From the very first feedback-laden chord of Earthship’s third album Withered, we receive a mission statement: this is going to be loud, sludgy and in your face. However, plenty of albums exist that deliver all these things, especially during this last, fantastic year and so, an eyebrow might be raised in skepticism. Why should the jaded listener continue on and not switch back or over to many of the other releases, already familiar and enjoyable, that offer this very same mix? The answer lies in two places: first, the undeniable talent sitting at the drums position, no other than ex-The Ocean’s Jan Oberg coupled with his wife, Sabine Oberg, on the bass. The second is the unbelievably seamless integration this band pulls off between all their different influences.
Let’s address the first point, first. Jan Oberg deserves to be a recognized name for any metal fan. From his works on the earlier The Ocean albums, to the first two records of this very band, he displays the unique ability to be both a virtuoso and an incredibly steady player: he can kiss the cymbals with breakneck speed and maintain a solid, rocking beat with equal skill. Coupled that with Sabine’s work on the bass for this record and you get the first monstrous part of this album: whether slow-moving, titanic waves of sound or roiling, swampy sludge gallops, this duo keeps the tracks alive and moving.
Our second point introduces the vocals and guitars into play. Onto this cement they cast the other influences that inspire this album. These are Blood Mountain era Mastodon and the best of Red Fang‘s work on Murder the Mountains. The vocals move from low, guttural growls that live in tandem with the bass to the half shouted lyricism of Mastodon fame. The guitars on the other hand are not just fuzzy and feed-backed: they are also insanely groovy, echoing that Red Fang reference to a Tee. This amalgam of sounds is best heard on the track ‘Dead Faint’, opening with evocative, clear vocals backed by a head bobbing riff.
The major flaw holding this album from true greatness is that it takes a while to really get going. The fourth track mentioned above is the first true memorable track on the album and it’s not until sixth one that things really get going. From there though, that is the final four tracks of the album, a veil is somehow lifted and we catch glimpse of the potential this band rides. ‘Veil of Gloom’ is the best example of this, sporting some of the best drumming in a long time. The double-bass is intriguingly placed, breaking the overall structure of the song and riveting the listener to the progression.
Luckily, this strong ending is enough to redeem the entire album. The weaker, opening tracks become more engaging with further listenings and those result from the massive allure the ending tracks represent. Withered is a worthy addition to the growing trend of sludgy rock n’ roll coupled with heavier, metallic influences. At the end of the day, it’s a simple, ruthless album that relies on two elements: bizarrely addictive drums and bass and an almost perfect amalgamation of styles we’ve grown to love. Spin this album for headbangs, grooves and filth.
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Earthship’s Withered gets…