Review Summary: The most head-banging meditation you'll ever experience.
With a name like "Ethereal Riffian", you know you're in for either the most lame, derivative kind of psychedelic stoner rock or a trail-blazing, mind-altering experience.
Luckily, this is the latter.
The band's second LP Aeonian
is a concept album of four stages, with only one song under 10 minutes in length. It begins with the explosion of crushing heaviness 'Thugdam (Sensation)', then moving through the crescendo of crushing heaviness 'March of Spiritu (Rise of Sheol)' into the oscillating chilled-out ambience and crushing heaviness of 'Wakan Tanka (Awareness)' and finally into the culmination of psychedelia and crushing heaviness of 'Anatman (Oneness)'.
You may notice a certain theme here and a chance for the music's sheer power to become repetitive, but in reality, it is the heaviness of the album that creates its biggest merits.
Clearly the band is angling at creating some kind of meditative experience for the listener (hell, they've even written a book with an entire narrative to supplement the music) and whereas we are used to the idea of meditation being calm and relaxing, Aeonian will give you a different kind of alleviation.
Every track features the abstract vocals that you'd expect a Tibetan monk to sound like if he decided to start a stoner-doom band, which in one of the first track's quiet moments, even surround the music with gentle hums of "Om," the apparent natural pulse of the universe. In another band, the vocals would easily be the weakest part of the music but here they excellently contrast the heaviness with a comfortable, chilled-out feel.
Ethereal Riffian are masters of atmosphere, with the third track beginning with a build up of tribal drums and didgeridoo, reminiscent of their debut Shaman's Visions
, and the final track even brings to mind the beginning of Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond through its guitar-work.
The band's strongest point is definitely in this twin guitar use, with the best track Wakan Tanka
particularly bursting with interlocking, screaming solos while the rhythm section creates some of the band's most mind-bending grooves. The drumming is another stand-out, making heavy use of the double-bass pedal and shifting time signatures, managing never to get lost in the mix which shows particularly masterful production, especially with such heavy music.
The problem you can see arising is that the band have reached a peak with Aeonian and have pretty much exhausted what they can create from this style of 'crushing heaviness', which they had been perfecting since their debut. Therefore, if they want to avoid falling into the trap of monotony by making Aeonian mk. II, Ethereal Riffian are going to have to expand into some new sonic territory on their next album.
However, at this stage no stoner fan will be disappointed since the album is overflowing with brilliant riffs, and also admirably it never strays into the ugly distortion that similar, marijuana-promoting bands such as Bongzilla
get lost in. In fact, Ethereal Riffian are not, at any point, promoting drug consumption, but if you listened to this album while on enough LSD, you'd see those vibrant colours exploding out of your chest.