I can’t help but feel the slightest bit suspicious when a band suddenly explodes the way Eathside has over the course of this past year. There was nary a mention of these guys before they usurped the progressive metal dialogue last October with their debut. Now, just a few months later, they’re acting as direct support for the genre’s present frontrunners on the upcoming North American Leprous tour. What’s more, A Dream in Static comes with the kind of massive budget and big-name guest spots you might normally expect from a more established act. With this manner of apparent step-skipping, I almost get the impression that Earthside only saved themselves the years-long struggle working up the ladder because their wallet was big enough to accommodate their ambitions.
Then again, before I heard Earthside’s name on the upcoming tour announcement, I heard of them from friends who got up in arms over A Dream in Static as soon as it was released. Much the same way the progressive metal network went ape-shit over Leprous’ own Tall Poppy Syndrome several years ago, it didn’t take long for A Dream in Static to latch onto its target audience. Most importantly, even if their sudden success is conspicuous, Earthside have the raw talent and skill to back it up. Progressive metal isn’t an easy shell to crack as a musician, and their tight execution says more about their experience together than whatever dollar signs they had backing them up.
I could take a positive or negative stance toward Earthside, and I think I’d have sufficiently enough to say in either scenario. My real opinion probably lies somewhere in the middle. Earthside may have a lot of great things going for them, but for all their firepower and heft, A Dream in Static leaves me feeling somewhat dry. No one can doubt their determination when it comes to making the album as polished as they can make it, but it also sounds like Earthside took every possible cliché of modern progressive metal under consideration when it came to writing the album. Djenty rhythm sections? Soaring melodic vocals? Bombastic arrangements and misguided symphonic pomp? Check, check, check, and check. There are times on A Dream in Static when I feel like I’m listening to a modern metal laundry list manifest as sound. For a genre that’s proverbially meant to be constantly pushing the limits forward, it’s not a great sign that they constantly see it fit to remind me of bands that preceded them.
So much of Earthside’s craft feels deadset on impressing the listener as much as they can for as long as possible. While there’s nothing wrong about a band pushing themselves to their limits, there’s something immediately disingenuous about hearing a mix crowded with djenty chugs and a full-blown live studio orchestra. The use of the Moscow Festival Orchestra on ‘Mob Mentality’ and ‘Entering the Light’ has its moments (particularly on the more atmospheric latter track), but I never once feel like the symphony was employed as more than a display of some vague musical ambitions.
It’s ironic that Earthside actually make their best strides when they streamline themselves a bit. While they’re clearly skilled as composers, their ambitions outstretch their reach with the most involved pieces. To contrast, they make great strides when they tighten in the reins. ‘Entering the Light’ is a fantastic exotic instrumental that basks in the spaces between notes that may had otherwise been filled with sound on other tracks. Earthside offer up their best songs for the likes of their guest vocalists. Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT) and Björn Strid (Soilwork) each cover some fantastic range on ‘A Dream in Static’ and ‘Crater’ respectively. Tompkins’ soaring chorus work towards the end of his spot is easily the most spine-chilling moment of the album for me. Earthside’s own vocals are solid as well, following the similarly melodic form of their guests. They’ve got a surprising skill with working melody into their work; I only wish more of the album had reeled in on that strength.
This is a mixed-bag kind of impression. Earthside see fit to exemplify the polished place where modern progressive metal has settled. They’ve got plenty of skill, but aren’t quite clear on how to wring the best out of their potential. They’re clearly ambitious, though it would be more accurate to wrap ironic quotations around that word; they are ambitious, sure, but they’re not grasping at heights any higher than their peers. When all is said, I know Earthside have the best possible intentions at heart, but their apparent urge to amaze the prog community limits their potential to emote and connect on a more human level. This isn’t a problem faced by Earthside alone, but modern progressive metal as a whole. It’s to their credit that they do what they do slightly better than many of the other bands to come out recently.
01) The Closest I’ve Come
02) Mob Mentality
03) A Dream in Static
04) Entering the Light
07) The Ungrounding
08) Contemplating of the Beautiful