Review & Track Premiere: Plainride, Life on Ares

plainride life on ares

[Click play above to listen to ‘El Coyote’ from Plainride’s Life on Ares. Album is out Sept. 21 on Ripple Music.]

One doesn’t want to generalize — exceptions to rules and whatnot — but basically, if you’ve got a record with a song called “Battletoads” on it, that’s probably something I want to hear. The 8-bit NES reference is but one manifestation of German heavy rockers Plainride‘s affinity for ’90s-era vibing. Their second album, Life on Ares, arrives some three years after their debut, Return of the Jackalope (review here), the Cologne four-piece effectively press (and hold) the reset button on their approach to recording, keeping a more studio-minded feel rather than tracking live and so on. That can be heard in the massive roll that ensues in “El Coyote” after the intro “A Fiery Demise (Prologue)” and the turn to jazzy jabs that follows from there. On every level, the 10-track/43-minute Life on Ares is a more detailed, more nuanced outing, and as it will no doubt be many listeners’ first time hearing the band as it’s also their debut on Ripple Music (which also reissued Return of the Jackalope last year), the first impression it makes is one of hard-hitting pro-sounding heavy rock and roll.

The deep-toned fuzz and gruff vocals of Max Rebel are out in front of songs like the aforementioned “Battletoads” and the penultimate “Thunder and Awe” in such a fashion as to remind of Ripple veterans Gozu and all the more so with the rhythmic propulsion in Rebel and Fabe “van Fuzz” Klein‘s riffing, the bass of Leo “Lionhatch” Beringer and new drummer Flo “The Brave” Schlenker, while the mellow and bluesy “Blood on the Crown” recalls quiet Clutch moments like “The Regulator” with its soft guitar shimmer and washes of cymbal. Context goes a long way, though, in seeing Plainride begin to distinguish themselves from their influences — the once-unbridled raucousness of Truckfighters is a factor as well, as it was their last time out — and Plainride set themselves apart via barnburners like “Seven of Spades” with a gallop à la a catchier High on Fire if not Motörhead directly, and the apparent side B opener “Wormhole Society,” with its howling solo in the second half.

Life on Ares has two songs that top seven minutes, “El Coyote” (7:05) and “Bite Back” (7:04), and both feature on side A. Along with the introduction titled “A Fiery Demise” and the quick-running “Seven of Spades” and “Battletoads” also included, the five-song first half of the album develops a varied personality that becomes crucial to its effectiveness overall. Their seeming ability to change it up is evident through the shift from one song to the next, and in the case of “El Coyote” and “Bite Back” specifically, from one part to the next, but as “Bite Back” shows perhaps most of all, Plainride are dutiful and mindful of keeping a flow to the progression of their material. Neither track sounds artificially extended in a let’s-write-a-long-song kind of way. That may well have been the intent, but even if so, the resulting feel is no less natural than anything else they conjure throughout.

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And the placement of “Battletoads” between the longer pieces is important in acting as a preview for side B’s dug-in feel, some more straightforward rockers, but still high-energy and well composed. As they move from one song to the next, Plainride seem to shoulder-check the listener off-balance, but never actually hard enough to knock them down, i.e., take them out of the overarching fluidity of one song into the next. It’s a bumpy ride, but it’s supposed to be a bumpy ride, and the band’s pursuit of riffly glories leads them to exciting and upbeat crafting and deft turns like those in “Bite Back” as it moves to its wah-laced apex solo in its final minute, scorching its way to a cold finish ahead of the start of “Wormhole Society” and the album’s remaining back end, which one might be tempted to see as where the foursome really get down to business if they hadn’t already worked so hard to establish so much in terms of sound, impact, professionalism and character, not to mention theme or imagery, yet another layer of detail to be found is right in the name of the record, which is subtitled Life on Ares: Thrilling Tales from a Strange Planet.

I’ll give you “thrilling” fair enough. The second part — the bit about “strange planet” — may or may not be accurate. That is, I’m not sure if Ares even has a Texas that would suit “Texas Labyrinth,” the tense verses of which open to a winding melodic hook. It’s possible Ares — named for the Greek god of war; the Roman equivalent is Mars — is intended to be an alternate name for Earth, which most definitely does have a Texas, and that the Strange Planet in question is in fact this one. The alternate-earth theory holds water,  but it’s still somewhat unclear. It matters less as “Texas Labyrinth” drops to quiet guitar resonance and a transitional drone to the start of “Blood on the Crown,” which begins with spacious plucked notes before unfolding a build that remains understated and blues-based, but is weighted in its groove just the same, lead guitar and keys showing up later on in order to push it over the top. It works, is the bottom line. They roll on toward and through “Thunder and Awe” toward the comfortably-paced closer “Anaximander (And the Riddle of Origin),” Rebel holding out a gravely shout just past the 90-second mark while the band rises to meet him en route to a midsection setting up the instrumental finish, an effects-soaked lead giving way to a surprising touch of psychedelia before the thrust resumes to end out.

They’re obviously having a good time, and the songs show diligent efforts to convey that, but Plainride are also just as obviously interested in developing their style. There’s nary a cryptozoological aspect to be found on Life on Ares, and while it would’ve been entirely possible for them to bring back the jackalope that seemed so destined to become their mascot, the decision not to feels very much like a conscious choice. So be it. Three years ago, they were a different band — in the case of who’s drumming, literally so — and instead of focusing on the past, they’re very clearly looking ahead to what this lineup can accomplish, and they see to it their listener does the same. There was potential in the debut, and there’s potential writ large throughout Life on Ares as well, and Plainride seem to be gearing up to realize that with energy and volume levels high.

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One Response to “Review & Track Premiere: Plainride, Life on Ares

  1. […] New single ‘El Coyote’ is released on 24th August, stream and share it exclusively here – http://theobelisk.net/obelisk/2018/08/22/plainride-life-on-ares-review-stream/ […]

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