As a pure sonic experience, there's little out there right now that can match a Lightning Bolt album, and the unrelenting drum-and-bass attack of their latest should be enough to induce spasms of pleasure even for those well versed in music of the noisy and confrontational variety. Unrestrained by any need for old-fashioned devices like guitars, choruses, melody, or intelligible vocals, Lightning Bolt's sound is a gloriously destructive and primal blend of avant-garde craziness, head-spinning technical proficiency, and overwhelming fury, and Earthly Delights is quite probably their most ambitious release to date. At times it's fast, complex, and heavy enough to make heads spin (if not outright explode), but it always manages to sound spontaneous and inspired rather than joyless or mechanical. Earthly Delights is the sound of a band pushing its limits and having fun doing it, making even such classic earlier releases as Ride The Skies and Wonderful Rainbow sound like mere warm-ups for the awe-inspiring madness on display here.
While its sheer intensity would be enough to make Earthly Delights an entertaining album, it's the dazzling musicianship and seemingly telepathic connection between the band's two members that makes it a great one. Brian Chippendale's speed and endurance in annihilating his drum kit border on superhuman, with his performance on some tracks sounding more like an extended solo than mere backing rhythm work. For his part, Brian Gibson`s bass gets more mileage out of four strings than most guitarists could get out of six, favoring reverberating, elastic riffs and bouts of piercing feedback over the metronomic thumping that so often characterizes the instrument. The vocals are sparse and processed to the point of gibberish, only serving to further the psycho-nightmare vibe created by the dizzying interaction of drums and bass. The end result is a dense, chaotic brew whose unpredictable twists and turns can take some getting used to but eventually prove to be addictive in the extreme.
While the sonic mayhem of their previous efforts was certainly nothing to sneeze at, tracks like the opening double shot of Sound Guardians and Nation of Boar serve convincing notice that the band really mean business this time out, with their periods of blindingly fast, punishingly heavy flailing only briefly interrupted by some spacier interludes and backed by a steady, insistent throb that's bottom-heavy and loud enough to blow off car doors if not played carefully. Even better are the occasional variations that see the band venturing into newer territories without compromising the customary raw power and tricky playing that have always formed the basis of their sound. Colossus is the first real curveball to be found, starting out with a subdued tribal rumble and hallucinogenic vocal mantras that wouldn't sound out of place on a Bordedoms album before launching without warning into a musical pyrotechnics display that's pure LB, led by some of the most intricate drum work they've turned in yet. And in perhaps the album's best example of the playful streak that can show up even in LB's most maniacal moments, Sublime Freak sounds like surf music on steroids, with Gibson's big, fuzzed-out leads riding infectiously atop his bandmate's rollicking drum patterns.
If there's one criticism to be made of Earthly Delights, it's that it sags a bit in its midsection--the screeching noisefest Flooded Chamber and the occasionally twangy foot-stomper Funny Farm are merely good, and Rain on Lake I'm In is basically a glorified interlude--but the guys come back in a big way for the album's conclusion. S.O.S is a blistering slab of thrashing metallic insanity that had me banging my head so hard it almost flew off on my first hearing, but it turns out this and the rest of the first eight tracks were just setting the stage for Transmissionary, which marks a perfect summation of everything that makes LB such a fascinating and compelling act. I thought the final track of the last Mastodon album had secured the honor of my favorite twelve-minute-plus album closer of 2009, but that was before I heard this one. It's a mountainous, expansive epic that's definitely in keeping with LB's signature sound but still not quite like anything else they've ever done, segueing effortlessly from its frenetic opening to a bruising, primordial midsection where even the slightest shift in tempo or tone takes on devastating effect. Such is the fearsome power of this song that I cranked it up to max volume on my iPod the other day and it was so loud it made my chest hurt, but I still wouldn't turn it down.
Those who have heard Lightning Bolt prior to this album should already know to pick it up, and for newbies it should provide as good an introduction as any to one of the most reliable sources of exciting and distinctive outsider music working these days. These guys have been working almost entirely under the radar throughout their career and seem to like it that way, but those opposed to predictability and banality in their music would be well advised to check them out.