In recent years, EOLB have gathered the kind of respect most underground bands would give up a grandma to have behind them. Innovative and powerful albums one and two, ‘Prologue’ and ‘Inside the Difference Engine’, launched Harry Armstrong and his hairy henchmen into a scrum of media acclaim and great success in the live arena, including slots upon the hallowed grounds of Roadburn and the Stoned From the Underground festival in 2006. With Armstrong changing the band’s line-up almost entirely for this outing to include Roland Scriver (ex Sloth) on lead guitar, Neil Grant (ex RAAR) on drums and Peter Theobalds, once of sublime Welsh sludge-titans Gonga on the bass, it was with eager intrigue that I grabbed the chance to review their surely epic third effort ‘Eklectric’.
With so much past promise shown both live and in the studio, I’m sorry to say that I was even more disappointed by the lack of cohesion shown on this record than if it had been delivered by a fresh new band. ‘Eklectric’ is distinctly average, and carries the feel of a band stuck between ideas, whilst eager to promote new activity. ‘As The Earth Forgets Us’ is a sombre opening which lacks excitement or any form of pace as it falls short of its sole task – to pull the listener into the murky bowels of the rest of the album. I hate to say it, but the remaining nine tracks do very little different. EOLB’s niche is, and always has been, off-kilter rhythms, interlocking grooves and ploughing listeners’ ears through eerie caves of muscular half-metal-half-prog-rock. Yet, for all its efforts to expand this mission statement, ‘Eklectric’ is too fractured and disjointed in its composition to allow the grooving basslines to flow. New riffs seem to occur every 4 seconds or so in every track, and rather than give the impression that every song is different, it all blends into one big mush that only jolts you back into consciousness upon the silence following closer ‘Red Grey Eye’.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s gone wrong. Grant’s drumming is a curveball of talent, more jazz-influenced than rock steadiness for a large part of the album, but this leads the riffs too far astray to combine into a tasty groove. There are too many layers here, and not enough meat to bite into, making the whole piece an extremely difficult listen. At times, it feels like you’re a fly on the wall for the first time The Dillinger Escape Plan got together in a garage, or even watching Devin Townsend pissing around with polyrhythmic off-cuts on a mixing desk long after the rest of his band have hit the hay. Much is made on the promo sleeve blurb of Armstrong allowing the creative juices to flow from full band jams for the very first time, and this I can fully believe as it’s lacking a head honcho to grab the best riffs by the balls and hammer them home. Dave Mustaine makes the final call on everything Megadeth put to tape, as it’s the only way he can work with other musicians, and the mind wanders into thinking whether the same should be true for Harry Armstrong to put the boss back into End of Level Boss.
Going back to the music, Armstrong has resorted to using pretty much 100% clean vocals on ‘Eklectric’, the result being a far less metal sound as featured on their debut ‘Prologue’, where Harry’s desperate, throaty rasp combined with sludgy punk riffs to give the band a more dominating crunch. The lyrics here sound forced through in this way, and feel more like a chore to the instrumentation than a valuable part of each song’s flow. Grooves-wise, Theobalds’ bass is largely undercut in the final mix and hides beneath the guitar layers too deeply to feel ballsy enough. ‘Thud’ and ‘Blueshift’ offer succulent opening riffs, but these quickly evaporate into graveyards of obscure, scratchy fretwork.
‘Eklectric’ fights EOLB’s prog corner pretty must exclusively, and I felt blindsided by its approach and left in an awkward jam about how to feel about its juddering structure. Upon its release, this will be a sure-fire Marmite-record for both close followers of the band and newcomers alike, and I’m very curious to hear the thoughts of others on this one. For me though, Armstrong and co. failed to allow the hundreds of ideas they produced to settle, and instead used them all together in one big confusing Eric Cantona-esque rant. “Soon, too soon… we’ve lost our worth” as Armstrong crows on ‘If Not All’ seems weirdly appropriate.
Scribed by: Pete Green