada). Mike, John and John all played together at Berklee back in the 80s, and here they are now as one of the biggest prog bands around.
Earthside, much like Dream Theater, came together as students of music. These aren’t just guys that played together in a garage, but they actually studied the nuances of music and went into it in detail. Jamie, the guitarist, studied music (and composition) at Yale. Frank, the keyboardist, studied at Hampshire College and Berklee focusing, obviously, on music. Ryan, the bassist, studied at the Hartt School of Music focusing on Music production and tech. Finally, Ben, the drummer, did not actually go to school for music, but has been immersed in the music world as well, studying Journalism and writing about music whenever he could. These guys love music. In fact, interestingly enough, they do not call themselves a band, and instead define Earthside as a “creative collective”. How new age. Don’t be afraid of the title, because these guys may have a unique band name, but they flow with the progressive rock and metal of the past and today and put them together to make something immensely fun to hear.
When you listen to a track like Mob Mentality, their single and the second track posted above, you can tell they are no mere debuting band trying to find their place in the world. Instead, they’re letting the world know in a flash and a fury that they are a force to be reckoned with immediately. This single features the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra. How many debut bands can you think of that contacted a symphony to put together something like this? With all these tracks posted throughout the review, this is no mere “ten minute review” like others I have written in the past. If you listen to even one of these tracks that I’ve posted, then I’ve done my job. If you have listened to the entire album, then congratulations, and I hope you enjoyed yourself as much as I did. About Mob Mentality, I don’t need to explain how impressive this effort is, and can really let this video speak for itself. This four piece, which at least for the time being plans on being an instrumental band with guest vocalists, managed to recruit an orchestra to play with them on their first album. Some bands wait for years to realize that an orchestra behind them is terrific. Think of Metallica’s S&M album, it’s one of my personal favorites and if you’re unfamiliar it stands for Symphony and Metallica, not something improper. Even if you don’t like the band Kiss, their Alive IV album, featured a symphony as well, and was another perfect example of how a band can be truly enhanced with a symphony.
A lot of this music, especially in the prog world, is based on classical music, so it’s a perfect fit. Dream Theater, as I mentioned above, also used an orchestra for an anniversary concert and even recorded the track Illumination Theory off their most recent (self-titled) album with a string ensemble. As you can see from the video, Mob Mentality is not just a track, but an audio and visual experience. They have dancing people, they have the orchestra, they have the band playing, they have the keyboardist on a stage playing a piano, and they have Lajon by himself on the microphone. It is interesting that whenever Lajon is shown (and by Lajon I mean Lajon Witherspoon, the vocalist for this track, who is the lead singer of Sevendust), he is by himself. He is never with the band, because Earthside wants to make sure that the audience sees the band apart from everything else. This is an accurate description of this album in some ways, because they want to be set apart from the rest of the music scene and want to be on their own doing what they do.
At its core, despite whatever you may think, they’re a progressive rock/metal (because the two can flow back and forth, as they do in this album) band with rotating vocalists who may occasionally drift into post-metal territory. In studio, they don’t have one standing vocalist as of yet, and some of the tracks on the album are completely instrumental. The vocalists are impressively high caliber for a band that seems to have come completely out of nowhere. As seen in that second track once again, Lajon from Sevendust joined them in Mob Mentality. This is one of those albums that contradicts what I’ve written before about the dreaded .feat portion of song titles these days. These guests fit right in to each of their respective tracks, and the guests also include Daniel from TesseracT on the title track and Bjorn from Soilwork on Crater. Those are real bigtime guests that they somehow got to sing with them on this new album, and I don’t know how that happened. Maybe they know some of the right people, or have a friend of a friend, or know a guy, but any way you squeeze it, it’s very impressive to have vocalists of that level and fame on this album.
Some of these songs could definitely be shortened, and feel like they are radio-length tracks just extended with djent and noodlings. I could see Mob Mentality cutting down to about five minutes and playing on the radio and being fairly popular, even by the radio standards of today. I will admit, radio is definitely a dying medium, but how else do kids hear new music these days? Is it all from youtube, or friends sending them “some song I heard?” It certainly isn’t from reading reviews like these.
Earthside, as a debuting band, blew me away. I mean, on the track Entering the Light, not only did they have the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra join them again, but they also pulled in a guy named Max ZT, who is a wizard on a little known and way underappreciated hammered dulcimer. A brief criticism I mentioned above was that they want to set themselves apart from the rest of the pack, and they did so in this album by making sure each track was distinctly different from the next. The vocal styles were but one way that they made absolutely sure that each song defined itself. They weren’t trying to tell a story, which can be easily imagined since how many instrumental albums tell stories, and just made great music.
I see a bright future for Earthside, especially as this debut album is so solid. It’s very well produced and polished, as if they had done this before. I wonder if they will seek out having a permanent vocalist, or if they will call friends to jump in to sing for them. It would make for a very strange live show, if they play songs that traditionally have vocals with no vocalist. Would they just hire a touring vocalist, or would they have a very limited tour and bring those vocalists along or tour with the bands they borrow from? I doubt that Sevendust and Soilwork would tour together, so the renditions that we hear from this album could be drastically different on stage. This is significant, since the track they want this album to be centered on, Mob Mentality, would obviously be massively different without Lajon on it. I have yet to see them live at the writing of this revised review in 2016, but I imagine they have made due so far.
This review has gone on long enough, so I’ll wrap this up by saying how impressed I am with Earthside. This is one of the best debut albums I’ve heard in a long time. I give this breakout band an improved 14.5 Ratings Units out of 15, and I can’t wait to hear more from them. I don’t know how you could expect more from a band that mere months ago you had a) never heard of and 2) released their first album. Breakthrough album or band of the 2015, this was. If you made it to the end of this review and managed to listen to all of the music contained within, well done. I salute you.
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