Contrary to common misperception, metal-heads tend to be the nicest dudes in any given music scene, and Eric Eiden, guitarist for local outfit Ninth Moon Black, is no exception. He’s just a super pleasant guy, humble and smart, quick with a laugh.
Of course, as I sit down with Eiden over drinks at Wandering Goat to discuss the band’s blistering new album, Amaranthine, I confess that — as a guy who cut his teeth on Iron Maiden and Judas Priest — I have no idea how to classify this music, what with all the burgeoning doom-crust-grind-death rock subgenres. It’s a bit embarrassing. Is he even metal?
Eiden shrugs. He tells me Ninth Moon Black has been described as “post-rock,” but he seems fairly noncommittal about it all. Later in the conversation, when I ask Eiden what he’s been listening to lately, he tells me, with a smile, “lots of country music.”
Labels be damned. I’m pretty sure that when Wagner or Mozart handed over a new composition, the conductor didn’t say, “Hey, that’s some good classical, buddy.” And, yes, the classical reference is deliberate, because NMB, an instrumental band, is in the business of orchestrating vast movements of music, creating archipelagos of soaring rock that are as layered, complex and tidal as a symphony piece.
Amaranthine — the band’s fourth album, and their first since 2012 — is a phantasmagoric journey through ambient landscapes of psychedelia and crunch, full of thundering valleys and arpeggiated peaks, and its non-verbal narrative drive is irresistible. Sprinkled with audio samples of Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel The Road, the album is as cohesive as it is emotionally staggering. If, indeed, there is a difference between mesmerizing and riveting, Amaranthine is somehow both.
Such solid power and sophistication is befitting a veteran band that formed more than ten years back. The current lineup also includes Erin Gruwell (guitar), Atom Bouris (guitar), Dana Lowry (bass) and Michael Aliotti (drums).
Clued in by the snippets of McCarthy’s novel about a father and son seeking safety in a post-apocalyptic landscape, I ask Eiden about what seem, to me, to be the album’s obvious themes. “Less the apocalyptic part and more the sense of hope in the face of hopelessness,” he says, pushing back a bit — and a good description of the almost cinematic fury the album evokes, equal parts tragedy and beleaguered triumph.
Amaranthine was recorded over a fairly long stretch of time — somewhere around four years — at Eugene’s Gung Ho Studio. Billy Barnett was the engineer on the project, and Eiden gives big props to the high quality of the production. Indeed, the record bucks the modern trend of over-compression, opting instead for an expansiveness that allows the music to breathe, blossoming open in three dimensions. The record sounds amazing.
“We record live,” Eiden says. “We wanted to do it that way. You can feel it. We’re definitely a live band.”
We talk some about the exotic seductions of instrumental rock, which challenges the audience to meet the music halfway in the creation of emotional meanings; minus the carnival barker of a singer leading you through the maze, music without vocals — though perhaps challenging for some — offers a swooning sense of liberation. The soundtrack is yours for the taking.
“We have a strange way of being able to hold people there,” Eiden says of NMB’s live shows.
For the upcoming live CD release show June 2 at WOW Hall, Ninth Moon Black will play Amaranthine straight through, front to back. It’s a rare opportunity to hear this album as the juggernaut it is — nearly half a decade of work condensed into an hour-long symphony of stereophonic brilliance. — Rick Levin
Ninth Moon Black celebrates its CD release (available June 1 online at NMB’s Bandcamp page) with Cetacean, Broken Dead and Mike Scheidt (YOB) 9 pm Saturday, June 2, at WOW Hall; $10 adv., $12 door.