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Earthless at the Ritz

In Music
LONG GAME: For years, Earthless were known for their epic-length instrumentals, but they’ve recently added vocals to the mix.

LONG GAME: For years, Earthless were known for their epic-length instrumentals, but they’ve recently added vocals to the mix.

Up until 2018, fans knew what to expect from the San Diego-based psychedelic metal band Earthless: long, intense, scorching, jaw-clenching jams without the benefit of vocals. One Earthless album featured only one instrumental track, just shy of an hour long. Lengthy and wordless face-melting was their brand.

Then came Black Heaven in 2018, the band’s ninth album since they first came together in 2005. The songs clocked in at a lean eight minutes or so, on average. And—wait, what’s this?—Is that somebody singing?

“At first, there were some people who were surprised by it,” says Earthless drummer Mario Rubalcaba of the band’s foray into vocals. “But I think, judging from the amount of touring we’ve done the last year and a half, we’ve acquired quite a bit of new fans who like that aspect.”

As Earthless, Rubalcaba, bassist Mike Eginton and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell have become cult faves for their relentless embrace of heavy, aggressive rock with a metal edge. But even with Mitchell having a go at singing, Black Heaven has not, says Rubalcaba, changed the essence of Earthless.

“There was a good amount of people who knew that Isaiah could sing and were stoked that we tried that that aspect of our sound,” he says. “Overall, it’s gone over pretty good.”

The trio first bonded over their shared love for late ’60s and early ’70s acts like Cream, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Black Sabbath. And though the musicians of Earthless are a generation or two removed from those bands, they’re comfortable with being in that lineage.

“Without those bands, there would be no Earthless,” says Rubalcaba, a former pro skateboarder and longtime musician. “That’s the stuff we listened to as kids in our bedrooms, just jumping around playing air drums or air guitar.”

Though 1970s-style metal is the basis of the Earthless sound, the trio is also informed by the aggressiveness and snarl of punk. In particular, they have championed the 1980s punk band Void and the San Francisco-based avant-garde punk band Chrome, fronted by the late Damon Edge.

With the various metal, garage and punk influences came an inspiration from jazz as well—namely, the inclination for improvisation. Earthless is well known for bringing wide-open improv-based experimentation to its live performances in an effort to make each show a unique experience.

Rubalcaba and bassist Eginton have been students of jazz improv for years. The groove that the two make with frontman and guitarist Mitchell amounts to what Rubalcaba calls a “special chemistry.”

“A big part of it is Mike on bass,” he says. “He’s holding down these hard bass lines, which enables Isaiah and myself to run circles and go off on tangents. Isaiah might stretch out a solo way longer than the night before, and when I feel it’s my turn to weigh in, I have rein to take it somewhere else, to some place way out of whack. It’s the ultimate high.”

Rubalcaba estimates that the band’s longest live jam has come in at more than an hour and a half.

He said that the band’s fan base is a diverse blend of young and formerly young. Earthless is a particular favorite of producers of skateboarding videos, which keeps the band’s fan base ever renewing with young listeners. But older people with a deep appreciation of the band’s 1970s vibe, many of whom saw the classic bands back in their heyday, are also a big part of the base.

“It’s really cool to see that we can win over people who came from that era,” Rubalcaba says.

The changes in Black Heaven came about after guitarist Mitchell relocated from San Diego to the Bay Area (he now lives in Marin County). The band didn’t have as much time to jam as they used to, so they began playing and rehearsing with a different mindset. Then the songs with vocals emerged.

“I don’t know if people thought it might change the live show,” says Rubalcaba, “but it really hasn’t. We’ve been able to incorporate the vocal parts in the live show pretty seamlessly. It’s even helped diversified it a bit. It’s now even more of an experience of bombarding the senses.”

Earthless
Dec 3, 7pm, $18+
The Ritz, San Jose
folkyeah.com

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