“While recovering, I didn’t want to stress myself out, so we didn’t rehearse as much. Luckily when I write the music, I give the hard parts to everyone else!” Earthside’s choice between aiming for perfection and getting their second album out ASAP

(Image credit: Justin Burocki)

Almost a decade in the making, Earthside’s second album, Let The Truth Speak, finds the band in fine form. Yet the story of its creation and subsequent release has been peppered not just with world events, but personal battles. Singer/guitarist Jamie van Dyck and drummer Ben Shanbrom discuss how they rose to the challenges of creating a bold and healing cinematic sound that defies all expectation.

The best-laid plans of mice, men and progressive rock musicians can often go awry. When Prog speaks with Earthside, on the eve of their return to European stages at Euroblast in Germany and ProgPower in the Netherlands, they’re only a handful of weeks on from the news that singer/guitarist Jamie van Dyck had been diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Today, Jamie looks and sounds in good health and is less interested in bemoaning his lot than in enthusing about his band’s return to the festival circuit, and their absolutely colossal new album, Let The Truth Speak.

“We delivered the mastered album to the label in May, and then I got the testicular cancer diagnosis in September,” he notes with a shrug. “It’s all happened very fast. It was as simple as just removing the cancerous testicle, and if it had healed up well enough I could go to Europe as planned.

“It did make rehearsing and preparing feel very last minute and very rushed. While I was recovering, I didn’t want to stress myself out too much, so we didn’t rehearse nearly as much as I think we would’ve wanted to.” He grins broadly, clearly just happy to be back. “Luckily, when I write the music, I give the hard parts to everyone else!”

Released in October 2015, Earthside’s debut A Dream In Static was an instant hit with fans of modern, progressive heaviness. Van Dyck and his comrades clearly knew their way around a djent riff, but epics Mob Mentality and Skyline were anything but generic. With a gift for lavish arrangements and skilful genre blending, Earthside stood out as something special.

Van Dyck admits he was taken aback by the enthusiastic response to the first album, but that a few lingering frustrations with how it turned out had taught the band to be ruthless in pursuit of their loftiest musical ambitions.

Let The Truth Speak outstrips its predecessor on every level, veering from the snappy post-djent throwdown of Pattern Of Rebirth (featuring AJ Channer from Texan rap-metal crew Fire From The Gods) to the absurdly exciting prog-funk crossover sprawl of The Lesser Evil, which features soulful vocals from Larry Braggs, formerly of both The Temptations and Tower Of Power.

“Yeah, it is a much bigger album. Whether that was a wise choice or not, I don’t know! But it definitely played a role in why it took as long as it did,” says van Dyck with a laugh. “Also, how layered it is, how collaborative it is, and the scope of people involved in making this record: it was a quest to find some of these people, some that we didn’t know existed.

“But we got to a point of desperation where it had already been almost five years since we released A Dream In Static and we had barely any of the guest vocalists lined up.” 

They got it sorted in the end, it seems. Among the other notables chipping in on Let The Truth Speak are TesseracT frontman Daniel Tompkins, Canadian singer-songwriter Keturah and, brilliantly, former Georgia’s Got Talent contestant Gennady Tkachenko-Papizh, who sings alongside Tompkins on the indulgent grandiloquence of the title track.

“One of the advantages of being Facebook friends with progressive music fans is they know a lot of music, and they’re music lovers who love music and musicianship in general. They love great composers and they love great playing, so it’s not just limited to the progressive music genre.

“So I wrote this post asking for recommendations, and asked everyone to focus on people outside of the prog names we already know, and I got over a thousand comments. Some were just recommending themselves or their bandmates, but some of them were recommending people from far corners of the music industry, like Gennady.

“Somebody had seen him on ...Got Talent – we wouldn’t have known anything about that. Finding him completely gave an X-factor to a song that we thought was probably the best song on the record. We realised we could add that ingredient to it and it gave the song extra character and emotional weight.”

Whenever there was that decision point, ‘Do we get it closer to the way we want it, or do we just let it go?’ we chose to pursue the way we wanted things to be

Jamie van Dyck

Earthside are a generous lot. Let The Truth Speak is 78 minutes long and absolutely full of moments of audacious cross-pollination. They’re still a thunderous prog metal band at heart, but their second full-length has expanded their remit to include, well, just about anything that takes their collective fancy.

From The Lesser Evil’s startling foray into funk, to Denial’s Aria’s somnambulant trip-hop odyssey, Let The Truth Speak is what happens when great musicians stop giving a shit about the naysayers and aim as high as possible, and damn the consequences.

“People say, ‘You’re never gonna achieve perfection,’” says van Dyck. “Well, on the first record, when we could’ve got it closer to the way we wanted it, we didn’t take the opportunity. We didn’t want to feel that way again so this time we took eight years!

“Whenever there was that decision point, ‘Do we get it closer to the way we want it, or do we just let it go?’ we chose to pursue the way we wanted things to be. I actually think we’ve satisfied and satiated that compulsion now. We might’ve picked the wrong record to do it on! The follow-up to your debut is meant to be timely, from a strategic career standpoint, isn’t it?”

When Earthside’s grand musical plans finally came together, they still needed to find something to write lyrics about. Fortunately, the last eight years have been a rollercoaster ride for the entire world. As drummer Shanbrom notes, the introspective observations of A Dream In Static have evolved into an outward-looking concern for humankind and the planet.

There was a sense that, ‘Okay, we’re psychos and we know we’re psychos, but we know this has cleared the bar!’

Ben Shanbrom

“We still grapple with personal issues, but it seems there’s a much wider and more pervasive problem, a number of problems, that are working out on a global scale and that are so much bigger than ourselves,” he states. “I think that we can feel so insignificant in face of that, and it’s just crippling and paralysing.

“How do you live on with all this happening? How do you move forward? The first record was very much an ‘I’ record. It was looking inward. This is a ‘we’ record. It’s about humanity and the world around us.”

“The pandemic deepened that feeling,” adds van Dyck. “We’d already written most of the album by that point, but there were still some lyrics left to write. Maybe that’s why it still works as a 2023 album. Thank you, Covid, you made our album relevant! We wouldn’t change a thing!”

Having ’fessed up to being mildly dissatisfied with the way their debut album turned out, Earthside are all the more eager to confirm that they are deeply, profoundly happy with Let The Truth Speak, and rather proud of themselves for being mad enough to attempt such an overblown project in the first place.

“When we wrapped the album up, there was a sense that, ‘Okay, we’re fucking psychos and we know we’re psychos, but we know that this has cleared the bar!’” says Shanbrom. “Without any shadow of a doubt, we got it over the finish line to the degree of quality we wanted. On future recordings, we just want to have a more efficient process and to separate ourselves a bit from the mystique of the tortured artist!”

“We also have to trust that we can make something special without all this opulence,” adds van Dyck. “That grandness and largesse of sound are important parts of who we are and there are multiple ways to achieve that, but it’s not the only thing that we bring to the table.

“So we need to trust that we can create something meaningful without having to torture ourselves over eight years again! But right now, everything we do feels like a win. We’re just stoked to be here.”

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.