Release Date: Feb 22, 2011
Genre(s): Experimental, Grunge, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Record label: Southern Lord Records
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The first crushing notes of Old Black emanate from some anonymous American frontier, dusty and unpredictable, striding on its terrain while wandering determinedly and focused. You get the sense that, throughout Earth’s Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light: 1, stories are being spun using the band’s instrumental language and economy of notes, traditional narratives normally told over a backdrop of folk music, blues and country. Dylan Carlson plays as if exiled in some very distant, unpopulated part of his imagination, a vagabond absorbed in his internal surroundings, uncertain of where the elusive horizon will lead.
With their reverb-drenched, melancholic guitars and somnolent rhythms, Dylan Carson's revived Earth always seemed the perfect audio accompaniment to a photographic journey through America's hinterland. But while the band's last release, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull, hymned sweeping expanses and giant skies, this, their sixth studio album, has a more claustrophobic, funereal feel – Robert Frank rather than Ansel Adams, perhaps. The addition of Lori Goldston's cello – her stringed hum a nod to Carson's drone-metal past – is the defining factor, bringing depth, substance and emotion to an already rich mix, particularly on the chilling and beautiful Father Midnight.
Named after Black Sabbath’s first incarnation, Earth once seemed to imagine what it would have been like if Ozzy’s band had ditched songs in favor of pure drone—admiring riffs as if they were lunar eclipses, rare phenomena of slow modulation. But since packing up its fuzz pedals a few years back, Earth no longer churns through thunderous, blackened resonances like a narcoleptic Tommy Iommi. Now there’s a twang and smolder to its sound, whammy bars smear honeyed licks into gold-leaf lattices, and the moniker has taken on a rootsy ring.
When Dylan Carlson resurrected Earth after a five-year break, he also reinvented their sound. Gone were the crushing, devastatingly slow, blown-out guitar and bass drones that essentially created the entire post-rock genre. The new Earth create a more atmospheric music with more arid soundscapes; they explore skeletal yet pronounced layered melodies inside their trademark drones, creating the aural equivalent of vast, utterly empty desert landscapes.
It says a lot about modern music that there are entire genres devoted to ‘slow’. For a time, rock music felt like a rollercoaster – it was as though, after centuries of climbing, music had finally reached the crest of a vast hill, and it spent nigh on three decades tumbling and crashing down, ever faster and ever wilder. And then came the slow but inevitable plateau, a smooth and long leftwards bank towards a new understanding of what rock music was and could be.
Apropos of their name, Dylan Carlson’s Earth have always made elemental music. On their full-length debut, Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version, the Seattle metal band set the template for the drone-doom sub-genre they would inspire by playing Black Sabbath riffs as if they were emanating from the planet’s very core. After their reemergence in 2005, the band established a new sound that explored space, riffing on the open skies of the American West.
Earth continue to trudge into beatific wilderness... Earth’s continued trudge into beatific wilderness sees Dylan Carlson return to territory traversed by the desolate windswept tundras of ‘Hex’, stripped of the rich organ and brass that made ‘The Bees Made Honey In The Lion‘s Skull’ so memorable. Yet while the stark minimalism of ‘Hex’ evoked a sense of doom and desolation, ‘Angels Of Darkness...’ has an innate warmth that defies its morbid track titles: Adrienne Davies’ jazz-inflected groove lifts ‘Father Midnight’ out of the morass, while the title track, a gently simmering drone underpinned by Lori Goldston’s weaving cello, resonates slowly into the distance for 20 glorious shivery minutes.
In 1991, Earth reinvented heavy metal. Extra-Capsular Extraction, the debut EP by the Washington state duo, made riffs slow, oppressive, and, perhaps most important, solitary. Suddenly, that clever little device rock bands had used to hook kids for decades was more than an accessory; it was the main event, and it was mean. "Ouroboros Is Broken", the 18-minute monster on the B-side, spewed its riff through distortion, baring claws over the industrial thwack of a drum machine before slowing down and stretching out toward forever.
Dylan Carlson hasn’t come to the point of dismissing the work he did as Earth in the ‘90s, but it’s obvious that he’s abandoned it. Earth fans still waiting for Carlson to kick on the distortion pedal are destined to remain disappointed; vaguely western psychedelic atmospherics are where his heart now lies, and he has no intention of going back to the doom ‘n drone that defined Earth’s early days and spawned veritable tribute bands like Sunn O))). Perhaps what appeals to his ear has simply grown softer with age; perhaps he doesn’t want to conjure memories of a descent into addiction.
Stripping away the superfluous excesses of music, (overly busy drums, bass work that never finds a solid groove, guitar licks just overburdened with too many notes), leaves one with the bare bones, a skeletal framework if you will, in which there is ample space to explore tone, harmonic textures and slowly expressed melodic forms. This is something Dylan Carlson and the bevy of musicians involved (albeit a revolving roster) with Earth have known for years, and they continue to demonstrate that knowledge on Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1. And, of course, Earth does it like no other.
Profoundly thoughtful music that’s moved on from drone metal beginnings. Chris Power 2011 Drone metal began in America’s Pacific Northwest with Earth, whose 1993 debut Earth 2 slowed Black Sabbath-style riffs down to a rumbling low-frequency crawl. Frontman Dylan Carlson broke up the band in the mid-90s, and Sunn 0))) formed as an Earth tribute act in 1998.
The Psychic Paramount Are you ready for “The Psychic Paramount II”? Have you checked your hydration, nerves, attention span? Been jumping rope, taking your Omega 3? This is instrumental power-trio prog-rock for those who never had time for Rush and find the Mars Volta a bridge to nowhere; it.
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