New Englanders Earthside, last October, came out swinging with one of the strongest and most daring debut albums of the last few years, A Dream In Static. The band didn’t pull any stops on this record- it features vocal performances by highly several acclaimed singers, an orchestral backing by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, and dizzying instrumental performances by the band and a number of guest artists. The result is a highly impressive and bombastic blend of styles, underpinned by existential tones.
The album begins with the dense and atmospheric instrumental, ‘The Closest I’ve Come’. The song serves as a fitting introduction to the album for the listener, as it deftly shifts from soaring guitar and synth choruses to jarringly heavy polyrhytmic sections. This song is very reminiscent of the atmospheric progressive metal of Scale the Summit.
‘Mob Mentality’ is an exciting, intense tour de force, and easily one of my favorite songs on the album. Lead vocals are handled by Sevendust singer Lajon Witherspoon, of whom I have always been a big fan. The combination of his powerful vocals, full orchestral backing from the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, and the bands’ heavy instrumentation make for a thrilling piece of music. Although Sevendust is not considered progressive metal, Lajon handles the complex melodies and time signatures with relative ease. The melodies and hooks are catchy, but the song is dense and demanding- in other words, a quintessential progressive metal song.
The title track, ‘A Dream in Static’, is a more direct and cohesive musical statement. It features Daniel Tompkins, of TesseracT fame, on lead vocals. His voice pierces through scintillating instrumental work in a way that reminds me of a more straightforward Choirs of the Eye-era Kayo Dot. ‘Entering The Light’ features a hypnotic dulcimer performance from Max ZT, backed by the band and the Moscow Studio Symphony once again, that manages to be both contemplative and urgent. ‘Crater’, one of the heavier tracks, features the vocal performance of Bjorn Strid of Soilwork fame, once again blending hooks with complex arrangements. Despite Soilwork’s heaviness, Strid shows off his vocal versatility with a performance that is both strong and delicate. ‘The Ungrounding’ sounds like it could be Animals as Leaders with a keyboardist, with heavy guitars backed by arpeggiating keyboards and blistering polyrhytms on the drums.
The final track ‘Contemplation of the Beautiful’, serves as a bewildering capstone to an already demanding album. Eric Zirlinger of Face the King (formerly of Seer), sings a gritty, bruising vocal performance over slow, churning guitar riffs, crushing drums and bass, and mesmerizing keyboard and orchestral arrangements. By the end of this song, you’ll want to take some deep breaths, a walk to clear your head, or maybe even a nap. To repeat: Earthside’s A Dream in Static is not a passive listen. Some more seasoned progressive metal will be well adapted to this level of required music commitment, but fans of more mainstream alternative metal may be turned off at the bombast and complexity.
Despite the fact that there are several guest artists from various bands, the album works together very effectively as a cohesive whole. Each vocalist adds their own personality to the song, but they function more as actors performing musical monologues in the overall drama. And, as the artists themselves have stated, the album should have a coherent, cinematic feel. While each of the members of the band shine brilliantly on this album, Ben Shanbrom’s drum work stood out to me as a stellar performance, as a blend of the hard hitting math of Danny Carey (Tool), the frenetic intensity of Danny Walker (Intronaut), and the tastefulness of Gavin Harrison. My only point of criticism would be that, in certain parts, when other instruments drop out, the mix can be too low on vocals- for example, in Lajon’s more subdued pre-chorus moments, it is often times harder to hear him. I can imagine that mixing a band, an orchestra, and a singer is not an easy task. Other than that minor detail, this album is an impressive debut from a highly skilled group of artists, and I almost feel bad that they set the bar so high with their debut, because we all will be expecting a lot from Earthside.