By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Dedicated to resurrecting the art of the psychedelic hard-rock power trio, Earthless deliver a bracing collision of expansive sounds and sternum-rattling thunder with their instrumental attack. Formed 17 years ago in San Diego by Mario Rubalcaba (Hot Snakes, Rocket from the Crypt, Black Heart Procession, Off!), bassist Mike Eginton (Electric Nazarene) and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell (Nebula, Howlin’ Rain, Golden Void), the group takes an open-ended improvisational approach to hard rock that alternately recalls the jam-heavy exploration of Cream and Jimi Hendrix, modern Japanese psych purveyors like Acid Mothers Temple and more obscure ’70s riff alchemists like Dust and the Groundhogs.
The group released its impressive debut Sonic Prayer on Gravity in 2005 and two years later followed up that effort with Rhythms from a Cosmic Sky, an album that dazzled critics and fans alike. Locking into epic grooves stretching to 20 minutes and even longer without losing their dynamic upward trajectory, the band’s transcendent live performances have earned Earthless a reputation as one of the best heavy music acts performing today.
The trio took some time off after the release of Live at Roadburn (a ripping two-disc document of the trio’s blistering 2008 performances at the famed Dutch festival of the same name), though they did contribute its first original song featuring vocals with Mitchell singing entitled “Demon Lady” to a split 2011 EP with like-minded bands Danava and Lecherous Gaze for the Kemado label.
The break allowed members to focus their energies on a variety of projects. Mitchell relocated to the Bay Area where he founded his popular band Golden Void, while Rubalcaba played with both a reunited Hot Snakes and Rocket From the Crypt in addition to putting out several albums and touring with former Black Flag/Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris in hardcore revival band Off!
The band reconvened in 2012 to tour and released another studio effort, From the Ages, the following year. Hailed by many as the band’s best yet, the double album featured three sprawling epics. The title tune clocked in at over 30 minutes, while two other songs — the transporting opener “Violence of the Red Sea” and “Uluru Rock” — both stretched to 14 minutes of face-melting intensity.
The band has toured regularly since that album, but has only issued a couple of new tunes in the interim, releasing the savage track “End to End” for free download in 2016. Only their third song to feature Mitchell’s vocals, the tune shows the band is just as adroit at crafting hooky concise rock burners as it is extended improvisations. Earthless also put out a split 12″ with Tee Pee Records labelmates Harsh Toke that featured the opiated Meters-meets-Eddie Hazel groove of “Acid Crusher.”
But the long wait for a new Earthless full-length effort finally ended earlier this year. Last August, the band announced that it signed to Nuclear Blast and would release it’s first new album in five years after recording sessions at the famed Rancho De La Luna studio in Joshua Tree with noted guitar hero Dave Catching (Eagles of Death Metal, Queens of the Stone Age, earthlings?) producing the sessions.
A marked departure for Earthless, the new effort Black Heaven features four vocal tracks with Mitchell singing and included far more songwriting input from the guitarist than past effort. At turns recalling the James Gang and Thin Lizzy (propulsive opening track “Gifted By the Wind”) or a diabolical melding of Zeppelin, Funkadelic and Hendrix (the monstrous instrumental title track), the new tunes may be the trio’s most focused and formidable yet.
The trio has been touring heavily ever since the album’s release earlier this year, serving as artist-in-residence at Roadburn 2018 in Holland where they performed with legendary Can singer Damo Suzuki and their spring tourmates Kikagaku Moyo as well as criss-crossing the states. The band has also issued a new live album recorded during a San Francisco date at the Great American Music Hall that captures intense performances of the new songs plus a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown.” Packaged to mirror a classic Trademark of Quality Zeppelin bootleg from the early ’70s, the ferocious concert document has already been issued on vinyl via Sliver Current Records and will see a CD release on Nuclear Blast on October 19 with additional songs not included on the record version.
For this show at the Starline Social Club in Oakland ahead of their appearance at the Desert Daze festival in Southern California, Earthless will be joined by fellow power trio Feral Ohms. Anchored by renowned Bay Area guitarist Ethan Miller who founded Comets on Fire and Howlin Rain and more recently became part of the psych supergroup Heron Oblivion, Feral Ohms has been delivering a deafening, fuzzed-out fury that recalls the lysergic caveman stomp of late ’60s underground legends Blue Cheer and Sir Lord Baltimore while hearkening back to Miller’s most unhinged early work with CoF since 2011.
After putting out a string of 7-inch singles for a variety of imprints including SF boutique label Valley King and Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label, in 2016 the threesome issued a frenetic live recording tracked at the Chapel in San Francisco on Thee Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer’s Castle Face Records. Last year, the trio offered up it’s self-titled studio debut released on Miller’s own Silver Current label that manages (barely) to contain the ferocity of the band’s onstage assault.
More recently, Silver Current put out a limited edition box set of the band’s singles that quickly sold out. The band kicks off these stacked shows with its current line-up featuring longtime drummer Chris Johnson and recent addition Phil Manley (Trans Am, the F—ing Champs, Life Coach, Terry Gross) on bass. Bay Area visual artists Mad Alchemy will provide a psychedelic light show to go with the mind-expanding music Friday night.
Earthless with Feral Ohms
Friday, Oct. 12, 8 p.m. $20-$22
Starline Social Club