Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II
Posted In: Adrienne Davies, Brendan Moore, Dylan Carlson, Earth, Earth - Angels of Darkness Demons of Light II, Karl Blau, Lori Goldston, Southern Lord
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Back in 1991 when Earth first began releasing music as a band, a review of their music would’ve felt at home on the pages of Metal Maniacs. Now here we are in 2012 and a review of Earth’s new album feels at home on Fluid Radio. Most people mark the career of Earth by its two phases: the 1990s version saw them inventing the doom/drone metal genre that Sunn O))) continues to explore, and then there is the mid-2000s incarnation that saw them return as mellowed out blues-country explorers. What links both those phases is an interest in an interaction between player and instrument. This latest album sees Dylan Carlson and co continuing to explore minimal terrain, but in some ways Earth is still the heaviest band around.
A lot of things have changed in Earth’s sound over the years but little has changed in their approach. As Aphex Twin once said of Squarepusher: “A lot of musicians are interested in the sound of music; he is interested in the sound of sound”. The same could be said of Carlson’s work, or, really, of many musicians that use minimal electronics to create drone music. There is a parallel between Carlson’s works and, say, Gareth Hardwick’s ‘Sunday Afternoon’ in that both are interested in focusing the listener on really hearing a particular instrument, slowing down the music so that you can really hear the nuances. When Carlson arrived on the scene in 1989 Seattle he proclaimed the ‘sludge’ sound of The Melvins as a key influence. But by taking that sound to a whole other level and branding it as metal he created a whole new sub-genre of metal. And remember, he was doing this following a period when most prominent metal musicians were interested in getting faster. If you ever watch a video of Carlson play live you can tell he’s listening very closely to not just what he’s playing, but what his instrument is doing, be it an extra twang, a sporadic moment of feedback, etc.
Which brings us to the real question that most people ask themselves when comparing Earth phase 1 and Earth phase 2: Is this the same music just without the distortion? Certainly, Carlson seems to embrace the idea that people use the earlier releases as a guide to frame the current material. However, this really is an expansion of that earlier approach. On this record it feels like Carlson’s work is a guiding force across the album while other instruments serve to accent the swells of each riff or to provide the more drone aspects of the record. Opener “A Sigil of Brass” consists of guitar and little else. Cello and drums occasionally enter to lend a coda to the main riff.
“His Teeth Did Brightly Shine” finds a bluesy, psychedelic mode while palm-muted bass gives the piece stable bedrock to build on. Guitars are layered and offer experimental nuances, but still the riff is the center of the universe propelling everything else out from it. In true Earth fashion there is little movement in the compositions on the album, instead they rely on an almost meditative repetitiveness that insists the listener pay close attention, appreciating the attention to the details of an extra string bend, a strum.
On “Multiplicity of Doors (A Waltz)”, drums enter the album for the first time in a prominent way. Cello too drifts in and out of the mix offering menacing sharp notes and extended bowed phrases. Each note of the primary riff feels like a punch to the gut and this is one of those instances where old Earth is a useful to guide to see that this is a distortion pedal away from being the heaviest thing you’d hear all year.
“The Corascene Dog” finds the band in late night-jazz territory. Percussion is prominent on this one. There is a lose but dramatic style of drumming that Earth has embraced over recent years that makes Carlson’s riffs even punchier, but also lends the music a sort of restless quality. Again, Carlson has two channels of guitar coming at the listener: one providing a repetitive central riff, the other being more loose and having an almost psychedelic blues feel to it.
Song five “The Rakehell “ is the album closer. It’s a bluesy headnodder and again, that second layer of guitar is lending something new to the band’s sonic palette, it almost makes the album feel more ‘jam’-like; an odd thing to say about a band still noted for being a drone metal act. However, Carlson has noted that Earth finally feels like a concrete band, rather than a revolving door of valued collaborators.
“Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II” is an album that continues the pleasing evolution of these doom/drone purveyors. I’m reminded of early Queens of the Stone Age and certain Clutch records in its ability to nod in the direction of the blues music that inspired early metal. Not because it sounds like those artists but because it offers a simple record conceptually that still manages to hint at the players’ appreciation of those that came before them whilst also appreciating that those musicians did their best to create new and challenging music, thus so should you. The story of Earth’s evolution continues to be a most interesting and, thankfully, rewarding one.
- Brendan Moore @essentialyes for Fluid Radio