Artist: Dift Into Black
Album Title: Earthtorn
Label: Black Lion Records
Date of Release: 20 May 2022
When I reviewed the previous album by Drift Into Black, ‘Patterns Of Light’, I remarked that it was the fourth release in as many years, suggesting that here was an impressively prolific entity. Almost exactly a year later, I am able to report that they have returned to deliver their fifth full-length album in five years. It’s all the more impressive when you remember that Drift Into Black is essentially a one-man band. New Jersey-based multi-instrumentalist Craig Rossi is the heart and soul of this ‘band’, responsible for the vast majority of the song writing as well as guitar duties, vocals, keyboards, and lap steel. For ‘Earthtorn’, Rossi has called upon the talents of bassist Paul LaPlaca and drummer Klemen Markelj, but this remains Rossi’s baby without doubt.
There has been a symmetry between this record and the last in terms of my opinion towards them. On both occasions, I have found myself initially sceptical and quite dismissive of the material, only to be gradually coerced into a much more positive opinion with repeated listens over a period of time.
This pattern does not, however, extend to the music itself because, for my money, ‘Earthtorn’ is quite a bit different to its predecessor in some ways. Whereas ‘Patterns Of Light’ was heavily influenced by the death/doom metal genres, with some Gothic accents and some nice melody, ‘Earthtorn’ feels like it is a much more varied beast, with plenty more influences and ideas at play across the album. There is a marked reduction in out-and-out death/doom material, allowing greater room for experimentation with progressive ideas, as well as a smattering of music that draws heavily from ambient climes. For those that like their metal more extreme, it’s worth noting that there are still some sections where crunching riffs and growls dominate; these elements are still very much a part of the aural tapestry. It’s just that they have been reduced to a degree.
It’s hardly surprising that the music on ‘Earthtorn’ is more varied than previous efforts, because this is a concept album, and the variety helps to tell the story that accompanies the music. Apparently, ‘Earthtorn’ views the destruction of humankind through the eyes of an alien sent to planet Earth to analyse the inhabitants whilst depleting the planet of our natural resources. Naturally, there’s a love story intertwined, but it is ultimately a tragic tale that allows the central figure to explore numerous emotions along the way.
The album begins with a dark, cinematic piece, rife with soundbites on key periods in more recent human history, before Markelj makes his presence immediately felt on ‘It Fell From The Sky’ thanks to numerous expansive fills to accent the clean vocals and slow-paced heavy riffs of Rossi. The ubiquitous growls don’t make an appearance until the 90 second mark, by which time we’re already acutely aware of a slightly different approach on ‘Earthtorn’. I rather like the track, which is most definitely a grower having almost been dismissed as distinctly average on a first spin. As it continues, Rossi introduces some bold, prog-sounding keyboard tones to what still remains one of the more overt doom metal compositions on the record.
It is at this early stage that the much-improved production becomes very evident. It was the Achilles heel of ‘Patterns Of Light’ but here, there’s a much greater clarity in the mix. It still isn’t world beating, but it’s vastly better than the sound afforded the previous record. If there was any doubt about this, it is expunged by ‘The March To Oblivion’, one of the best tracks on ‘Earthtorn’ from my point of view. The blend of growls and clean vocals from Rossi works very well within what is both a heavier track, but also a highly melodic one, with a rather insidious chorus that gets under the skin just when you least expect it.
‘Angel Of Doom’ features female vocals alongside Rossi’s clean tones, which help to accentuate the greater Gothic element. The keys flit between Goth atmosphere and 70s prog sounds to create an intriguing dichotomy, especially when the Paul LaPlaca and Klemen Markelj let loose towards the end in a calculated blast of thunderous intent.
In a massive change of pace, ‘Ghost On The Shore’ is a two-minute instrumental interlude dominated by bold synth sounds, followed by ‘The Ups And The Downs’ which begins in delicate ambient style complete with the sounds of birds twittering for good measure. Even when the pace and intensity picks up, it is still dominated by strong progressive rock leanings with keys high up in the mix, whilst the final couple of minutes is pure ambient territory, accented by sci-fi-like keys and lead guitar solos over the gentle strumming of clean guitars.
The My Dying Bride influences are clear within ‘Weight Of Two Worlds’ thanks to the slow pace and the solemn lone violin embellishing the melancholy atmosphere, before a series of bruising riffs take hold. But even then, the clean voice of Rossi and more prominent synth tones add a different flavour to the largely doom-heavy composition, despite an extended foray into ambient territory in the centre of the song. To round things off, both ‘Left To The Burning Sun’ and ‘On Borrowed Time’ feature some beautiful melodies that mean that the album ends very much on a high. In the case of the latter, the piano accents are really beautiful in particular.
Once again, Rossi and Drift Into Black have managed to pull me around to their way of thinking after a very slow start. With time, focus, and a willingness to let the music do its thing, I have been able to better understand the hours’ worth of material on ‘Earthtorn’ and enjoy large swathes of it. I still think that there are some rough edges here and there that could be worked on, such as some of the dual guitar melodies that don’t always sound on point, and some braver editing at times. However, taking all of this into account, when comparing this latest offering with the last, ‘Earthtorn’ shows a big improvement in terms of the production, the song writing, and the greater willingness to experiment. I count that as a success and so Drift In Black should be applauded for the fruits of their labours here.
The Score of Much Metal: 83%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: