Earthly Delights is a crispy bit of scorched carbon off a wood-fired grill set at six-hunnerd degrees. But what will the fans think of it? It's been four years since Hypermagic Mountain was released, and the interim has produced scores of rabid fans anxious for more Lightning Bolt. Sure, there were side projects like Black Pus, Wizardzz, and Barkley's Barnyard Critters, but as amazing as they are divorced from the looming shadow of LB, they acted more like diversions to most fans. It also didn't particularly help that Lightning Bolt largely avoided touring the U.S. during this time, nor did it help that we were teased with the much-anticipated, but never-released improv album that has apparently since been scrapped.
In this context, it makes sense that fans are looking for Earthly Delights to blow their minds more than any previous album did. But that's a tall order indeed. In fact, it's almost necessary to put down any attempt to rank this album against earlier Lightning Bolt albums. It's more entertaining as a fan to play the role of a listener who is experiencing the concentrated tumult of Lightning Bolt for the first time. With this approach, it might even be possible to make a fairer appraisal of the whole affair without spending too much time waxing nostalgic about the way we felt when Wonderful Rainbow came out.
However, a calculated assessment is not really necessary. With all due aplomb and vigor, Earthly Delights arrives like an irradiated hot dog stuffed with amorphous flash juice, wielding daggers of impenetrable alien metals. (This is a good thing.) Drummer Brian Chippendale and bassist Brian Gibson channel the Fort Thunder mischief, Providence experimentation, and design school aesthetics into 51 minutes of frenetic energy that's predictably explosive but with an added clarity not found on their previous releases. It's almost as if there is more space inside each track, the whole thing plodding along on quick centaur hooves. And with the proficient playing and the spaced-out, hired-gun feel of the bass notes, the slightly sparser and rounder tonality builds unlikely bridges into metal and country, boogaloo and blues.
Indeed, the new approach creates wiggle room. In the past, Gibson's bass seemed to spit out nine-million notes a second, but here it sometimes even sounds like a guitar from Tres Hombres. "Colossus," one of the longer tracks at 6:09, is a doomy and grinding riff affair that perfectly illustrates this subtle but noticeable change in tone. On the other hand, "The Sublime Freak" possesses more of the spazzed-processed bass cheez that slices wet and absolutely squeals. For a truly new experience? Try "Funny Farm," which seems like the Brians' first attempt at square dance calls, with honky tonk riffing and all. It almost seems silly at this point to once again underscore Chippendales' masterful drumming, which remains, as expected, ferocious and superhuman.
The variety here is noteworthy for a band working in such a defined aesthetic. The slower-paced interludes, such as "Rain on Lake I'm Swimming In," are some of the prettiest (yes, prettiest) Lightning Bolt songs to date, while the contrasting moods on this album range from dark and foreboding to fast-paced and racing. Trust me, if you listen faithfully for a week, you will be able to recognize the songs just as quickly as you might already recognize "Thirteen Monsters," "Vile House," or "Two Towers." But it shouldn't take me to convince you -- Earthly Delights asserts itself. Like Bosch's triptych, the album is vivid and dense, clear as a bell but hellacious, and undeniably worth your inscrutable attention.
1. Sound Guardians
2. Nation of Boar
4. The Sublime Freak
5. Flooded Chamber
6. Funny Farm
7. Rain on Lake I’m Swimming In