There was a glorious time—we shall call it the late 1990s (remember them?)—when it truly seemed as though there would be a resurgence in the British metal scene. This ‘Second Coming of Underground Metal’ (SCUM, for short) would be led, we were told, by the likes of Raging Speedhorn, Pitchshifter, Dub War, Labrat, Canvas, Stampin Ground, not to mention this titular motley crew. All these bands who were ploughing furloughs new, shaking things up and ushering in a New Wave of British Heavy Metal World Dominance (NWOBHMWD, for short), unparalleled since the rise and rise and then fall and then rise again of I. Ron Madden and his skinny mate Ed.
Or at least, if you read the likes of Kerrang! at the time (and we did), that was what you would have heard. If you’d turned up to Trillians in Newcastle, or The Park in Peterborough, or Hollywoods in Romford, or any number of shitty venues around the country, you would have seen all these bands and many more struggling to fill rooms barely big enough to fit a table.
The scene may have been full of great bands, but nobody seemed to care. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
It was a damn shame because these were brilliant bands, putting out innovative, varied and downright sexy metal albums to mass press attention and virtually zero sales. I remember seeing earthtone9 touring their third album in the aforementioned Toon venue to about fifteen people. Not their first album. Their third album.
Then along came Lostprophets and Bullet and all the others, and these late 90s bands all disappeared in a wave of apathy while their inferior descendants went out and conquered the world.
Basically it was all your fault. Where the hell were you?
This loss was felt most for fans of earthtone9, who couldn’t understand how a band that could clearly hold their own with the globe-bestriding behemoths of US metal somehow didn’t end up every bit as successful. Listen to Arc’Tan’Gent now and tell me it doesn’t hold up against White Pony, or Lateralus, or Toxicity, or El Diablo.
Over the course of three albums they did that nigh-on impossible thing: Taking a melting pot of disparate influences (stoner rock, nu-metal, hardcore, post-hardcore, sludge metal and more besides) and coming out the other side with something uniquely ‘them’. They were heavy, blisteringly so at times, but they were also melodic, interesting and, well, just really fucking good. And now they’re back.
They’ve been back for a while—playing festivals, gigs and releasing an EP to whet the appetite. But for a band whose reputation was so solidly built on brilliant albums, the true test would be whether they could still cut it on long-playing record. Would it be like seeing an old photo of yourself and wondering why the hell you thought a foot long wallet chain really set off your bleached-blond spikes and looked really good hanging from your oversized jeans?
Well, of course they can still cut it. The good thing about never being fashionable is that you can’t go out of fashion. IV is basically everything you’ve been wanting to hear from earthtone9 since you first saw the news of a grand reunification. This album is still reliably and wonderfully ‘them’, but it is by no means the work of a band coasting on old glories. They’ve developed and grown over the intervening years and become something else entirely.
The melodic direction they were hinting at on the Omega EP before their first split has not been abandoned. Far from it. But it’s been entwined with the bruising urgency of their groove-laden metal. There’s far less segregation of their different parts now; it’s all one swirling mass. It sounds effortless, and there are so many anthemic hooks that you forget just how few bands really get this stuff right without spilling into whiny emo nonsense.
It helps that in lead singer Karl Middleton they’ve got a vocalist who can walk that tightrope, his vocals stronger throughout than ever. Quite honestly, I’ve always thought Karl should be held up alongside the likes of Maynard James Keenan in terms of sheer vocal dexterity. If you don’t believe me, then you just try singing along with any of the songs on this album and you’ll soon find yourself running short of lung capacity, collapsing to the floor and weeping at your own inadequacy. Fact.
But this isn’t just a vocal masterclass. Simon Hutchby’s drumming provides a thundering backbone to Owen Packard and the rest of the band’s shamanistic rhythms and riffs. When they are on it—and they’re rarely off it here—they remind you again and again of just how damned good they are. Heavy, melodic, epic, IV constantly astounds.
Not bad for a bunch of old farts. Here’s hoping they finally achieve the recognition they so thoroughly deserve. If they do, it won’t be because of their history, or their legacy, it’ll be because 15 years after their debut, there’s still nobody out there who can touch them.