And so, we put on of Britain’s finest bands to rest. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
“Omega”, the new EP from Nottingham-based hardcore (?) / metal crew **Earthtone 9 is effectively a posthumous release, despite coming out in the middle of a tour – which was their last. After the genrebreaking and critically acclaimed album ‘Arc’tang’ent’ (metal album of the year 2000, no matter whatever "Metalhammer" or "Kerrap!" Say in their quest for readership), the band seemed to plateau commercially, while their less talented, more commercialised and better looking counterparts and support acts (the frankly unimpressive Newport bunch Lostprophets, who recently spend $100,000+ on a video shot in Las Vegas. How anti-corporate!) got chased by major labels hoping to cash-in and get rich quick on the Linkin Park / Limp Bizkit boom. But to put it into context, the band were approached by island records, who paid for them to record a demo in the summer 2001 – which the label promptly rejected. (No 3-minute hit singles I guess…. there’s hardly a track here under 6 minutes)
Comprising of 5 tracks, this might seem like a short EP – almost a single even – but it clocks in at a deceptive 33 minutes from the opening “Amnesia” to the closing live rendition of the epic-length “Binary 101”. It certainly seems like – to a fan of the band – an exercise in barrel scraping. First up are the three tracks from those Summer 2001 demo sessions for island – surreptitiously leaked online – an out-take from previous album “off-kilter enhancement” and then the live track, and that’s yer lot. It would have made more sense to make this more of a legitimate wrapping-up of the band by adding the tracks from the ‘hi-point’ single (which is frankly at £8 for what is a four songs single is too much), and why not bung in the internet-only Nomad remix of “0…0…0” to boot, or some live more tracks? There’s no good reason not to (except of course, to get you to buy the forthcoming live DVD). But alas, I didn’t compile this fucker..those blokes at Copro records did, and they at least included the videos for the stunning “Tat Twam Asi” – a faith no more meets the pixies via third world music and the deftonesque slab of cerebral metal the likes of which makes their contemporaries seem like dumbed-down lowest-common-denominators imitators, and the video to “Amnesia”, the opening track of the EP. Melodic and mellow, “Amnesia”, is an underwhelming way to start their swan-song. It certainly doesn’t sound like the new sound of metal, or nu-metal, but a third way.
It sounds deceptively soft to begin with – bass, drums, and resonating guitar, before singer Karl croons along, sounding not unlike a driven into the ground by the weariness of constantly fighting an apathetic world. Driven by pulsating bass, the song slowly builds and rises piece by piece into a metallic piece of melancholy. Then halfway, it turns on its head, and turns into a riff-driven monster before going back into its melancholia. It’s one of the most resigned pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time. And the lyrics of the chorus - “I will lay where i fall / little matters anymore / no need to fight the tide /all that i need is inside” seems as if he’s writing his own resignation note, an admission of defeat, too fucked to fight.
“House of Leaves” ,is again, lyrically, a piece of melancholia. Starting form a deceptive phased riff, it revisits the sonic territory of “Arc’tan’gent” most effectively here – and surprisingly, is the weakest track. Almost psychedelic in feel at times, it’s the most derivative of the tracks…only coming around for a swift change just before the fade-out.After 5 minutes it starts to wear thin…
Third track “Revelation” is the best track here: loud, aggressive, noisy, and unrepentant, yet melodic and driving. Not unlike the bastard cousin of Megadeth’s “Hanger 18” put through a tunealyser (!), Its as if Jane’s Addicition have been listening to a concentrated diet of Metal and the Smiths. Appegiated , angular, albini-esque guitar lines, before zooming back to earth…multitracked vocals that actually concentrate singing rather than sounding like an angry brat who hates everything for no simple reason except that they’re single and don’t get laid often enough, give this a depth so often lacking in modern ‘cash-in’ metal (a subgenre of nu-metal designed for the 8-14 market, minus guitar solos and with a DJ); and then just when you’re expecting it go off predictably, in comes a middle 8 that consists entirely of a tom-tom drum solo and whispered vocals, before yet another obtuse riff comes in. It’s as if the band have too many ideas for one song : a surfeit of talent, and not enough time to cram it all in, and spend their time trying to impress the listener with their “see how many riffs we can fit / how good we are” musicianship. Doesn’t stop it rocking like a mutha tho’: its heavy, uncompromising and yet tuneful. Lyrically again, the signs are there of something wrong; what exactly “hides like a trojan” in the lyrics? The lines “the ships sinks / thought the cracks were papered / i cannot bear but chaos will thrive / reject program” seem oddly prophetic… in hindsight.
‘off-kilter enchancement’ out-take “orchid frequency” is the last studio track: Again it follows a similar blueprint of ‘soft/ quiet/ loud/ louder/ loudest/that hurts my ears are bleeding aargh’. No bad thing in the right circumstance however. Again, it showcases the softer side of the band, showing off more leftfield rock influences like Tool and Fantomas, whose eclectism and complete disregard for commerciality shroud this entire release. Its not art for arts sake, but showing off songwriting with no regards for commercial success – which doesn’t neccesarily mean you have to be ignorant of things like tune or melody.
Its with the live version of “Binary 101” that brings this EP to a close. It sounds like Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” – epic, driving, weighty and cylic, only after a bad dose of mushrooms and an overdose of thrash riffs . It goes on for a ridiculously patience pushing 12 minutes: only about 4 minutes more than it needs to, lost in a improvisational jam session that adds nothing to the song but more and more cacophony, less structure, and less sense. It’s a fitting – if disappointing end – to a disappointing damp squib of a career, a tapered off footnote to one of the finest bands England produced in years.
In years to come, if there’s any justice, this band will be recognised as being as influential as the likes of Jane’s Addiction and Faith No More ; however, for now, such retrospect is a long way off. In a world where they could hardly headline a pub venue yet could consistently produce some of the best music around, it’s a sad state of affairs that bandwagon-jumpers and pretty boys with guitars could gain the millions from crass commercial moves like say, covering Michael Jackson hits, yet those trying to push forward the boundaries of music are sidelined, marginalised, thrust into the commercial netherworld like refuse .
Don’t think of this as a fitting tribute to the band, but more like a collection of b-sides thrown together to round up loose ends – which again, like I mentioned earlier – it leaves many loose ends uncollected. Its an incohesive, ill-thought out package that could have been so much more better value, so much more than this, that just doesn’t gel together. As I said, it’s the sound of a band going out in a whimper , not a bang. Worth buying for fans and collectors maybe, but as an introduction to the band, the classic ‘arc’tan’gent’ ; serves much better at highlighting their strengths, rather than weaknesses.
But that’s not the worst thing here:Perhaps the worst thing is that now they’ve split, we’re left with the derivative, nu-metal-lite of lostprophets as the torchbearers of English metal. Now that is shameful.
7Graham Reed's Score