It’s the end of October, and that means it’s high time for another instalment of the by now surely world-famous Musicalphabet.
What? It isn’t, you say? Just you and me again, then?
Well, let me tell you, dear singular reader, that finding bands beginning with E is like shooting fish in a barrel, but finding GOOD bands beginning with E is like hunting the Great White Whale. And not to brag or anything, but unlike that old amateur Ahab I managed to find (and, in the world of this metaphor, kill) not just one but three magnificent whales.
There’s the click of someone stepping on a guitar pedal, the soft humming of an amp – it’s a simple idea, but a genius intro to a Rock’n’Roll record and an awesome moment that sends shivers of excitement down my spine whenever I put on Elder’s masterpiece Dead Roots Stirring.
It sets the stage perfectly: This is not a polished Pop album, where every single flaw has been edited out, every little bump and blunder is straightened, and every blemish polished away. No, this is an album that sounds like it was made by three friends in a garage, and it’s all the better for it. It’s heavily down tuned guitars, blaring bass and crashing drums, it’s “the riff is king, but the song is god”, it’s eardrum-meltingly loud and unashamedly beautiful, it’s 10 minute songs that have not a single unexciting second between them. Though I am sure the five songs that did make it onto the record have been meticulously crafted and carefully arranged, the aesthetic and overall feel of the album is more that of a jam-session between three best friends, having a drink and playing whatever awesome riff or melody pops into their head right then and there.
Most importantly, Elder never lose themselves in either heaviness or technicality for their own sake; they don’t always play as loud or as fast as they can because that’s “br00tal”, neither do they indulge in aimless guitar wankery. Metal nerds though they certainly are, Elder are confident enough in their abilities as songwriters to carry them through the record rather than relying on these cracked crutches that altogether too many musicians fall back on.
Yes, Elder’s Dead Roots Stirring is a work of art that stands head and shoulders above most of their peers (and non-peers), and proof positive that in music, the sophomore effort doesn’t have to be worse than the début. If it were up to me, that album alone would make them world famous and put them on stage in the biggest arenas and at the largest festivals. But it’s not up to me, and if I’m honest, I’m happy I get to still see them up close and personal in tiny bars and clubs.
It’s always nice when bands are thoughtful enough to put descriptions of their sound in their name. Metallica springs to mind, as does Rage Against The Machine, or Sonic Youth. No one could claim to not know what they’re getting into when the name of the band literally has “Metal” in it. (Although, to be fair, you’d be in for a bit of a disappointment if you bought Load/ReLoad based on that information alone)
But seldom does a name so succinctly describe what’s in the tin as with “Earth”. Being an almost exclusively instrumental band, they build their tracks out of glacially slow moving, heavy, thick, shimmering guitar riffs, which they play over and over and over with meditative repetitiveness, gradually evolving and embellishing them with each repetition. It’s a uniquely serene, vivid, beautiful and yet vaguely ominous sound.
If you haven’t guessed yet: This is not a band you listen to via your laptop speakers while you browse Tumblr, these guys need your full attention. So if you are a fan of heavy psychedelic music – or you’re simply musically adventurous and open minded – and you find yourself having a spare moment, you should definitely give Earth a listen. Their latest record, Primitive and Deadly, which was released in September 2014, is as good a starting point as any and probably more accessible than most. All the trademark elements of their sound are there, honed very close to perfection. But you might also want to go back into the band’s history and check out some of their earlier work, when they pioneered the genre we today call Drone Metal with releases like Earth 2 (paradoxically their first full length album) and Pentastar.
#3 Eagles of Death Metal
I enjoy meditatively beautiful and technically challenging metal as much as the next bloke (probably a great deal more than that, actually), but every now and then what I really want is simple garage style, lo-fi, straight forward party Rock’n’Roll. Sometimes you might just feel the irresistible urge to put your organs to the test by downing half a bottle of whiskey and dancing like a chimp on crack all night in a tiny smoke filled cellar bar.
And what tunes would you do that to? Well, several bands come to mind, but only one of them starts with an E: Eagles of Death Metal, a band that, in contrast to previous entry Earth, have opted for a (depending on your perspective) either deceptively or humorously misleading name. These guys have nothing, absolutely nothing whatsoever, to do with Death Metal, and everything to do with Alternative and Garage Rock. Fuzzy guitars, thumping bass, simple but crisp and driving drums, and slightly high-pitched vocals – that’s the Eagle’s sound. Everything is stripped down to the most essential components of a great Rock song, which are a) a great riff and b) a great chorus. As the poet hath wrote: “Don’t bore us – get to the chorus!” (the poet in this case being Swedish Pop duo Roxette). And if you’re not going to take the fastest route to the promised land that is the chorus, the road there had better be paved with awesome riffs that you can play air-guitar to.
Eagles of Death Metal deliver on all of these fronts, but sadly not all of the time. It has to be said that while they have written some fantastic songs, some of the deep cuts just don’t quite hold up. But then again, tracks like “Miss Alissa”, “I Only Want You”, or “I Want You So Hard (Boy’s Bad News)” make up for any number of “Solo Flights” that they might ever produce.
Oh, and to add an awesome cherry to the already amazing cake: The only constant member of the band, besides frontman Jesse Hughes, is Josh Homme, of Queens of the Stone Age fame. Which would be cool enough in itself, since Homme is a cool dude and brilliant musician, and anything he is so closely attached to can’t be bad, but there’s more. Among the many (and I do mean many, Wikipedia lists 21) additional occasional contributors are Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins (both Foo Fighters), Jack Black (Tenacious D), Samantha Maloney (Mötley Crüe, Hole), and Stefan Olsdal (Placebo).
Jonas was listening to the sweet barritone of Roberto Blanco while writing.