Released: 2015, Self-released
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Connecticut quartet Earthside borrow a page from the prog-metal book of fellow Nutmeg Staters Fates Warning and take it several giant leaps further on their wildly – and in some cases overly - ambitious, epic-and-then-some debut album that the band somehow managed to pull off on their own, sans label support. And it probably cost a pretty penny or two to put A Dream Of Static together given that it was recorded and mixed in Sweden, features the contributions of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra (MSSO) and vocal performances from the likes of Soilwork’s Björn “Speed” Strid, TesseracT’s Daniel Tompkins and Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon.
Earthside take the slick, somewhat understated approach of Fates at their most expansive, say the A Pleasant Shade of Gray album or their “Ivory Gate of Dreams” magnum opus, and run with it here for a good hour on A Dream In Static. The album is a marathon, not a sprint, and is full of sprawling, shape-shifting arrangements and intricate but unhurried interplay instead of a mere showcase of wankery.
Static opens with the eight-minute instrumental “The Closest I've Come,” which rocks pretty hard in parts, and then introduce both the orchestration and vocals on the 10-minute “Mob Mentality.” And they don't scrimp on either. MSSO's accompaniment is opulent, ever-present and well-executed and Witherspoon is given plenty to work with – and does a stellar job – on this TSO-like mega-power ballad that concludes in an absolutely mammoth crescendo.
The title track features Tompkins and takes full advantage of his spectacular gentle/soaring clean vocals in its quiet verses and rousing choruses. The band also show some genuine, almost djenty heft here when the song builds on Jamie van Dyck's quick-cut grooves.
The instrumental “Entering The Light” brings back the MSSO, but doesn't do a whole lot with them other than drape some strings over Frank Sacramone's keyboards and Ben Shanbrom's martial drums. The star of this essentially all-classical/new-agey exercise is hammered dulcimer virtuoso – yes there is such a thing - Max ZT whose light touch offers a mandolin or harp-like quality that blends in quite nicely.
“Skyline” gets the band back into prog-metal mode with a Dream Theatery instrumental that runs on for more than nine minutes and probably could have done without the sparse, moody midsection that just makes the song drag. Fortunately, it leads into “Crater” which reintroduces vocals at just the right time with Strid – who sticks primarily to impassioned cleans – and builds back some of the heaviosity, as Woody Allen would say, that got lost amid the instrumentals.
The fourth, and final, instrumental, “The Ungrounding,” however, manages to maintain “Crater's” relatively bombastic air, serving as a showcase for van Dyck's more hulking riffs and bolder leadwork, and the band's metallic flair.
Static closes in suitably monumental fashion with the 12-minute “Contemplation of the Beautiful” that brings everything to bear: sweeping strings, towering choruses, anthemic thunder, contemplative sometimes surreal instrumentation, etc. It's gloriously over the top and features a magnificent performance by comparatively unknown singer Eric Zirlinger of Face The King who is given the chance to steal the show here by using the full range of his voice and does just that.
Were I more of a prog-metal fan boy, this would hands down be my album of the year. Even so – despite the overdone and underwhelming instrumentals and a dearth of pep - it is a pretty remarkable achievement, made all the more so by the fact that Earthside did it on their own. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and there seems to be no shortage of will where these guys are concerned. And kudos to them for that.