Review Summary: The final release of the first incarnation of earthtone9 showcases some of the finest work of their career. Dense and emotionally weighty Omega is the sound of a band going out, albeit temporarily, on a high.
After critical praise for their previous work and a distinctive sound that singled them out as something a little different, earthtone9 should have been basking in the warm glow of success. However, despite the hard work it seemed that something just wasn’t right, with excellent reviews doing little to bolster their commercial impact, and fantastic live shows never making the impression that they deserved. In 2001, after the acclaimed arc’tan’gent
and bereft of much support, the band recorded the first three tracks that feature on the Omega
EP in the hope of garnering a record deal and perhaps taking a shot at the US market. This demo was roundly rejected, perhaps due to the dominating push of Nu-Metal on the sales charts, which lead to the dissolution of earthtone9 whose members departed for other projects. Omega
represents the last output of a band that thought it’s time had come and collects those three demo tracks, an out-take from a previous album and a live performance. Whilst earthtone9 would eventually reform to tour and record 8 years after this release, at the time this marked the end.
It has often been stated that earthtone9 were ahead of their time and that the audience just wasn’t ready for what they were offering. Whilst this oversimplifies the problem the band faced it seems almost certain that had they appeared just a few years later then their fortunes could have been very much different. Given that the trio of “demo” tracks that launches Omega
represent some of the finest material that earthone9 had ever written and demonstrate an evolutionary jump in the band’s sound, it’s certainly puzzling that it’s these songs that signalled their departure. Both instrumentally and in song-writing they build upon the progression seen on arc’tan’gent
, whilst at the same time opting to travel the more difficult route in honing their style. The production here too departs the well travelled path, eschewing the wall of noise approach, instead focusing on a purity that highlights each component and hones each down to it's constituent parts, rather than concentrating on auditory assault but leaving no sustained impact.
It was undoubtedly the harder path for them to take, but Omega
sees earthtone9 remove much of the aggression seen on their previous work, and in comparison to lo-def(inition) discord
it’s like night and day. Gone for the most part are Karl Middleton’s distinctive growls, to be replaced by something only hinted at before, with melody and a clarity of sound that belies the group’s origins. And whilst that may ring warning bells, the vocals here are sublime with Middleton adopting an almost weary tone emphatically conveying the melancholia that permeates these tracks. Furthermore, the use of harmonies and an almost choral quality for some of the refrains ensure that there’s an emotional impact that earthtone9 had never explored before. The drumming too is leaps and bounds ahead of that heard on arc’tan’gent
creating an intricate and textured backbone to the music, driven by a propulsive bass whilst guitars arc and weave adding depth to the complex mosaic of sound.
Of the three “demo” tracks ‘Revelation’ stands out as being perhaps one of the finest songs earthtone9 has ever written, a monumental mechanical riff locking the rhythm into place, gruff vocals for the verse sitting alongside angelic harmonies in the chorus. The interplay between the light and shade of aggression and harmony not only makes the song memorable but holds all the parts in place, with a dense musical underbelly which slowly builds to a monstrous cacophonous conclusion. ‘Amnesia’, with its delicate chiming guitar tone and percussive bass, demonstrates that increased use of texture in fits and starts. An empty almost echoing verse placing the emphasis on the weary vocals, until an explosive middle eight chock full of buzzing riffs almost derails everything. With a sense of resignation pervading the semi-obtuse lyrics, the biggest surprise is that without the harsh side to the music the songs feel grand, epic on a scale one might not expect from a commercially unsuccessful metal band in search of a record deal.
‘Orchid Frequency’, an out-take from earlier album off-kilter enhancement
, follows the more established dynamic of their older work, and is by far the most violent track on offer here despite it’s somewhat sleepy start. However, with three quarters of the track consisting of watery sounding , incomprehensible vocals sitting atop a bed of sparse guitar and repetitive beats there’s an expectation that the pay-off needs to be worth it. And with the final minute exploding out of the speakers, Middleton’s bear-like roar violently bludgeoning awake those who’ve lost hope, that pay-off is viscerally delivered. It’s simple and doesn’t show off the technicality seen elsewhere, but there’s just something here that pushes all the buttons of those waiting to be sonically demolished. And then of course there’s the live rendition of ‘Binary 101’, the final track from the previous album. It differs very little from the album version, save for the dissolution into discord at the end, with grooving momentum that interchanges with a slightly faster more melodic chorus, earthtone9’s take on ‘Kashmir’s' gargantuan sound.
Rounded out with videos for ‘Tat Twam Asi’ and ‘Amnesia’ (think a group of slightly odd-looking chaps rocking out in a dark room for the former, and an oddly synced live show for the latter) the Omega
EP shows a band delivering on the promise that they’d been praised with and producing some of the finest work of their career. Comparisons to Tool might be understandable but earthtone9 offer a somewhat different proposition, with a sound that promotes a response at an almost primal level. Whilst earthtone9’s reformation promises more material , those new songs forsake the clarity found here and embrace that harsher edge of earlier work, whereas Omega
showcases a band pushing the boundaries of their sound. Whilst perhaps not the ideal starting place for a listener new to the band, Omega
stands the test of time to showcase a group who were playing for an audience who didn’t realise quite what they had yet. Let’s just see how they do the second time around…