Wicked Earth’s (apparently) self-titled 2014 release is a retrospective acoustic album, comprised of twelve songs, some of which date back to the band’s pre-band roots, planted in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, circa 2002. A retrospective acoustic album that spans over ten years of original music? Now, that’s a stellar way to acquaint yourself with a new-to-you artist!
When you click “Play” and enter Wicked Earth’s world, the first track welcomes you home to something warm, comfortable, and familiar. ‘Meinzai’ is a rock song: strong lead guitar; raspy, bleeding vocals; and a steady beat that’ll get your legs pumping and your head pretty close to banging. Call it relatable, call it catchy, or call it whatever you will, it’s the kind of song you could see yourself very easily slipping in, here or there, on any well-rounded playlist.
Next up, the softer fretting and smoother choral quality of ‘Day Grows Dim’ seem a little unexpected, though not at all unwelcome. With an undeniably folky feel and firm threads of Americana, the song slowly reveals itself as what has to be Wicked Earth’s “anthem.” You just know it’s the song their fans belt out with them at live shows—the one where the audience joins in at the chorus, sings along, and sings like they mean it.
The myriad influences, interests, and ingredients listed above all rear their heads in the jams that follow, bobbing in an out of the track list like arcs in a sound wave. Moderately aggressive at times, incredibly progressive at others, the remainder of the album carries you up close and personal, to really meet Wicked Earth and get a feel for their music. Songs like ‘Storm’ and ‘El Medio’ stand out for their dexterity, both in terms of instrumentation and vocals, and others, like ‘Vamp’ and ‘Conversatan Blues’ are memorable for how they each, in their own special way, move—and linger with—the listener.
Amid the strings and skins, singer Michael Montani ties the tunes together with his rich vocals, which will resonate with just about anyone who’s listened to rock music over the past thirty years. The frontman’s voice faintly echoes the late Layne Staley… but, not the Layne Staley we all knew and loved—the Layne Staley that would’ve been, had he lived long enough to avoid being the brunt of so many ‘Man in the Box’ jokes. Mature, more seasoned, and less troubled and/or caustic.
Perhaps it is unfair, however, to refer to Montani as frontman. While his voice is central to Wicked Earth’s plot, it’s not the only thing at center stage. Also worthy of limelight attention are Robert N. Tarquinio’s mastery of multiple instruments, including, but not limited to, the guitar, and the driving rhythmic force of Vic Carter’s bass woven together with Shawn Houy’s percussion and drums.
Sit back, relax, and, if you’re new to Wicked Earth, prepare for what can best be described as good music. This album is definitely worth a listen.