Release Date: Sep 2, 2014
Record label: Southern Lord Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Post-Rock, Heavy Metal, Post-Metal
The way you feel the creep of winter in the beginning of fall, the night sky in the darkling day, and the death’s-head in the selfie, you can hear the locked-talon grind of inevitability in Earth’s doom. It’s all over nowThe Devil’s got you downIt’s all over nowThere’s no need to come downIt’s all over nowThe Devil’s got youIt’s all over now Primitive and Deadly’s not quite as grim as the above lyrics suggest (you read right; there is singing on this album). The passage comes from 11-minute centerpiece “From the Zodiacal Daylight,” delivered in a hypnotizing wail by Rabia Shaheen Qazi (Rose Windows).
Since guitarist Dylan Carlson re-formed Earth in 2003, the one constant has been endless exploration. From the exploded desert-like Americana atmospheres of Hex: Or Printing the Infernal Method right through the Angels of Darkness: Demons of Light series with their string players, Carlson and his collaborators have regarded tone, texture, dynamic, and space as elastic elements rife for inquiry. Through it all, Earth have retained a signature: their sound remains instantly identifiable.
Always the same, always different. The late John Peel’s summary of The Fall could just as easily be employed to describe Earth. For a quarter of a century, the Seattle-based outfit, with guitarist Dylan Carlson as its sole constant, have built a singular body of work dedicated to one common theme.
“I kind of joke about Primitive and Deadly being a mid-life crisis record, me returning to my misspent metal youth. ” Earth’s founder and chief songwriter, Dylan Carlson, may seem flippant about metal in the preceding (out-of-context) quote taken from a recent interview with Metal Hammer, but even though Carlson has been primarily inspired by the dusty drawl of Americana and the quaintness of British folk in recent years, he still acknowledges that metal runs deep in his blood. Indeed, as Carlson alludes, Earth’s new album is his most “metal” release in a long time—certainly the heaviest since 1996’s Pentastar: In the Style of Demons, the follow-up the (literally) groundbreaking Earth 2: Special Low-Frequency Version (1993).
Having given birth to the drone metal genre with the minimalism of their very early works, before embarking upon a career that’s seen the band variously adopting rock, country, folk and progressive rock influences – all while maintaining their distinctive cyclical songwriting approach, mind – Earth have certainly never stayed still, artistically speaking. All the same, Primitive And Deadly is something of a surprise, even for those who’ve kept a close eye on the band over the past two-and-a-half decades. It sees the group finally – and unexpectedly – plug their distortion pedals back in, instantly placing them within a more overt metal context.
No band can defy the weight of expectation quite as spectacularly as Earth. Since Dylan Carlson’s triumphantly melodic return after a nine-year hiatus with 2005's Hex, one can never quite be sure what to expect when pressing that play button on a new Earth recording for the first time - yet every time it’s calmly stunned. Every note emanating from the colossus of this latest incarnation is imbued with insurmountable feeling, total and utter restraint, and the strangest and strongest possible beauty.
From the primordial beginnings of the band, Earth’s music has always moved at a glacial pace. Their songs, such as they are, possess an unusual ability to make time appear to be standing still. Earth however has been slowly evolving at about the same pace of most of Dylan Carlson’s hypnotic riffs. To date, there has been two fairly distinct periods in Earth’s growth as a band: The monolithic metal beginnings (Earth 2 and Pentastar, for example), and the country drone era (Hex and The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull, for example).
No matter what phase of Earth you’re considering, be it the enormous and electrostatic drones of the band’s earliest and heaviest days or the swaddled blues elegance of their post-millennial reboot, there’s one simple and unifying link: Dylan Carlson is a paragon of guitar control. On Earth 2, he wielded his instrument and amplifiers with a powerful precision, creating sounds that weren’t only big but also topographically rich; you could study the curves and crags of his sound as if you were reading a three-dimensional map of the Cascade Range. When Carlson rebuilt Earth as an instrumental rock band a decade ago, he used his guitar to cut a filigree of exquisite riffs through the bedrock of Adrienne Davies’ patient drumming.
Drone doom heavies Earth have inopportunely released a new record of ambling, circuitous feedback riffs while metal fans are still lost in the depths of Pallbearer's Foundations Of Burden. How are we supposed to make room for From The Zodiacal Light when we still have those other tunes stuck in our heads? But the band can hardly be blamed for poor timing. Riffs are riffs, and there are plenty of riffs to go around, and around, and around.
The first incarnation of Earth, Dylan Carlson’s long-running means of self-expression, took the grunge of its Pacific Northwest brethren and slowed it way, WAY down, creating a new mode of droning doom in the process. The band’s new millennial work, however, has largely eschewed distortion and metal trappings for a trippier, cleaner, more Southwestern vibe that’s led to new heights of artistic success. Apparently, however, Carlson, stalwart drummer Adrienne Davies and bassist Bill Herzog have taken the twanging drone as far as it can go, reverting back to waves of heavy riffola on Primitive and Deadly.
Earth and Yob are both trios from the Pacific Northwest led by middle-aged men with some kind of attachment to the riffs and textures of early metal, a preference for slow tempos and some implicit understanding of songs as life-forms, with all the action at the deep center. Which is to say that ….
After spending the best part of a decade seemingly pursuing a single idea and a single goal, at a single pace, how does the music of Earth MK II remain so captivating? Ever since guitarist Dylan Carlson revived his drone-metal project as a full band in 2005, its output has worked strictly within self-imposed limitations: precise, economical guitar phrases played at a crawling pace, underpinned by the commendably reserved drumming of Adrienne Davis and sparingly fleshed out with the textures of Carlson's fancy. I'd argue the answer lies in the Earth model's basic receptiveness to change. From the La Monte Young/Slayer symbiosis of Earth's first incarnation through to the ambient Americana of Hex and the opiate psych-crawl of The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull, Carlson has remained adept at reinvigorating his musical constancies through subtle assimilation of influence and the introduction of strong thematic modes with new each release.
Like nature itself, Earth's glacial sludge rock awes even when it's bleak and uncomfortable. Takes discipline to grind and drone at such a tectonic pace, giving painstakingly sustained notes open space to disintegrate. The veteran Olympia, Wash., unit's 10th studio LP renders guitarist Dylan Carlson's riffage as a singular, all-encompassing force. "There Is a Serpent Coming" boasts a blues-derived vocal from Screaming Tree Mark Lanegan.