Review Summary: Like Liam Neeson jumping a fence with 14 camera cuts.
Behold! It is time for Let the Truth Speak
. It is indeed a spectacle of grand proportions owing to its umbrella genre of progressive metal--a circus of guitar virtuosity, vague concepts and vaguer lyrics of societal upheaval or someone comatose on a hospital bed (that one happens a lot), long-and-winding song structures, operatic vocals--and it is more than willing to flaunt its gaudy arrangements, like a Michael Bay flick parades its rampant effects and explosives abuse. Those fancy fireworks are precisely where Earthside draw their power from; consider “Tyranny,” which grows from a robust lead riff and thunderous rhythm section into an effective ebb-and-flow pattern, leaning on restrained piano-led intervals to allow shimmering melodies, soaring strings, and resonating vocals to develop in the background. Yet, in pursuit of the ultimate spectacle, the Earthside of new seems to have left behind something from the Earthside of old, and it’s entirely due to their dedication to crafting an epic that’s even larger in scope than its predecessor.
The bedrock of Earthside’s sound remains staunchly post-metal; it allows them to focus on gentle textures, expansive atmospheres and ambient-centric forays. Their ability to subtly execute graceful motions of polished guitar strumming into revelatory crescendos is what earned them their ‘cinematic’ descriptor, as their larger-than-life approach made every track an imposing mountain to traverse. At the summit, the band would use hefty, Townsend-esque progressive metal to throw their weight around and cap off the journey--nothing alien to a genre built atop the shoulders of Rosetta et al--while providing ample songwriting intrigue underneath the soaring instrumentation like latter-day Leprous. When packaged with stellar guest vocal spots, Earthside’s vision comes alive, and it easily draws listeners closer into their ambitious compositions.
2015’s debut A Dream in Static
succeeded primarily by basing tunes around one particularly potent payoff. In contrast, the group’s second effort splits its attention between many, with orchestral arrangements and string accompaniments supplying an additional punch to proceedings. In the case of “Tyranny,” it’s an ideal boost to the guitars, and it works just as well for “We Who Lament,” with a reverberating low end paving the way for a gradual, slow-burning tune that sports lavish melodies and artfully-constructed moments of peace where compositions are stripped down to gentle strumming and soothing ambiance. These moments are at their most effective when Earthside retain a patient methodology and lay the groundwork for a potent crescendo, especially with the understated technicality of the percussion kit--its guidance through precise tempo-shifts and subtle fills is the heartbeat of the record, which is readily apparent in the modulating interior of the title track--and it feels as though the group is in their comfort zone when emphasizing caution.
All too often, however, Earthside throw caution to the wind here--a phenomenon encapsulated most by an overblown production style where every contributing element feels the need to POP
out of the mix. There’s a lack of cooperation between the gang’s sweeping orchestral arrangements and their post-metal framework; the former has a tendency to out-muscle whatever else the collective is attempting (the ending to the title track, for one example), whereas the latter occasionally morphs into a brickwalled mess. It’s what makes tunes like “Watching the Earth Sink” so exhausting to listen to; a good third of the track bides its time with a careful build-up, only to unceremoniously wipe it off the floor for a predictable post-metal jaunt whose single trick is to be heavy and turn up the volume. There’s a startling lack of diversity in how the crew go about constructing these culminations, and it’s a flaw that’s repeated frequently in the disc’s second half. When an honest try at variation does appear, Earthside’s output sounds shockingly amateurish, such as the horns on “The Lesser Evil” that are quite real, yet sound more like cheap synth samples than the actual thing. Like the orchestral inclusions, the brass comes across as a tacked-on novelty, which does no favors for general cohesion or consistency.
“Watching the Earth Sink'' in particular exemplifies another common pitfall in the album’s songwriting: the emphasis on a gigantic glamor-show has suffocated the band’s softer sections and placed too much emphasis on an overabundance of big-cathartic-release moments. Once its bombastic bass riff kicks into gear, “Watching…” languishes in unengaging thrumming as if the group has lost the map beyond getting loud when a progressive metal outfit is expected to be loud. There’s no journey here; there are essentially points where there is a grand explosion and points where there cannot be one, and no harmony exists between those points. Similarly, “The Lesser Evil” never feels like it gets started; it hesitates, pauses, and lunges at random intervals, trying to reach a multitude of different moments without properly developing any of them, instead relying on uninspired chugging to limp between separate sections. The title track avoids most of these dilemmas--bargain-bin djent chugs and overblown ending notwithstanding--only for finale “All We Knew and Ever Loved” to crash headlong into them. Much like “Lesser Evil,” the tune stutters and stops, at times blasting the audience with blaring instrumentation, while at others doing so little to build up to anything that the band might as well have left the room. All of this ignores rejected Tesseract cut “Pattern of Rebirth,” which prominently spotlights awfully misguided rapping and trap beats, neither of which fit a cinematic approach unless the cinema only plays 8 Mile
Perhaps a near-decade of expectations and ensuing anticipation unfairly stacked the deck against Let the Truth Speak
, but it’s difficult to shake the sense that Earthside wanted their long-awaited follow-up to be as massive as possible regardless of consequences. Their aim has always been to evoke an aura of sonic extravagance, which Truth
is certainly capable of purveying--”Tyranny” and “We Who Lament” ace this augmented direction--but it’s no longer an effortless, calculated adventure in the manner of “Skyline” or “Contemplation of the Beautiful.” The production levels are off; the arrangements are a bumpy ride that varies between unexciting and overblown; and the instrumentation has declined into chug abuse and nauseatingly similar climatic eruptions. On aesthetic alone, there’s plenty to appreciate from the group’s newest offering, as their previously described post-metal foundation endures. However, there’s a great deal of fluff
in the way of it all: unnecessary interludes, progressive metal’s answer to Imagine Dragons in “Denial’s Aria,” the emptiness that invades a given song when there’s no climax occurring, the inconsistency of the vocal features, and so on. Once that fluff is perceived, Truth
begins to appear more and more like a Michael Bay flick: all flash, no substance, please don’t ask questions. That’s far below the standard established on Earthside’s debut, and no choice highlights can make up for what amounts to an unbalanced, inconsistent album.