If Dylan Carlson ever tires of molasses-paced instrumental sludge, God help us all. Since 1993, when Earth released Earth 2, the Pacific Northwest-based group established themselves as the nation’s foremost atmospheric doom metal band, taking Black Sabbath’s sludgy riffs and stretching them out into the nether regions of space, letting the volume reach crushing apexes while each note rang out well into outer space. At the time, their closest peers were likely The Melvins, though even they played it a bit more straightforward than Carlson and Joe Preston ever did. Since then, the band has undergone lineup changes, a breakup, and several stylistic shifts, though one thing remains constant: Carlson’s glacial, brutally elegant guitar playing.
As Carlson and new drummer Adrienne Davies established on 2007’s Hibernaculum, Earth was not only alive and well, but taking on even more stylistic experimentation than before, creating a hypnotic, almost post-rock like effort. Its follow-up, The Bee Made Honey In the Lion’s Skull is being touted as having more of a psychedelic rock and gospel approach, though this is far from a classic rock `n’ roll sound by anyone’s definition. Joined by jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, Earth finds a graceful kind of grittiness in this new set, merging Hibernaculum‘s spaciousness with a greasy, soulful American ruggedness.
Still trudging along at a tortoise’s pace, Earth still manages to both rock and trip out heavily on The Bee, incorporating a heavy Hammond organ in the psychedelic journey “Miami Morning Coming Down II (Shine).” With “Engine of Ruin,” Davies begins with a more restrained tapping, though progresses soon enough (by Earth’s standards) into a slow snare clobber. Steve Moore’s piano opens the song elegantly, as Carlson begins to build his distorted guitar riffs into ascending pillars. It’s nothing if not majestic. “Omens and Portents II: Carrion Crow” takes its time progressing toward a melody, but when it finally gets there, there’s quite a payoff, Carlson’s awesome swathes of guitar billowing over Moore’s super-cool sounding Wurlitzer.
In some ways, The Bee Made Honey In the Lion’s Skull is the definitive Earth album. In others, it’s something completely outside the realm of what to expect from Dylan Carlson, but only if you haven’t been paying attention for the past few years. Earth is still heavy, still powerful, and still unwilling to play at pop music’s speed. By sticking to a few fundamental principles, Earth has followed its evolution into an exciting and stunning place.
Om – Pilgrimage
Harvey Milk – Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men
Godspeed! You Black Emperor – F# A# ∞
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.