While it may have taken five years for San Diego’s Earthless to get around to recording another full-length, From The Ages feel like it could have been released the day after its predecessor. It recaptures the trio’s deep-rooted psychic kinship, three musicians who excel on every possible technical level yet, when stuck in a room together, emerge with fluid, urgent and absorbing jams without resorting to petty one-upmanship or ego-stroking vies for audio supremacy. These four lengthy cuts echo the prime of 70s rock and the benchmarks which they themselves set with their debut eight years ago, the overwhelmingly awesome Sonic Prayer, and they have created yet another record for the heads, the greasers, the groovers and the guitarists looking for another high to pit themselves against.
‘Violence of the Red Sea’ opens in typically mountainous fashion, a sprawl of Sabbathian riffing and tight splash’n’pop from Mario Rubalcaba, his recent stint in Off! doing nothing to stunt his flair from unpredictable yet perfectly-timed fills, that flows in and out of Isaiah Mitchell’s molten lead breaks which make up about half of its quarter-hour runtime. It really is a guitarist’s hell and heaven rolled into one, Mitchell possessing an instinctive grasp of his craft with a fusion of Iommi’s melodicism, Hendrix’s flair for the peculiar and Howlin’ Wolf’s bristling swagger that he can seemingly ramp up and sustain to the point where time ceases to register. As the tempo strays into more overtly bluesy territory, the fire of the trio’s delivery always keeps the twin oases of Sabbath and Hendrix within sight.
Slower, darker and with a pace more firmly geared towards the opiated masses, the shimmering desert haze of ‘Uluru Rock’ sees the undulating basswork of Mike Egington push steadily towards the fore, a head-nodding wander through crimson Martian mountainscapes and endless sandy vistas, Mitchell’s sharp accompaniments circling the landscape until, about 9 minutes in, the pace steps up, and up, and up. Things take on a punky urgency, Rubalcaba’s double-time exertions providing a motoric drive to further reverb-and-wah-streaked soloing. It never quite lets up until the final rattle of snare and snaking bassline, so the entrance of ‘Equus October’ comes as sweet relief. Neither interlude nor breather, the five minutes or so are a heady exploration of middle-Eastern psych-drone with a light dusting of synth on top, Egington channelling his inner Cisneros with a performance pregnant with incense, lysergic ritual and closed-eye devotion.
While the half-hour, free-wheelin’ odyssey of the cosmos ‘From The Ages’ has been around in some shape for many a year now (see their staggering Roadburn performance in 2008 for a quick point of reference), it’s still a fantastic summary of both record and band. Mesmerising in its devotion to rhythmic repetitions and acidic washes of synth, it’s looser in its form than the first half of the album, pushing a solid groove over meandering improvisations, but it cuts to the core of Earthless as a unit. They work because every moment feel like a dissection of their very essence, showing the workings of their psyches, the flesh-and-sinew physicality of their expertise and experience and, most crucially, their tastes and leanings, roots twisted and given new life. Even as ‘From The Ages’ stretches out seemingly endlessly, careening down a never-ending, sun-baked road in a souped-up, top-down Chevy Nova, past biker rock tropes and hash trail detours, Rubalcaba’s boisterous pound and the urgent pulse of low-end fuzz wrapped tightly around fret-shredding lead breaks of every possible shape, tempo and colour, there’s a feeling that they could do this for hours on end and it would never get old.
Jam bands come and go but Earthless are one of the few who can simply let rip and never repeat, never tire of ideas and, most crucially, never lose the stranglehold they have on those who get sucked into their path.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes