US prog rock quartet Earthside released their long-awaited studio album, Let The Truth Speak, last week through Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Records.
The new album, the band's second release, only took them a whopping eight years to complete. amd sees the band working with a slew of guest singers including Leprous drummer Baard Kolstad, Pritam Adhikary of Aarlon, AJ Channer of Fire From The Gods, Canadian singer Keturah and TesseracT singer Daniel Tompkins, who features with Russian singer Gennady Tkachenko-Papizh.
“A plan to work with guest contributors has resulted in a fairly tortuous journey… but the struggle has been worth it," surmised the Prog Magazine review of the new album. Here the band go into a detailed break down of all the tracks on the new record, with accompanying videos where relevant, and you can listen to the whole new album at the end of the feature.
This heavy, orchestration-rich instrumental opens the record with a score to the unsettling feeling that sits in the back of our minds when we marry ourselves to dogma and brush off the possibility that we could be mistaken. History tells us that it’s almost certainly the case that there’s something that we right now hold as absolute truth that we’re utterly mistaken about. Whether it be scientific (the structure of an atom, the Earth’s place in the universe) or societal (the morality of slavery, the concept and role of gender) there are numerous things we’ve chugged along for years, decades, and even centuries accepting as true or just—only to do a hard about-face and put them under immense scrutiny. And to think we’ve finally got it figured out now and that future generations won’t view us the same way we view civilisations from hundreds of years ago is arrogant at best.
This piece was composed around a repeating harmonized 5-note ostinato that builds one cog at a time until the full engine is humming. And there it just hums along for a while until something interrupts it – and in some cases transforms it – until it builds itself anew. Sometimes it rebuilds the same way, as when we question things, we often arrive at the same conclusion we had coming in. But occasionally, a new way of thinking or a new piece of evidence causes us to change our leading hypothesis. But of course…that, too, may be wrong.
As Let The Truth Speak’s opener, But What If We’re Wrong? wastes no time in expanding on A Dream In Static’s classical and cinematic instrumentation, featuring two acclaimed New York City-based contemporary classical groups — the Sandbox Percussion quartet as well as the pair of harpists comprising Duo Scorpio.
Growing up in a world where cold practicality and stubborn resistance to change rule the day, it can feel at every turn that people like us with an emotional and idealistic wiring are treated with disdain and pushed to accept things the way they are. Comply, be complacent—"be realistic," they say. We're taught to live our lives with certain values and that doing the right thing will be rewarded—only to see the most exploitative and coercive figures become the titans of modern society.
These attitudes and this status quo have gotten us to this point and kicked the can far enough. In the face of this inertia and the dire problems before us; we need to resist hardening ourselves and use our hearts and minds to effectively communicate and bring about the change we yearn for, no matter how much time it takes or how much resistance we face. In a sense, it's a call to arms—albeit in the most peaceful but urgent of senses.
One of the oldest musical ideas on the album, We Who Lament is also a fitting bridge from the past to the future—Earthside’s rhythmically vibrant and melodically and texturally intense sound with an absolute dynamo of a vocalist on top—filtered through a darker, wearied perspective. It’s undoubtedly one of the most infectious and immediate songs on the album, but, even as such, it still offers the engrossing sound worlds, textures, and architectural approach to eventful songwriting expected of the ever-ambitious act.
Earthside immediately fell in love with the inimitable character of Keturah's voice after a progressive music fan messaged Jamie recommending her. The group composed the We Who Lament vocal parts for a very specific mode of expression and turned over innumerable stones before being gifted a link to her performing live and having a visceral emotional reaction that she was the vocalist they had been holding out for.
Are we genuine in our quest to be forces of good, or merely stroking our egos, jockeying for moral high ground? In our fervor to each be perceived as a “good person,” it’s often easiest to signal said goodness by what–or especially whom–we disavow. Whether it be distancing ourselves from an individual who espouses a problematic view, or emphatically calling them out and even condemning them outright, strong emotions well up inside of us to act in accordance with our disgust. And while our righteous indignation is justified, and in the moment aligns with our self-view of what it means to be a good person, the question begs to be asked, is this actually how we make progress? Excepting out-and-out bigots of course, are we missing opportunities to engage well-intentioned people in ways that over time crystalize into a more empathetic perspective or an altogether new belief? Do we get off on our moral superiority over those we deem ignorant, or do we genuinely want them to do better?
Tyranny bursts out of the gate with a confrontational crash of orchestral brass and percussion alongside a wild galloping groove and frenetic riff. Primarily Jamie’s composition with additional ideas from Ben and Ryan, Tyranny sits musically near the center of the album’s sprawling sound—merging A Dream In Static’s post elements with the orchestral fire and vocal intensity present on “Mob Mentality,” and “Contemplation of the Beautiful.” The major twist on this track comes from another unique voice Earthside handpicked to feature—Pritam Adhikary of the Indian metal band Aarlon.
The poet and powerhouse vocalist brings an explosive ferocity to the song’s climatic arrivals while imbuing delicate moments with an intimate tone and stylistic edge influenced by the band’s beloved 90s R&B. It all culminates in a massive ending section driven by heart-searing vocals and lyrics composed exclusively by Pritam and sung in his native Bengali.
Pritam has a charisma about him that is immediately apparent in any of his musical projects or the simple act of communicating with him. Earthside was taken aback by the effortless way the West Bengal native could transition within phrases between overtone heavy sing-screams and impassioned singing. To say Pritam is a “heart on his sleeve” vocalist or person is an understatement. He pours himself 100 percent into anything he works on and it’s impossible to miss that across the massive arrival moments in Tyranny. A goal for the band on this album was both to use their platform to share voices they felt needed to be heard while also creating an overarching world stage to the work that would help to tell the global story they sought to convey. Pritam’s fervor to compose his own parts in the pivotal ending movement of the song in his own language gave the track this kind of authentic character on the highest of levels.
This one is not like the others. Apart from the more straightforward alt-metal composition, for the first, and so far, only time in the band’s discography, Earthside gave free rein to one of their talented guest vocalists — Fire From The Gods’s poignant frontman AJ Channer — to compose all the melodies and write all the lyrics for one of their songs. Apart from the tiniest input from Earthside’s members in response to AJ’s initial draft, this is essentially AJ’s unadulterated creative response to hearing the band’s in-progress instrumental. What resulted was a cathartic and unexpected take, with AJ processing the grief of losing his dad and even singing from the vantage of his late father.
Pattern Of Rebirth wasn’t originally recorded during the Let The Truth Speak sessions. But as COVID wreaked havoc on other songs’ collaborators’ schedules, the band returned to this unfinished demo with fresh ears and hit the studio to record a song that they ended up finishing before all the others despite beginning its recording more than two years later than the rest of the record. While the band originally felt that Pattern Of Rebirth didn’t fit on this album in its instrumental form, once AJ had written and recorded his vocal part, the universality of the themes that he confronts in channeling his dad give a perspective beyond the group’s own that fits in the broader context of the human experience and seeking truth.
“In fully passing the mic to AJ, so to speak,” van Dyck says of the decision to reach out to Channer and let him compose all the songs’ vocal parts, “he’s a socially conscious soul who passionately takes a stand without taking a side. He’s a unifier, and he will call out BS or injustice no matter who’s in the wrong or who’s being wronged. And in addition to us loving the warmth and character of his voice in his work with Fire From The Gods, we felt conviction in inviting his message into our music and the greater message of this album.”
Earthside au natural. Watching The Earth Sink is the lone song on the highly collaborative Let The Truth Speak album not to include the contribution of a featured guest. And perhaps one may think it daring for the band to choose the record’s longest track to forego outside help to add a different dynamic over the nearly 12-minute expanse. As one of Earthside’s more post rock and metal inspired compositions, Watching The Earth Sink is largely through-composed, with each section evoking a distinct mood and serving as a fleeting chapter in a multi-act story of world-ending proportions.
The first completely new song penned by the band for their second album, Watching The Earth Sink in many ways set the mood and emotional tone for their writing in this new era of creative output. Written in its basic sketch over a few practices during a particularly bleak point in the band’s collective outlook, the song is an instrumental narrative told from the perspective of an onlooker to the current state of the world—one who feels disconnected from the warring powers that be, left to simply bear witness to calamities they feel helpless to prevent. There’s despondence, anger, and nostalgia for how things used to be, but also this unnerving sense of terrified excitement—the feeling of going off the edge and being forced into a horrific unknown we can barely comprehend. It’s something many of us have probably felt over the last several years as we’ve “watched the world burn,” feeling either helpless to stop it or maybe even active in its unraveling.
Past the hauntingly dreamy opening movements, the composition has a very ritual-like “death march” feel with both the drum kit and percussion driving much of the song. The track also signifies an emotional movement from the, at times, more hopeful atmosphere present on A Dream In Static to more sinister harmonic minor territory, which permeates many of the songs on Let The Truth Speak.
The ending sequence creates a swell of unhinged chaos not heard on any Earthside song before it.
If this album makes one thing very clear it’s that each member of Earthside has their own unique background and musical upbringing—be it classical, world music, film score, metal, or in Ben’s case—funk and soul. Sunday afternoon drives throughout his childhood were filled primarily with the tight, brassy sounds of legendary Oakland California funk ensemble Tower of Power and their Scottish cousins Average White Band. Generally this influence crops up subtly in Earthside’s music as a particularly syncopated groove or a wild vocal run every now and then — The Lesser Evil was Ben’s opportunity to deep dive into this key part of his musical identity and filter it through the larger-than-life Earthside aesthetic.
Funk is a really cool style of music that has far more in common with metal than people realize at first glance—it’s technical, aggressive, harmonically crunchy, packed with attitude, and its singers will often scream. Unfortunately, it’s often used as a prop or novelty by a lot of modern “progressive” rock and metal bands to the “Ha-ha! We did this because we can!” effect. There was also “funk metal” in the 80s and early 90s, but those bands were just playing regular rock music with slap bass and wah guitar—the idea here was a modern funk ensemble playing out their equivalent of a multi-movement classical piece.
The experience of seeing Jamie and Frank compose for their ambitious genre-bending opuses on A Dream In Static was eye-opening for the drummer-turned adventurous songwriter, and provided the necessary education and drive he needed to craft his own statement track (with a great deal of help from Jamie, Earthside’s composition maestro). The Lesser Evil’s goal was gimmickless authenticity in both the arrangement and the collaborations. As such, the group worked with some of the most renowned musicians and performers across generations in the genre: Larry Braggs—one of Tower of Power’s most iconic and charismatic singers (also a past member of The Temptations), Dave Eskridge—TOP’s long-time horn arranger, Sam Gendel—KNOWER and Louis Cole’s resident sax ace, and a full ensemble of Tower of Power and Diana Ross horn alums. The full composition inspired by multi-movement songs like Porcupine Tree’s monolithic Anesthetize, builds a natural bridge to these unusual style elements through Earthside’s distinct approach to atmosphere and dynamic ramping—allowing the most tender extremes of the soulful Motown sound to careen viciously at just the right moment into the heavy, tight-fisted funk of the East Bay (by way of double-drop-D-tuned 8-string guitars).
The Lesser Of Two Evils as an idea has always been problematic in our eyes—it’s such a pessimistic and passive outlook on the world. There are occasions when difficult decisions have to be made, but when this becomes our default mode of problem-solving, it begins to look a lot like neglect and abandonment of principles. The Lesser Of Two Evils is a great evil because it’s self-perpetuating—we “kick the can down the road” now and set ourselves up for a sea of losing decisions in the years ahead. The level of analysis as to why all of our choices are “bad” in the first place rarely happens or is even discouraged. This song was an opportunity to explore the manipulative and corrupting power of the binary choice—and through a genre lens with a rich history of activist thinking (“War, huh (good God y'all!”)).
There is often a better way that isn’t presented to us, but has to be pursued relentlessly.
“Gothic Funk”—Larry Braggs’ description of the song
“Motown Metal”—Lulu’s genre tag
Inspired by the Jungian concept of the anima as the unconscious feminine side of a male, Denial’s Aria unfolds as the guilty conscience of a powerful man, berating and goading him in a private moment. Publicly he is celebrated and held in high esteem. But in those rare moments when he is alone with his thoughts, he hears this anima’s voice, haunting him, for she knows his secrets and the ways he’s sold others out and gotten away with exploiting the powerless to get where he is today. He may hide it from everyone else, but he can’t shield himself from her knowing derision.
This anima–voiced dually by the earthy Keturah and the more airy VikKe–over a soundscape that stands out from the more conventional rock/metal instrumentation of Earthside, opting for a more cinematic folk-noir atmosphere befitting of a television drama series. Harps (performed by the New York City-based Duo Scorpio) and electric mandolins supplant guitars and percussive strikes and scrapes on the inside of a piano largely stand in for a drum kit. As the song’s composer Earthside guitarist Jamie van Dyck sees it, his intent was to effect a mood he describes as “gorgeously sinister.”
Originally functioning as a guide track for guest vocalist Gennady Tkachenko-Papizh to improvise along to without all the rhythmic activity when recording Let The Truth Speak, Earthside’s members ultimately felt that this interlude had a filmic sound world all its own, that it warranted inclusion on the album, especially in hearing how it set up Let The Truth Speak to follow. And then in hearing VikKe’s own more cinematic vocalizations she’d been performing and composing for soundtracks under her given name Viktorija Kukule, they invited her to improvise and compose some of her own ideas, thus serving as a natural bridge from VikKe’s vocal presence on Denial’s Aria to Gennady’s continued improvisations on Let The Truth Speak.
The explosive title track of the album carries a feeling of culmination—the fully unexpected but fittingly show-stopping point of arrival in the album’s tumultuous pursuit of truth. A full string section—an overarching element of the record’s sound—jostles with violent rhythms, eldritch scales, and the unprecedented pairing of Earthside alum and Tesseract frontman Daniel Tompkins' indomitable vocal dexterity and world-music ace Gennady Tkachenko Papizh’s jaw-dropping vocalizations and cinematic wails. These elements all crescendo to an ending climax that is a unanimous favorite moment of the album for the band.
Earthside and heavy music fans are undoubtedly well acquainted with the immense talent and compassionate soul that is Daniel Tompkins. Having worked together once before on a track that would become one of the group’s most popular songs, both sides had a desire to collaborate on a more adventurous piece of material that would push the limits of their creativity and allow Dan greater freedom to contribute his own brilliant ideas and vocalizations outside of his usual style hallmarks. Born of a mutual love and respect for the talents of all involved, Let The Truth Speak showcases the world class singer against a mesmerizing musical backdrop and alongside a co-lead vocalist like no other.
Gennady Tkachenko-Papizh is the name on the track that you may not know, but his performance is an experience you won’t soon forget. Renowned across Europe as a one-of-a-kind artist, Gennady’s talent transforms his voice into everything from celestial soundscapes, to haunting Mediterranean cries and from shamanic whispers, to the din of the natural world. His live performances—“ceremonies of sound”—have aired across countless television stations on the continent; primarily through the ‘Got Talent’ circuit where he starred on Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions after having first stunned audiences and judges alike on Georgia’s Got Talent. And when Earthside discovered him through a particularly enlightened fan’s recommendation, they wanted to be the first band in rock or metal to share his monumental gift with the world. His voice on the track serves as musical personification of the Earth’s spirit itself in both disconnection and unity with humanity, as represented by Dan’s vocal parts.
The members of Earthside on the track fire on all cylinders—both compositionally and as performers—making an undeniable statement musically and conceptually with a song that is impossible to hear as anyone else’s but their own. Truth is dangerous—the path to finding it, the complications that come from pursuing it, and the perils we face in trying to live by it. It’s an arduous mission in its own right and one that’s perfectly captured by the cinematic thriller-like score of the track.
Now more than ever, people have access to a platform—and the vast prospective audience that comes with it. Anyone can step up to the pulpit and fancy themselves a guru or prophet. With so many of us not only having a voice, but believing that our perspective is worth voicing on nearly every issue—regardless of our qualifications or credentials—there is an excess of noise to navigate in sifting for actual unvarnished truth. A call to let the truth speak, in a way, is a call for everyone to take a step back and reflect on when it’s effective for their voice to enter the fray, and when it’s instead far better for everyone involved if they sit out the current conversation and take on a listening role. If our expertise does not reach the appropriate level that allows us to use our platforms to either share fact-informed opinions or amplify the voices that need to be heard most on an issue, then we need to have the humility and goodness of will to step down from the stage.
In conjunction with their signing to Mascot Label Group, Earthside returns to the spotlight in the most monumental of fashions. The culmination of years of feverish planning, recording, and detail obsessing, “All We Knew And Ever Loved” offers the first window into the gripping next chapter of the band’s collective story—and the grim scene that awaits humanity in the absence of change.
The intended closing track for Earthside’s to-be-announced second full-length, “All We Knew And Ever Loved” is quite unlike anything currently in the rock music landscape. Coming across more like the chilling final movement of a score to an end-times thriller than anything one might loosely associate with the work of a “band,” the 9-minute voyage invokes one of the largest pipe organs in the world, a full orchestral brass section, thunderous pit percussion, and two dueling drummers to supernatural effect.
“Humans are the only beings that knowingly destroy themselves,” Earthside keyboardist and the piece’s composer Frank Sacramone says. “Animals don’t have a developed consciousness like we do, or a sense of right or wrong, but ‘all we knew and ever loved’ will be gone as we keep perpetuating the same poor decision-making as a species—the same societal structures, economic norms, same use of power. Day by day, we’re beginning to see very real consequences to these willful abuses on a scale we don’t fully comprehend.”
Opening with the haunting cry of screeching lead guitar, timpani, and pipe organ, the ominous introduction sets the stage for a horrifying climax that never seems to lessen in effect with repeated listens. The dastardly arrival is ushered in by a very human spiral of conflict, represented by the dueling drum performance of Earthside’s Ben Shanbrom and featured guest performer, Baard Kolstad of Leprous.
“A piece of art that resonated strongly with us during the writing and recording of both “All We Knew ...” and the new album, was a painting called Duelo a Garrotazos or Fight with Cudgels by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya,” Shanbrom says. “From the time I was exposed to Goya’s Black Paintings—a series of extremely dark meditations on human nature—I’ve been obsessed with them, and the uncanny message of Duelo felt immediately timely and haunting in its relevance to the current day.”
The scene which Shanbrom references depicts two men swinging at each other with full abandon as a far more threatening force—the surrounding quicksand—slowly consumes their lower bodies. “This vindictive pettiness that we see all around us in our politics, our arguments, and daily interactions is something universal and terrifying in human nature, and as Frank was composing this song, I was wondering if there was a way we could represent that complex and poignant scene in the actual music. Through a very special collaboration, I think we did it” Shanbrom says.
Sacramone began writing the song in 2017 to the setting of bleak, rainy March weather and the second season of True Detective. “The goal was to be as brute force as possible—to use the most powerful combination of instruments to create a very ambitious aural rendition of humanity fighting itself and sinking,” Sacramone says. “And also as an artist—to put your money where your mouth is; if you want to write something that is about a topic this significant, the music has to live up to it and it needs to be as dramatic as possible; it needs to be devastating.” Through the positively apocalyptic sounds of one of the largest pipe organs in the world (recorded at the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles) and an earth-shaking mix courtesy of Randy Staub, known for mixing Metallica’s legendary symphonic live album, S&M, the effect isn’t merely devastating; it’s inescapable.
Diving into the writing of their forthcoming second album, the group of schooled composers, orchestrators, and performers in Earthside sought to expand the cinematic side of their music from an intriguing aspect of individual songs, to a powerful connecting thread across the full track listing. In the case of All We Knew... one transcendent moment with a particular Hans Zimmer score may have ultimately been the initial driver in its creation.
“In January of 2017 I was driving my '97 Toyota Camry from Los Angeles to Boulder, CO,” Sacramone recounts. “As I was approaching one of the most notorious and mountainous highways in the US, I-70, I told myself "this is the time to listen to Mountains (from the Interstellar soundtrack). I can't properly explain in words what happened, but as the music crescendoed, my entire body chemistry changed. I had goosebumps from the top of my neck all the way down to the bottom of my legs. I felt the universe come together—the workings of our humanness, maybe even our souls (if we have them), and the greatness and complexity of this Earth come together. I was actually quite afraid to be driving in that moment, but for whatever perils may have come from the road, it was one of the most profound moments of my life.”
This tectonic moment left Sacramone with a striking realization that drove him to action. "The Interstellar score made me realize how underrated and under-utilized the pipe organ is. It is possibly the most powerful instrument in existence (what mix engineer Randy Staub refers to as “God’s Organ”). A pipe organ is massive and undeniable, and it was important for me to match the power of the themes in “All We Knew …” to the instruments that could best convey that power.”
Just months after this eye-opening experience, the members of Earthside attended a live production of Hans Zimmer’s most noted scores, and a potent missing ingredient came into focus. Apart from being an incredible and moving experience, the live production featured a unique call-and-response percussion duel that left the band in awe.
“The percussionists traded off patterns and drum fills with a seamless flow—when it happened, the wheels in my head immediately started turning, and I thought to myself, ‘what if this could be done with two full drum kits and two drummers,’” Sacramone says. “I wanted to make intentional compositional choices in the song that made the two drummers, in their beats and fills, act as a naturally flowing single unit, rather than something improvisational, as it often is in two-drummer songs.”
It became immediately clear to the song’s composer that Baard Kolstad, the renowned drummer of Leprous and a close friend of the band, was the perfect collaborator to help capture and escalate the frenetic effect described above. Kolstad’s hectic grooves and barbaric tom battery mingle and trade blows with Shanbrom’s drum set acrobatics in a way wholly different from the two-drummer features of old.
Not content to “stay in their lane,” Earthside actively sought out both collaborators and stylistic inspirations for the new record that departed from their familiar rock and metal aesthetics—capturing unprecedented collaborations with artists in world music, soul, classical, film-scoring, and beyond to reflect the current state of humanity and the world in their fully complex, beautiful, and terrifying splendor.
“As we transitioned from the A Dream In Static era to the writing and production of its follow-up, there was a great deal of self-evaluation,” Earthside guitarist and composer Jamie van Dyck adds. “In reflecting on what we’d created together on the debut, and in looking forward to what could make this next record a fulfilling progression for us as artists, something that stood out to me was that our first record was a binary between the orchestral elements on some songs, and post-rockish atmospheric elements on the others. I felt – and my mates echoed my sentiments – that in honing our sound to create pieces that felt like truly quintessential Earthside, our music would be more powerful and unique if we integrated these diverse sides of our sound in combination more evenly across our record and within the same compositions. While each song in this new batch very much has its own identity, the unique instrumentation and the ambient elements are both present in their own way on every track. It’s a step forward as a band and as composers that we’re eager to share with music-lovers around the world.”