god forbid - earthsbloodThere comes a time in the career of every mega-successful band where they hit the cruise-control button. You know what I mean; think of any band that’s had any amount of real (metal-)mainstream success and I’ll show you the exact moment that band flipped on said switch and either started writing the same album over and over or went off into watered-down oblivion. It’s not that you can blame these bands, and I certainly don’t, but the neverending demands of being in a superstar band — constant touring, radio promo, press, music videos, personal appearances, endorsements, more touring, repeat — stifle innovation by design. When the grind finally ends and it’s time to record another record again, it worked well the last time out so why change it up? It’s not by choice but by necessity; it’s those in-between moments the biggest bands lack that allow them to grow, to reflect, to look at what their peers are doing, to keep up with the latest, and to strive and push harder and harder to take the band to the proverbial next level. Fortunately for God Forbid, now on their 5th full-length record, they haven’t reached this point of mega-success and they haven’t hit cruise-control. There have been plenty of in-between moments (4 years since their last album, Constitution of Treason, to be exact). God Forbid have never stopped pushing, never stopped challenging themselves, never lost the hunger, never stopped to smell the roses; because frankly there haven’t been many roses to smell. The result is that every album has been different — and better — than the one before it, and Earthsblood is no different; it’s their best album yet.

God Forbid do plenty different this time around, pretty much all of the right things and none of the wrong ones. The use of 7-string guitars is right on the surface, but while the band’s new-found low end unquestionably adds a new dimension to their sound by no means are they simply employing the same tricks in a different key. By that same token said 7-string goodness makes the band sound inherently heavier but there’s also a newfound aggression in the riffs and beats on Earthsblood that transcends their tuning. Take the peddled low riff in “The Rain,” the intro and pre-chorus of “Empire of the Gun” or the insanely brutal intro and verse riffs of “War of Attrition,” or myriad other moments on Earthsblood. This is a heavy fucking album, full of brutal riffs upon brutal riffs.

The stepped-up aggression in no ways signals an end to the hooks God Forbid have always employed so tastefully. The chorus in “Empire of the Gun” is as good as any they’ve ever written. The whammied guitar intro and chorus of “Bat the Angels” are positively infectious. “War of Attrition” balances the heavy with another fist-pumping chorus.

“Walk Alone,” the obvious “rock” track, is by far the most radio-minded on the record and frankly the only semi-blemish on an otherwise near-perfect record. It’s not that I have any opposition to catchy songs like this, but I feel this track alone gives credence to the haterade slingers that unfairly heap the “metalcore” label upon God Forbid in a derogatory manner. This track just doesn’t accurately represent Earthsblood as a whole. Even so, it’s a great song, has plenty of brutality in addition to the catchy chorus and has some stellar guitar work throughout, culminating in a multi-part bridge with plenty of leads and a scorching solo. And then, yep, two more solos on top of the main riff before the song ends. Multiple guitar solos per song (all artfully and expertly executed, natch) are not uncommon on this album.

Doc and Dallas employ the dual-guitar attack better than just about any combo in modern metal; God Forbid are a true two-guitar band, a Hetfield/Hammett duo that stands far above the hordes of two-guitar bands content to mimic each other in lock-step unison. When Doc and Dallas are harmonizing leads they’re always searching for interesting, off-the-beaten-path note combinations outside of your standard 3rds and 5ths (though they aren’t shy about using plenty of these too). When one is playing rhythm and the other is playing lead it’s often so much more than a solo on top of some chords —  it’s two distinct parts that serve completely different functions within a whole that’s greater than both. The end section of epic 7-minute album-closer “Gaia (The Vultures)” and the entire second half of “The New Clear” are prime examples. The key is temperament; the right notes at the right times. Doc and Dallas have always had a supernatural knack for this, and it may well have something to do with coming from the same vagina.

Drummer Corey Pierce does his part to keep up with the gamed-up musicianship employing blastbeats (“The Rain”), rock beats (“Walk Alone”) and intricate metal beats throughout; he too has upped the ante, and his drum performance on this record is his best yet. Bassist John Outcalt is right there behind him, beefing up the overall attack of the band for maximum force. Byron Davis is his usual venomous self, howling and bearing his soul throughout, complementing Dallas’ stepped up role as clean singer. Davis is truly a force to be reckoned with and I can’t wait to see him command the stage as he performs these songs live.

Earthsblood also finds the band experimenting with new textures and new types of songs. “The New Clear” is the farthest song musically from anything the band’s done to date, a dreamy, foreboding atmospheric intro with Dallas Coyle’s clean singing that gives way to a furious pummeling of mammoth proportions. But even in the most intense moments of this track, it never quite relinquishes the dark and doomy mood. Before you know it we’re in a bridge of sorts that sounds more like Norwegian black metal than anything, which seamlessly transitions into a rocking solo section reminiscent of Guns N’ Roses “Nightrain,” complete with plenty of artful shred, harmonies and overall beauteous-ness. Every transition is more unexpected than the one before, and they’re all completely smooth. Five albums in, God Forbid have mastered the art of songwriting, fearlessly experimenting without ever losing sight of the “song.” The meticulous and careful finesse with which this track is crafted is really fucking impressive, and the title track is similar in its exploration of new textures, ambition, scope and execution (for example: acoustic guitars, strings). They’re two of my favorite tracks on the record, but not at all the only ones to employ new tactics and unexpected twists and turns; nearly every song on Earthsblood does this.

Will Earthsblood be the record that propels God Forbid  to metal super-stardom? If it means they’ll stop innovating and producing music this good the next time out then I certainly hope not. But God Forbid deserve every bit of success they get and I’m rooting for them to go all the way. Is it too much for me to hope they remain in the in-between? Probably so. Whatever it is you’re doing, guys, keep doing it. Earthsblood is your best work yet.


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(four and a half out of five horns)

[God Forbid on MySpace]

“Ten Reasons to Buy Earthsblood,” by Dallas Coyle for Metal Injection:

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