Earthtone9 – In Resonance Nexus


Few English bands left as much of a legacy as Earthtone9 during the nation’s drought years of domestic rock and metal in the late 1990s and early 2000s. American nu metal bands squeezed the life out of anything born on these shores unless its progenitors wore their hair in dreadlocks, carried skateboards, and wrote songs about teenage alienation. For those of us without an internet modem (and access to Napster), we had to rely on Kerrang! magazine for a glimpse of edgy music beyond the crap coming out of Los Angeles. When we heard Earthtone9, we realised that this band had the groove of metal, the aggression of hardcore, and the poignancy of a new genre called “emo.” Of course, they never had the budget or the contrived teen angst to grab the audience transfixed by Korn and Linkin Park. But 2000’s ArcTanGent album now receives its dues as an alternative metal classic and a cult favourite. It also inspired England’s most prestigious music festival of the same name.

A return in 2013 petered out after a well-received but overlooked comeback album, but Earthtone9 are ready for another shot at reclaiming the UK rock crown after signing to Candlelight Records last year. In Resonance Nexus is a statement of intent. It might explain why there’s no time to waste in the high-octane riffing and rush to the melodic bridge in ‘The Polyphony of Animals’, which seems too eager to demonstrate the two faces of the band in the first forty seconds. Therapy? fans know this sound, but they don’t know the furious headbanging thrash of double-timing beats and Metallica riffing after the second chorus. Earthtone9 are all about energy, and how to harvest this to the benefit of the listener. You can miss the post-hardcore and noise rock elements among the melodic hooks and catchy vocal delivery in the chorus, but this song is a juggernaut.

Drummer, Jason Bowld, is a colossus behind the kit, which makes his recent departure even more perplexing. ‘Navison Record’ starts with a math rock embroidery in the intro before the arms-to-the-sky singing acts as a stepping stone to a higher tempo of thrash metal posturing. By contrast, a Tool influence seeps through in the moody rhythms and chord choices of ‘Under the Snake’. Here, vocalist, Karl Middleton, shows that you can embrace a psychedelic vocal approach in the more introspective moments of the music. His uplift in the chorus bares a remarkable falsetto climb as the guitarists step on the distortion to enhance the tingle down the spine. The Helmet and Unsane influences always separated this band from their peers, but we took them for granted at the time. Few heavy guitar bands would have the courage to sing when it’s easier to scream here.

Earthtone9 are happy to be called a rock band if that’s what you ask of them, but they play their instruments like a technical hardcore unit. Everybody fawned over Far and Quicksand back in the day, but these Nottingham natives were just as important to the scene in the UK at the turn of the century. The only thing that makes you question them is the way they sail close to pop melodies in the chorus repeats. Outside of this, the lively audio engineering, thumping drums, and imaginative guitar fretwork are a pleasure to analyse. And like all noise bands, they let the distorted bass grumble in the mix. ‘Oceanic Drift’ is down-tuned hardcore with a muscular projection of words and an overdose of emotional agitation locked into the dissonant chord accents. Haunting vocal harmonies weave in and out of an eerie guitar arpeggio in ‘Black Swan Roulette’ until the drums call half-time on developments and the distortion pedal looms. You didn’t find many British bands taking inspiration from Neurosis in the late 1990s, but Earthtone9 were quick to see the raw emotions of post-metal before the term even existed – you can hear it here.

One cannot doubt the passion or intensity of this record, but its only weakness is its misplaced confidence in the power of the vocal melodies. They don’t grate like the whiny American metalcore bands, but the chorus in ‘Lash of the Tongues’ is too predictable as a contrived release from the tension of the verse parts. A combination of chunky riffing and ambitious vocal arrangements wrapped in melody and distortion are what makes Earthtone9 so intriguing. Closing track, ‘Strength Is My Weakness’, is like Neurosis overcoming their reluctance to write a chorus with the help of New Jersey emo-rockers, Thursday. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Somehow.

Tempo is important on this album. Earthtone9 will not tolerate the idea that the listener might switch off, and you have no reason to, either.


Verdict


Release Date: 21/06/2024

Record Label: Candlelight Records

Standout tracks: The Polyphony of Animals, Under the Snake, Observe Your Course

Suggested Further Listening: Therapy? – Disquiet (2015), Bastions – Majestic Desolation (2022), Sons of Alpha Centauri – Pull (2024)