The course followed by Dylan Carlson and his various cohorts in his band Earth over the last twenty years has been far from linear. The band, once of heavy droning metal and a certain heavy mystique of the early nineties, fell dormant in the latter part of that decade and in the early 2000s as Carlson combated drug addiction and illness. Returning in 2005 with “Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method” and 2008’s “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull” the evolving sound of Earth has ultimately lead to calmer, more pastoral vistas. Last year’s “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I” showcased this new looser, partially improvised vibe with this follow-up record taking on the baton.
The cello of Lori Goldston and the low, almost gentle droning subtlety of Carlson’s guitar are the focus of this record backed by the undulating drums of Carlson’s spouse Adrienne Davies and the intuitive bass of Kurt Blau. Whereas once the listener was pummelled by aggressive, distorted monoliths of droning repetition now the music is more plaintive, incorporating shades of folk and jazz. A simple yet deceptively inventive album opens up slowly beginning with the shimmery, ringing notes on brief opener ‘Sigil of Brass’.
The time spent listening to the English folk revivalists of the sixties and early seventies obviously rubbed off on Carlson and is evident on the hushed lysergic clarity of ‘His Teeth Did Brightly Shine’. Over-dubbed, wobbly vibrato guitar rides atop the incessant finger plucked basslines provided by Blau and the panning chords of Carlson and his layers of guitar overdubs. Percussion and scraped cello return on ‘Multiplicity of Doors’ exposing the album to overcast skies and graver tones. Slightly over-long given the reduction in detail from ‘His Teeth Did Brightly Shine’ the track is the most obviously improvised as it spends time searching for the right interlocking instrumental platform before letting Goldston’s cello come to the fore.
The album never threatens to break out of its slow-burning narcotic headspace; variation comes through fluctuations in tone and the stylistic flourishes which encompass jazz percussion and the folk tinged guitar and cello. On ‘The Corascene Dog’ there are even a few guitar lines redolent of a slowed down Morricone spaghetti western theme. The only time Earth threaten to revive the power of old is on lengthy closer ‘The Rakehell’. There’s lively cosmic guitar and swinging drums that duly build and build and it’s where Carlson truly takes to the forefront placing guitar against guitar creating a mesmeric ending to an intriguing record.
Where do they go from here then? “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I and II” taken as a whole reflect the maturity of Earth’s talisman. The strength to overcome adversity and the welcoming lack of ego shown here combined with simply growing older are contributing factors to Earth’s current raison d’etre. Noticeably it is grunge’s satellite influences and alternative antecedents like Earth and The Melvins that have endured continuing to write, record and perform sheltered from the hyperbole and trends of the music press and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t expect more music of the quiet quality of “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light” for many years to come.