EPs pt I: Earthmass + Old Man Lizard

Es are good, sang the Shamen.

EPs are good, says we.

But they are though, aren’t they? Rare is the EP that goes on too long and rare is the EP that sucks the megabucks out of your wallet, all of which makes the EP a pretty good intro to a band you don’t know, ‘specially at a gig when said band has done enough on stage to commit you to the merch table. Take an EP-sized punt and you’ll feel either i) slight letdown coz it’s not as awesome as the gig, but no damage done because at least you weren’t fleeced for the privilege, or ii) well bloody chuffed coz the new tuneage is as good as what you just saw/heard AND you’ve supported a band who probably need it. Let’s face it, touring and gigging assorted holes round smalltown UK deserves some sort of reward. Or possibly compensation.

What we’re celebrating in EPs pt I is point ii), combining a couple of EPs picked up at gigs this year because, well, 2015 is fast running out and these things need to be shared. Today we just happen to have a south-east double bill – Earthmass and Old Man Lizard. First up it’s

Earthmass: Collision

Earthmass supported Undersmile at the Wheatsheaf back in May and they were fckn large. Nothing wildly new, granted, but if you’re a sucker for a slab of post-metal clang ‘n stretch – and who isn’t? – then their Collapse EP from 2014, barrelling out of that early unrefined Isis lineage, warrants a bit of ear time. First track Awake/Crisis is a lumbering barrage of mono-chord reps and storm-whipped vocals, a solid warmer for the rest of the EP. Next tracks Divergence and Weakling begin to add the expansions – space, tracked vocals, twin guitar mini breaks – that bring the colour, and that triumphant Hulk-ing surge at Weakling’s end is boner-fida Isis.

But it’s the 18-minute closer LOOM that’s the centrepiece here, and once you’ve heard it, you can see what the first three were building up to. Billed as a two-parter (i. Drowse, ii. Barren), it’s post-metal Pelican-ism from those Untitled pre-Australasia days and shows what Earthmass are REALLY all about – un-busy stretchouts, nearly-solos borne of a deeper Rock Love, Tool-esque quiet, and bang-on-cue finales. Precise, layered and deliberate but in no way polished or dirgesome, Earthmass move on and in their own time, and the slow-build sequencing of Collision is proof of that. Add some ‘mass to your collection right here

Old Man Lizard: Old Man Lizard

The second EP comes out of one of those gigs where you’re among 8 people watching a new band who, sadly, just aren’t cutting it. And you’re a bit too near the stage to make a discreet exit. And you don’t know the follow-up band. And at this point, it feels like a very long night ahead. And when the next band take the stage, they’re a three-piece with a Victorian handlebar ‘tache on drums and a flame-coloured mane up front. Frontmane wears a baseball cap with a big S-word on it:


Yep, all the way from the deep south-ish flatlands of ingerland we have Old Man Lizard, bellowing and hollering and primal heavy raging … saviours of the night. Thank stuck for the ficks, eh?

Blunt and shouty as they first seem, there’s more than by-numbers metal going on here … not jazz but the odd jazzy chord, not trad but the odd Celt-lick, not blues but of the blues. Hmmm. Young bucks with old-time sources, they’re definitely off-kilter enough to sit outside easy categorisation, and with lyrics that dwell in pits of myth, murder, witchery and duggery of the skull, there’s something out-of-time about them, something a bit mead ‘n moonshine. Miles away from the post-metal space vibe of Earthmass, OML are scratchy dry and rusting metallic, their spidery guitar runs bringing the jitters to that earthly-yet-fantastical storytelling. El Doctor is the bluesiest track and its stripped-back slowdown gives you a shot of the hefty bass that lurks behind, while Old Hag hints at rural prog from the back porch.

Right then, a little Old Man Lizard update. The Lone Wolf vs Brown Bear album is a bigger beast, recorded ‘in the heart of rural Suffolk’ and mastered by James Plotkin … there can only be one James Plotkin so it must be THAT one, right? Tracks like Rum Guts, Don’t Piss in the River and Wolves Wood show off more adventurous arrangements – definitely hear a bit of Ephel Duath in some of those chords, not to mention loose harmonica and hidden banjo – but be warned: the vocals are even more bellowin’.

But the plot ‘kin thickens when you go to the OML bandcamp site because the EP, which I downloaded after buying the Lone Wolf CD and seeing the gig, ain’t there anymore. But there IS a new album, and it looks like a reworking/fleshing out of the above EP but with a bit extra, so maybe the original 5-tracker was a demo …who knows? Either way, there’s plenny of stuff to check, and don’t forget their Essex neighbours Earthmass while you’re at it.

EPs pt II to follow soon.


The Wheatsheaf, Oxford, May 9 2015

Is this going to be Undersmile‘s big year? Already they’ve done the Roadburn Festival in the Netherlands, and new record Anhedonia has gone top of the Terrorizer charts by bagging its Album of the Month accolade in the current issue. This, surely, is Big News, and with rumours flying that tonight may well be their only Oxford gig of 2015, there’s a feelgood homecoming buzz about the Wheatsheaf. Lotta smiles, lotta chatter.

But before Witney’s super-strength export close this Buried in Smoke event, we’ve got a support set from Essex troupe Earthmass – and with a name like that you just gotta deliver, right? But before we can find out, singer/guitarist Chris Houghton makes for the mic for a quick word.

I know you metallers are a sentimental lot so I just wanted to say that … well, my nan died yesterday.”

Oh … bummer. ‘sheaf crowd twitches. Not sure what to do with this information.

“So this is for her. She never actually heard us play, which is probably for the best. It would have fucking killed her.”

And once first track Awake/Crisis cruises from sparse intro to bruised-up pounding, you know he’s right coz Earthmass do spacious post-metal the Isis way: clean bits, raging bits, gut-growling downtuned crunch, mebbe even a scrape of Tool’s discordant prog spook. Very nice, Earthmass chaps. Very nice indeed. Looking forward to giving that Collapse CD some heavy rotation.

But if mid-tempo riffage is just TOO DAMNED FAST for your slothmetal tastes, and instrumental breaks just TOO DAMNED CHEERFUL for your subterranean nightmare vision then you can always always always turn to

u   n   d   e   r   s   m   i   l   e .

Yeah. The pace stops here and when they step up, they say nothing. Not. A. Word. All those pre-gig smiles and chit-chat are long gone when Hel and Taz, white dresses catching spectral light, take centre stage side by side and the band prepare to unfurl Sky Burial: haunting, drowning, none heavier. Probably. Atacama Sunburn, possibly tonight’s peak ‘mare centrepiece, showcases the extremes of their expanding sound as delicate post-rock quiet makes way for scream-in horror harmonies from the depths of the grim. Fearsomely intense, Undersmile utterly inhabits its own world, locked in while we look on like cult metal Stockholm Syndrome captives. As one punter puts it on the way out, ‘There’s no-one like ’em. They’re in a field of one.’

Second that. An acquired taste yes, but no-one  and that means, no-one  does doom quite like Undersmile.

Anhedonia by Undersmile and Collision by Earthmass, out now.

More Oxford gigs and stuff at Buried in Smoke