Genre can be a weird thing. Ultimately, it’s just a set of signposts, so on occasion you can end up with an album that fits one genre while drawing influences from another. Usually, this is a sign of a new subgenre forming, at least if others come along to
rip off borrow from the album in question. Take France’s Stonecast and their third album, I Earther, for instance. Despite drawing extensively from the power metal scene, and mostly Europower at that, they’ve crafted a solid, no frills heavy metal record. Is it a game-changer? Well, no, but is it worth checking out regardless?
Opener “Captors of Insanity” starts off slowly, working through a far too long1 intro of samples before bursting into form with Stonecast’s characteristic feel-good template, blending and hybridizing old-school heavy metal and newer influences in the power metal vein. It’s a solid number echoing Black Album–Metallica with Edguy’s polish, and while each song is distinctive, it still serves as a decent indicator of what to expect. Still, the band’s sound ranges considerably. The following “Goddess of Rain” is more melodic and ballad-esque in a Stratovarius manner, while never losing its edge, bolstered by some killer high screams from vocalist Franck Ghirardi. Conversely, the title track and album standout “Precipice to Hell” both channel Blind Guardian with a side of Týr. “Precipice” is also preceded by “Forevermore,” a brisk ballad that gives the album a short breather, which is mostly worth noting because of how rarely I see that work. Finally, penultimate track “Resistance” is incredibly strong, shifting deftly between mournful and defiant, and features a highly compelling medley in the back half of its long bridge.
Naturally, there are a few questionable decisions in play, in addition to the aforementioned editing issues. “The Cherokee,” despite highly engaging musical construction, is severely marred by exactly the kinds of lyrical problems you can expect from that title2 as well as another too-long intro. It’s at least all drums this time. Further, album closer “Stainless” is overly showy and almost featherweight with heavily overuse of sustained single chords in the back half; as a result, the album closes somewhat weakly. Moving it to earlier in the record and/or giving it more muscle might have been a good call, but cutting it entirely tightens the runtime; either way, “Resistance” should have closed this out.
The production, leaving aside the editing issues, is solid enough, if a bit plasticky. Interestingly, the call was made to vary the guitar tones across the album, serving to further highlight the distinctions between each track and to highlight the engaging riffcraft. The drumming is more perfunctory, unfortunately, but is at least punchy, resting high in the mix just below the vocals. One of the Stonecast‘s best assets, however, is Ghirardi’s soaring high baritone, offering powerful belting and high screams aplenty, while still dialing things back capably where a softer delivery is needed, as on the intro of “Resistance.” The biggest complaint I have on the technical side of things is the master, as even without polling a meter I could tell this was around DR6 at best. Everything sounds unpleasantly squashed, to the record’s detriment, and a better master is the only real solution.
I Earther is not a triumphant masterpiece of power-influenced heavy metal, but what is these days? It is, however, a damn good time, and worth a spin or three. The thing has hooks for days, though, so don’t expect to escape it quickly if you check it out.