The Blaze and the Bloom: Explosions in the Sky’s The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place and its Integral Duality

"The earth is not a cold dead place because you are breathing, because you are listening." With this seemingly simple, but ultimately complex statement, Explosions in the Sky took on the weighty responsibility of proving to us the existence of beauty not just beyond sadness, but intrinsically interweaved with it.

There are precious few moments in life when you can feel a fundamental shift in who you are as a person. For many, associating music with such a weighty concept is unimaginable, but for those who are deeply affected by this medium it is an essential truth that defines the human experience.

I have always been in love with music. I never went through a “kid phase” where I listened to New Kids On The Block or whatever other flavor of the times my classmates were listening to in the ‘90s. One of my earliest musical memories involves saving my allowance to buy The Real Thing by Faith No More when I was nine. The passion never yielded from that point forward, but there was a stretch of time when all I can recall are a lot of metal bands – Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer and Sepultura ruled my high school years. However, there came a time when I found myself desperate for something that mixed unabashed rocking with raw, honest emotion that I could identify with. This was the dawning of the tastes that would follow me into adulthood, a blissful period during which I discovered At The Drive In, Coheed and Cambria, Mineral, Cursive and many, many more vibrantly unique artists. Oftentimes though, I found myself thinking that while a great singer could truly elevate a band, an average one was inevitably more of an obstruction to whatever potentially-great music was happening behind them. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was already searching for a very specific sound that I didn’t yet realize existed.

My first brush with Explosions in the Sky came when I purchased Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever blindly from the wonderful, now-defunct Phoenix Records in Waterbury, Connecticut. I had listened to bands like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor previously, but admittedly wasn’t quite ready for what they were bringing to the table yet. However, Explosions in the Sky took instrumental music and made it instantly, deliriously palatable to a 20-year-old in 2001. Those Who Tell The Truth… was the first post-rock album I truly connected with, and it set me on a path I am still travelling today. However, at the time it was still an outlier of American alternative rock – something highly intriguing that couldn’t quite be labelled “a thing” yet. Then, two years later, on November 4th, 2003, The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place emerged and the landscape of my musical tastes changed forever.

The music itself is no longer in need of analysis. The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place is a much-lauded landmark that has largely defined post-rock going forward in both America and the world over. It has been featured on well-regarded television shows like Friday Night Lights and no doubt found its way onto countless exposed-heart mix CD’s and well-curated wedding playlists. It has transcended the niche status of the genre in ways that few other albums have, and secured Explosions in the Sky a rare status that few post-rock bands have ever come near tasting, landing them regular appearances at major festivals all over the globe. The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place is as close to being a cultural item as anything could be without becoming a household name. In America, being a band without a singer always comes with a certain level of anonymity, but ultimately that does not detract from the overall artistic weight where this record is concerned.

“The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place helped me recognize the importance of life’s dualities and how they are essential in combination with one another. Life and death, sadness and hope, calm and crescendo, not simply co-existing in the same space, but rather coming together to form a singular concept – none capable of being perceived fully without the presence of the others.” 

I spent an entire semester-and-a-half commuting to grad school listening to this album. It took me from Fall through to the following Summer, and I experienced fully how instrumental music could have something to say about this entire cycle, whether intentionally or not. The lack of lyrical content allows for a malleability that can form to each individual listener’s frame of mind. The album has meant so many different things to me at different times in my life. I can’t be clear enough about this: The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place changed the fundamental aesthetic of the man that I am. It calmed my soul, taught me to appreciate beauty and to understand the value in all of my ever-shifting emotions. It helped me recognize the importance of life’s dualities and how they are essential in combination with one another. Life and death, sadness and hope, calm and crescendo, not simply co-existing in the same space, but rather coming together to form a singular concept – none capable of being perceived fully without the presence of the others. It is possible that no artist has crystallized this idea as well as Explosions in the Sky did on this album, and this is at least in part why the post-rock genre surged forward so strongly in the aftermath of its release. In the subsequent years the genre has threatened to burn itself to the ground on a number of occasions only to blossom again with some new faces and fresh perspectives, not dissimilar to the forest pictured in the album’s liner notes.

The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place Album Cover
The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place Album Cover

The album title itself hints at this integral duality. If it weren’t easy to perceive the world as a cold, dead place, it would not be necessary to convince people otherwise. With this seemingly simple, but ultimately complex statement, Explosions in the Sky took on the weighty responsibility of proving to us the existence of beauty not just beyond sadness, but intrinsically interweaved with it. The repetition of the phrase throughout the album’s artwork, juxtaposed with mirrored images of the forest in full bloom on one side and burning to the ground on the other, suggests that this is a concept that demands consistent reminder if we are to understand and ultimately find peace with the world. In fact, the vinyl edition adds an epithet, extending the phrasing to read “The earth is not a cold dead place because you are breathing, because you are listening.” This could well be the most quintessential summary of modern post-rock one could conceive.  

Through five tracks the band flawlessly fuses sadness and hopefulness into something striking in both its beauty and its singularity. For many it was a breath of the freshest air – exactly the sound they had been searching for (often without knowing it until they came face to face), so it is no wonder or coincidence that the following years saw an opening of the floodgates for instrumental bands seeking to express themselves through a similar aesthetic. I have recounted my experience with this album, but I thought it also important to probe into the recollections of some of those artists and others entrenched in the modern post-rock scene, to gather a fuller account of how The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place has draped its rich tapestry over the entire musical world and made a functional, tangible impact. Some of these stories can be explored below:

Daniel Miller, Tides of Man (Tampa, FL):

I think The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place might have been the first example of instrumental music that really spoke to me. It had all the atmosphere that I liked about some other records at the time but it also possessed a sense of weight and meaning that I couldn’t find in other music, even though there were no words. More so than any other album, it opened my mind to the idea that a band can write great music without a vocalist.

“The beauty of the songs on this album is not in complexity or showmanship, but the blending of simple guitar melodies and rhythmic drums that make for a completely original sound.” 

Travis Brooks, Old Solar (Raleigh, NC):

Explosions In The Sky’s The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place has been and continues to be one of the most genre-defining albums in post-rock and is a standard by which other albums are held. Thanks to mass exposure from soundtracks like Friday Night Lights, EITS’s sound became definitive to many unfamiliar with post-rock. They’re a band that most have at least heard of and often times when trying to describe the genre, they’ve been my main reference point. This album in particular encapsulated their sound in a beautiful way. You just knew immediately who and what you were listening to when someone played that album. And that is truly something special.

My wife walked down the aisle to “Your Hand in Mine” if that says anything about this album’s influence on my life. Why has this record been such a staple in post-rock and brought on a myriad of bands that have tried to imitate its sound? First, this album created a formula similar to the way the Beatles wrote songs in the verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus pattern. I think the stereotype of loud/soft post-rock songs largely came from this album. Second, the classical elements that the band incorporated on this album are timeless. The marching snare that you hear on pretty much every post-rock album: they did it first. The major chord, ¾ time waltz: they did it first. The reverb-drenched Fender amps and single coil lead melodies, yep, it’s theirs too. The beauty of the songs on this album is not in complexity or showmanship, but the blending of simple guitar melodies and rhythmic drums that make for a completely original sound. And quite frankly, these songs are genre-defining because they are extremely well written.

I still remember the first time I heard The Earth is Not A Cold Dead Place. I was in a college dorm room in 2003 and I literally stopped in my tracks. It was incredible. I had never heard anything like it. It’s one of the first post-rock records I ever listened to, but perhaps the most important thing this album has done for me is to define a sound that I had been searching for that I never knew existed. Before hearing this record, bands that had post-rock elements had always resonated with me, but The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place was enlightening and showed me that I had barely scratched the surface of understanding the potential influence that music could have on me.

“How an album with no words in this era moved and connected with so many people is astonishing and shows the craftsmanship and thought put into it; almost single-handedly introducing instrumental rock music to people.”

Samuel Laubscher, Of The Vine (Atlanta, GA):

The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place is such a definitive album within instrumental rock. With the most tasteful pairing of long-form composition with clean Fender tones and stereo-aware tremolo picking, it created a sound that was unique and to this day it stands as a cornerstone record for the genre. Where other post-rock is often formulaic, TEINACDP follows developing and moving arcs whose melodies alone engage the listener emotionally. How an album with no words in this era moved and connected with so many people is astonishing and shows the craftsmanship and thought put into it; almost single-handedly introducing instrumental rock music to people. Personally, this album carried me through many difficult times and I give it almost all the credit for my pursuing a career in lyric-less music.

Brian Morgante, Deadhorse; Flesh and Bone Design (Erie, PA):

In 2005 I was a wide-eyed 18-year-old that had just graduated high school and was out on my first “real tour” with my first “real band” – The Sensory. We were terrible metalcore that fit right into the mix of those times, but it was something we were proud of and it held an exciting and mysterious future. This tour would be my first ever exposure to Explosions In The Sky.

We were traveling down the East Coast, and thanks to Myspace we were going to be meeting up with some new friends in a band called A Girl A Gun A Ghost based out of North Carolina. We were scheduled to play a string of shows with them for about a week of the tour.

As soon as we had some face to face time with our new friends, I quickly hit it off with the lead singer – Jon McClay. Jon and I immediately created a special bond and were bound for a great friendship right out of the gate. Amazing that 10 years later we still stay in touch, all thanks to booking some metalcore shows on Myspace.

On one of our long drives Jon and I were having a lengthy discussion about music that was important to us, had gotten us to where we were in life to that point, etc. We shared iPod playlists, popped burnt CDs into the stereo of our 15 passenger van, and tried to explain the sounds of bands we didn’t have at our immediate disposal. We were both learning and sharing a lot and it was exciting for both of us to take in as much music as we could handle.

During this discussion Jon asked me if I was familiar with a “weird instrumental band” known as Explosions In The Sky. At this point I wasn’t really all that familiar with the concept of instrumental music. I had been a punk rock kid through and through. I grew up listening to skate punk, and eventually got into hardcore, metalcore, music that was always more “aggressive” in nature. A year or two before meeting Jon, I had started to dip my toes into other genres as well, getting familiar with some of the bigger names in the indie and emo scenes. I usually found something within every genre to enjoy, but this instrumental thing was foreign territory. With the exception of playing a show with a band called Down Down Berlin in Lancaster, PA the year before, it was just something I never really thought to dive into.

Later that day, we stopped at a record store before the show. We had some time to kill and were able dig around every corner of the store. At one point Jon came up behind me and handed me a CD. 

“Buy this, you will not regret it, and it will change your life.” he said.

I purchased the CD, and when we got back into the van to resume the drive I put it into my Walkman and jumped in the back so I could focus on the music. I was immediately captivated. I had been growing bored with so much of the music that I listened to, so much of what I was raised on. There was always something missing – an emotion, a thought, a feeling, an atmosphere. I could never put my finger on it, but in that moment I felt like I was home. I felt like a person would the first time they laid eyes on the love of their life. It was like I had discovered a buried treasure by accident. This was going to change my world.

I listened to The Earth is Not A Cold Dead Place over and over and over again. It sustained me throughout the rest of that tour and really kicked off a huge shift for me.  It’s wild how something as simple as an album can truly be a catalyst to change areas of your life that bleed into others.

My thirst was not quenched with just this album, though. As soon as I could I started digging further. Explosions led me to other bands like Sigur Ros, Mogwai, Caspian and more. As I entered my early 20’s, I kept searching more and more in these directions – post-rock and ambient music literally changed my life.

The Sensory didn’t last very long, and many other bands happened after that. I started touring as a merch guy with other artists as well. Throughout my travels I would try to find as much post-rock music as I possibly could, and it continued to be the soundtrack to my adventures, the inspiration to my creations, and the music that truly moved me.

In 2010, I was 23 and about to put all of my chips on the table for one last forward push with music. I started a band called Deadhorse. I wanted to create the music that had started to inspire me so many years ago. It was finally the right time to make this happen and truly create the atmospheres that I desired.  My nose to the grindstone, things started barreling forward, and the rest was history.

We burned bright, and fast. There were a multitude of tours over a 3-year period, traveling all across the United States and playing in 22 countries in Europe. We sold and shipped albums and merch to people in more than 60 countries all around the globe, and were able to share our sounds with people of all nationalities, colors, religions and creeds. I still write Deadhorse music to this day – creating soundscapes, ambient soundtracks, and dynamic post-rock songs even though my touring days may be over. This music and these ideas still burn so bright in my soul, and I hope I have more to share for many years to come.

When you sit down and really think about why you do the things you do, you can usually trace it all back to the tiniest nuances on a day like any other day in your life. Who could have expected that a new friend handing me a CD in a random record store would literally put the gears in motion to change my life forever? 

The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place is still an album that is incredibly important to me.  It’s something I listen to and enjoy just as much as those first listens in the back of a crammed tour van. It was the first album I bought on vinyl when I decided to start a record collection years later. It’s a record I still share with friends and loved ones, and have created memories to for years.

It may sound cheesy, but being able to jump into this whole world of beautiful music, and experience the emotions it brought out of me, it was truly like a “First Breath After Coma” – to feel like you’re listening to what you’ve always wanted to hear, not knowing that it actually existed previously, unaware that you would be filled with such joy and inspiration. 

I owe a lot to this specific album, and I feel it will be something I continue to enjoy through all of my years. It’s the type of record that carries weight and will be passed down through generations, not just by me, but by so many others that have felt the same stirrings that I have with these beautiful sounds.

Bruce Malley, Pray For Sound (Tygnsboro, MA):

I remember the first night I heard Explosions in the Sky. I was playing a show with my band at the time, Save August. We were an acoustic-y emo four piece, and Joe Aylward, now the bassist of Pray for Sound was the singer/bassist.  We played a house show and one of the bands covered “Greet Death”. I was instantly hooked and complimented the guys after their set on writing such a sick song. They explained it was a cover by an instrumental band called Explosions in the Sky…

I ended up picking up Those Who Tell The Truth… and The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place shortly after and loved every note of both.

The first time I saw them live was at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA. Tickets sold out almost instantly but I was gifted 4 tickets by my dad, who knew I loved them.  Easily one of the best shows I’ve been to. Got there super early and had a spot right up against the stage. [Writer’s note: I am fairly certain that I attended the same show at the Middle East that Bruce is referring to here. If so, I can attest that it was one of the best live performances I’ve ever witnessed, made even more memorable by The Middle East’s legendary sound and acoustics. This show was the first time I can recall ever simply closing my eyes and absorbing the music, which is an action I have repeated many times since.]

The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place made me want to play instrumental music. It made me appreciate emotional music so much more and taught me that a good song doesn’t need to be overly technical.

I love so many songs, but there aren’t many out there that I consider to be perfect – ”Your Hand in Mine” is one of them. It’s absolutely beautiful. It flows from part to part and the guitars work SO nicely together.

“Without them we wouldn’t have approached music the same way since they were the catalyst for what we wanted to develop into something that was our own.”

Christian Francisco, Wander (Oakland, CA):

The first album we heard from Explosions was The Rescue in 2008. I was a sophomore in high school when we got into post-rock. Ryan, our drummer and Wander’s main composer, was only 13 at the time. Another guitarist in a jazz band turned me on to them. The people who would eventually become members of Wander would share live videos of Explosions In The Sky, Sigur Ros, Toe and World’s End Girlfriend. We heard about Mono because Munaf (Rayani, guitarist for EITS) was wearing their “You Die” tee with the drawing of a gun. We would eventually see Mono live and they became a huge inspiration for our early sound. (Funny side anecdote: I met one of my best friends from a YouTube comment thread I started in one of those live videos and now he has a Wander tattoo and I’m going to be officiating his wedding).

My dad bought me a Stratocaster clone when I was 10. I didn’t save up to get a new one until I heard EITS. I remember the first thing I did after I bought my first guitar was blast “Six Days At The Bottom Of The Ocean” and pretend to play along to it. It perplexed me how they were able to interweave melodies, to build and release tension. “Six Days” specifically was Wander’s favorite because of how dark it felt. I remember around this time I decided I wanted to be a musician. I wanted to make something new and push the envelope of sound and expand upon what was already there. I wanted to inspire and stir up emotions in a way similar to how I was moved. After listening to The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place and Sigur Ros’ Takk, I wrote the song “Mourning”. I was 16. We wouldn’t get a chance to release that song until 6 years later, but it played a huge role for us moving forward. Sonically we wanted to take the build ups from Mono, Godspeed, 65daysofstatic and mix them with the drumming from Japanese bands Toe, Mouse on the Keys, and Te, while aesthetically we borrowed from Explosions’ “indie/alternative” image.

I feel like they were a gateway band that introduced us to a lot of other artists that inspired us. They were also the reason why we ended up straying away from listening to a lot of new post-rock bands. We believed a lot of them sounded too much like Explosions In The Sky, which was the antithesis of why we got into the genre in the first place. It was supposed to be fringe music that pushed that envelope, but with more bands sounding the same I feel like their popularity sometimes made it the opposite. Since Ryan is my brother we would work out ideas together in our bedroom. We were very vocal about what we wanted musically. We definitely wanted to stray away from Explosions’ sound. We acknowledge that without them we wouldn’t have approached music the same way since they were the catalyst for what we wanted to develop into something that was our own.

We eventually met Explosions in the Sky in 2011. They played the Fox Theater in Oakland and my best friend bought all of us tickets. We got there early and were in the very front. During their set I remember thinking “This is why people give applause. Not out of courtesy but this real, primal urge to express their joy.” This is going to sound really cheesy but I don’t think I’d ever given applause like that until then. I’d never really meant it until that moment. I caught myself holding my breath during “Yasmin the Light.”

I really don’t think I have ever seen a better show since. Towards the end of the show Munaf was hitting his tambourine until the pieces broke off. He then threw the tiny cymbals into the audience and I managed to catch one. After their set I threw a Waking Wander CD of our single “Shell Shock/Rushes Through my Veins” onstage while the sound crew was cleaning up. I stuck around for a while and then the band came back onstage to pick up their guitar pedals. I yelled “Munaf!! The CD!!” He picked it up and said “Thanks man!” then came down from the barricades to talk to us and introduced us to the rest of the band. I forgot the specifics of what I told him, it must have been along the lines of a combination of bewilderment and that they were our biggest musical inspiration. A small group of teens were chanting “Sign the pig!” while holding a piggy bank in the air. After one of the members of Explosions signed it one of the teens yelled out “HE SIGNED THE PIG!” and they all started chanting “USA! USA! USA!” That’s what I remember seeing before walking off with a grinning, surreal, dazed look on my face.

My friend took the little tambourine piece I caught at the show and turned it into a necklace. I wore it to every Wander show for three years until it was eventually lost at one of the venues. I used to enroll Wander into different Battle of the Bands competitions from 2009 to 2012. We won 5 of them in a row in different cities in Northern California. The only song we’d play was “Mourning.” The local paper wrote an article on us. In that you could see a picture of me wearing that the EITS tambourine piece necklace. It’s funny how there are little details like that we’ll typically never know about other people, so I’m glad I had the opportunity to tell this story.

Joseph James, willnotfade.com (Karori, New Zealand):

My breakthrough [to EITS] was found on Trademe.com – the New Zealand equivalent to Ebay. I couldn’t buy Maybeshewill albums online because I was too young to own a credit card. Besides, with the price of postage and currency conversion I doubt I could have afforded to anyway. So I set up a search for second hand Maybeshewill items.

To my surprise, someone was actually selling Not For Want Of Trying as part of a bulk deal. I felt that New Zealand was so cut off from the rest of the music world that I would never have had any luck otherwise, so it was rather exciting to finally get hold of some of this elusive music that I was searching for.

Along with the Maybeshewill CD, the bulk deal included albums by Russian Circles, Mouth Of The Architect, Jakob and Explosions In The Sky. That’s about as good an introduction to the world of post-rock as I could have asked for. It covered a wide range of artists: local, foreign, heavy, electro and dreamy.

The EITS album was The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place, with the incredibly stark album art showing the title written over and over by hand. Inside near the liner notes a lush forest grows on one side, while it burns down on the other side. It’s bleak, but I sense that the overall album is about hope coming from despair.

The music struck me as incredibly relaxing. It was perfect for listening to while reading a book and winding down before bed. The music was not nearly as energetic or heavy as the other artists in my modest collection, but part of the allure was that it offered a glimpse into the other end of the spectrum. The tracks were long and took their time to build up into intense, crashing crescendos, before dropping back into a dreamy stupor.

EITS actually played in Wellington a few years later. I was so excited for my first international post-rock gig. But alas, a few weeks before the show I was promoted to a higher position at work and the training involved working the night of the show. I reluctantly gave the ticket to one of my friends instead.

In years since it has seemed that the internet has broken down the walls that made New Zealand seem so musically isolated. Now it just takes a few clicks of a button to access almost any release by any band in the world. I’ve seen international post-rock heavyweights like Russian Circles, This Will Destroy You and Mogwai, and even run a music blog with a heavy focus on post-rock. But I still feel like I missed out on a golden opportunity by failing to see Explosions in the Sky when they came to town…

Jan Platek, We Deserve This (Velbert, Germany):

The first post-rock band I loved was Mogwai, as their walls of sound without any words really impressed me. Shortly after that The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place was released. I’d read about the release in a famous German magazine called Visions. They mentioned that this could be something for fans of Mogwai and Slint, so I ordered the record immediately without having heard a single note of it. A couple of days later the CD arrived. I was first impressed by the simple artwork. But when I pressed play I was simply overwhelmed by the beauty of this recording. The song “Your Hand In Mine” is still one of my all-time favorite Post Rock songs. The melancholy and sadness combined with beautiful melodies and a breathtaking climax (the drums!!) changed my view on instrumental music. Years later they played a concert in Cologne, Germany and I was able to get there with a very good friend. We were both blown away. So much energy, it was perfect. I will never forget that concert. EITS will always have a place in my heart. It’s passion, it’s love. 

“The -less is more- ethos I see at the core of their aural identity is a component we still keep in mind when we write. They presented an interpretation of minimalist arpeggiation so whole and emotional in its execution that the idea of something more complex seemed tawdry by comparison.”

Christopher Stewart, Rhone (Chicago, IL):

Ten years ago, post-rock swept me in its current. The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place remains the definitive port of origin in my long love affair with the genre. 

The first time I heard “The Only Moment We Were Alone” I was driving alone through the cornfields of Indiana on my way to Chicago. I was hearing good things about Explosions through peripheral channels, so I put one of their songs on a mixtape I made for the long drive. It was late summer and the sun was going away when the track sidled through my speakers. 

I remember an enormity and depth I had never known coupled with the feeling of foreign territory, like mountains from a National Geographic that I wanted to visit. It was romantic and triumphant and heartbreaking and haunting all at the same time. Somehow this barebones rock band conveyed more emotion through their instruments than most music relying on a singer ever could. I bought the album immediately when I got to Chicago and devoured it.

After years spent steeped in punk, I was suddenly engrossed in the world of instrumental rock. Inspired by Explosions, I continued exploring the genre and started my first post-rock project the next year when I was 19. It was relieving to no longer feel constrained by lyrics or traditional verse/chorus song structures. 

When we started Rhone a few years ago we were interested in capturing moods in a similar vein to Explosions. The “less is more” ethos I see at the core of their aural identity is a component we still keep in mind when we write. They presented an interpretation of minimalist arpeggiation so whole and emotional in its execution that the idea of something more complex seemed tawdry by comparison. In particular, we take a lot of influence from the “big” parts on The Earth Is… – we like our “big” parts to be similarly crushing while remaining slow and highly melodic. 

To me, The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place is the album by which all other post-rock efforts are measured, and it remains forever in my regular rotation. My favorite time to listen to this album is late at night, riding the train through the city. The rest of the world melts away, and I get the feeling that everything is going to work out. 

Leif Eliasson, Oh Hiroshima (Orebro, Sweden):

I remember when I first heard the album; a friend and I were talking about new discoveries and he told me to check out this band called Explosions in the Sky. He specifically told me to check out their newest album, The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place.

I downloaded the album (I know, I know) and gave it an initial listen. The first thing that hit me was the sound of the guitars; the pure, sparkling sound that has become synonymous with their music today. It almost felt like love at first sight. I had never heard anything similar before. “The Only Moment We Were Alone” followed, and I was blown away by the way the members played off one another. Then I started to feel that first build-up, eagerly waiting for the ‘explosion’. It didn’t disappoint. But it calms down and progresses into yet another build-up, this time to an even greater crescendo where everything is in perfect harmony. It’s like pure euphoria, and instantly became my favorite song of the album.

After that I was hooked. It was an album that I had on repeat for what feels like forever. There was always something new you could discover within their songs; it didn’t matter if you were on your first listen, your tenth, or your thirtieth. They managed to keep their songs interesting, something which is quite hard to do in longer post-rock songs.

Nowadays I don’t play it as much as I used to, but it’s an album that I always ultimately come back to, and the feeling that I had when I first listened to it is still there. That is something truly special.

Also, as a disclaimer, I own the album now!

Jordan Patrick, Coastlands (Portland, OR):

My first impression of The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place was when I heard “Your Hand in Mine” on Friday Night Lights. It was everything I ever wanted to hear as far as music was concerned – it was so melodic and beautiful and it spoke to me so deeply and profoundly on so many levels. It was that song, and that album which inspired to me start creating similar music. I had come from playing in lots of heavier metal and hardcore bands and I was shocked to learn that so many people in those scenes had heard of EITS. I feel that post-rock has generally been very welcomed in many music circles and I meet plenty of people in post-rock bands who have a similar background in terms of coming from heavier, more “metal” backgrounds. When you get down to it, it’s not all that different instrumentally.

The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place has been a huge inspiration for me and the others in my band, and I will regularly hear influence from this record in my own playing and writing. I am so happy that I stumbled upon it some years ago. 100% timeless classic.

Peter Pires, Elusive Sound (Lisbon, Portugal):

I appreciate The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place more for how it made me feel than on its musical merit, yet that for me is equally important. This album was a safe haven from troubles even though it brought about explosions in my mind, every thought overpassing the other, lasting long enough to recall clearly what at other times were faded memories. Sometimes it induced longing and regret but more often it kind of flung open the curtains to a radiant sun and to living life even on the darkest of days. The title is really fitting, isn’t it?

Vincent Deluccio, “Friend and Benefactor of Post-Rock” (Portland, OR):

In 2008 I remember listening to The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place during a visit from a roommate’s buddy. He brought a burnt copy with the tracks scrambled. “Memorial” was the first to play, and when it finished I thought, “shit, I’ve been looking for this.”

I was living in Monterey, CA with dry ambitions and no life goals. I often turned to music to compliment the exuberant vastness of colors and beauty the bay and its colossal skyscrapers bring. My CD collection was comprised of soundtrack composers like Alan Silvestri and Michael Nyman, Sopranos such as Dawn Upshaw, classical collections from Bach and Mozart and fantasy nerd-dom like The Lord of the Rings trilogy soundtrack. I grew up around my dad’s diehard love for YES, a band recognized for an experimental virtuosity of electric rock instruments. Previously, every environment had its own appropriate genre of instrumental music and nothing collaborated together, until Explosions in the Sky changed that.

My friend burned me a copy and I listened to it for a month straight. I memorized every beat, mellowing moment, progressive build up, crash to silence, hearing everything through the new ears. I took it to the cliffs of Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz listening to the waves crash along the call of oystercatchers. I walked the streets of Nob Hill in San Francisco looking into the lights of the East Bay. The album worked with any environment regardless of song or sequence, it all just worked. A distinctive problem so much instrumental music has is its failure to pursue emotions that match particular moments, often becoming melodramatic or kitschy. The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place finds the warmth and comfort in every place at any time through balanced avante garde rock, something I never could find in one album previously.

“I used to have a really hard time expressing my feelings. This record was like a door, opening to a new way of expressing myself.”

Francisco Jose Giodano, El lenguaje como obstaculo (Buenos Aires, Argentina):

A door. As I put the record on, I can remember it clearly.

I can recall the exact moment this record struck me. I was a 16-year-old kid trying to figure things out, before realizing there’s nothing to figure out.

As I write this I realize once again the importance of these little moments, when you discover a record. A door.

I played this record for the first time in a country house a high school friend had invited us to. As the sun rose and the hangover kicked in, I spun The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place while playing ping-pong with a friend. Life was simpler then and therein lies the beauty of this record. It’s simple. Simple melodies, all glued together to form these epic rock songs.

I used to have a really hard time expressing my feelings. This record was like a door, opening to a new way of expressing myself; to be free in the space that it creates for the listener to float.

The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place Inside CD cover
The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place Inside CD cover

I’ll offer some final thoughts on The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place as best I can. I used to think that crying to music was only a byproduct of crushing sadness. Explosions in the Sky taught me that isn’t always the case; sometimes crying is just a release, a method of feeling – even if vicariously – and simple as it may sound, feelings are beautiful, integral things. If you can find such inspiration in music, make sure you never undervalue that opportunity.

I noticed while working on this piece that many contributors noted not having listened to the album in a while, and upon revisiting it they experienced a flood of warm nostalgia. While some may see the album’s placement on a back burner of sorts as a mild criticism, I actually see it as a hugely important indicator of the album’s truest value. The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place is a massive cornerstone for so many people, from which they followed a thread through to hundreds of other artists, or through which they became artists themselves, and it all connects back. The hallmark of an important work of art is its ability to inspire exploration from those who experience it. Regardless of the fluctuation of quality modern post-rock has experienced at certain points in its growth, the existence of that growth in the first place can be traced directly back to Explosions in the Sky. They undeniably helped create the very fabric of an art form that has torn down language barriers and touched countless numbers of people at every corner of the globe. As one contributor put it, listening to Explosions in the Sky is “like learning a new language,” one that has helped the world become a little smaller and united people under a common passion. If you can check that box on your musician’s resume, you will never again need to defend the value of your work.

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