Review Summary: The Riff will awaken you, dude
Ethereal Riffian are increasingly and commendably marking themselves out as a band "to watch" within the stagnant genre of stoner rock. 2014's Aeonian
put them on the map for their tight musicianship, knowledge of the way of the Riff and an unusually serious approach to the spirituality of their music. That album seemed to be trying to present a kind of native American-style spiritual journey including "Sensation," "Awareness" and "Oneness" and even came with an accompanying novella to explain the themes behind their music.
The band's new EP I AM. Deathless
is a direct continuation of this, and serves as a teaser for their next book release of the same name, which is a sci-fi story set in 2050, centring around a character that seeks spiritual enlightenment against the oppression of technology and global corporations. How serious the band really are about this mythos they are creating around their music is unclear but regardless, it can be enjoyed in the same way that you might go back and enjoy the idealistic worlds created in 20th century science fiction (John Boorman's movie Zardoz
springs to mind.) The CD comes packaged beautifully in a mini-LP gatefold with painted artwork planets, mystical symbols and the Himalayan mountains, as well as some clippings from the upcoming book with headers such as "Demystification" and "The Freshness of Being."
Musically, the band have changed little since Aeonian other than polishing their instruments and production. The drums are as powerful, the riffs as crunchy and the vocals as chant-like as before, if perhaps more prominent in the songwriting. The band continue to inject atmospheric, tribal-esque sections to their music with use of a didgeridoo and layered vocal hums. The second of the two songs on the EP, Sword of the Deathless
appears to have some chants in another, unidentifiable language and contains an interesting final quarter layering several voices of varying degrees of apparent anger and despair (as well as one very reminiscent of Gollum) before breaking out the final, aggressive climax to the EP.
While an enjoyable listen and expansion of Aeonian, the EP does highlight issues with Ethereal Riffian's music, most clearly being the potential for it to slip into being formulaic (i.e. riff - chant - spiritual instrumental section) now that they have found a signature style. There is also the question of whether their spiritual fascination is handled convincingly enough that it doesn't detract from their music; there are times when the "shamanistic" vocals sound somewhat forced and diminishing. Nevertheless, the band are clearly proficient musicians, and if they are able to experiment more with their song structures and improve their metaphysical style to either be self-consciously tongue-in-cheek or convincingly serious, there will be promise for their third LP.