this review originally appeared in Thaumaturgy, a blog dedicated to new experimental and psychedelic music
Monday, March 07, 2005
Earth, Living In the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword
Recently, there's been an increasing number of acts that have discovered the fruitful strategy of cross-pollinating the awesome heaviness of amplified electric guitar with the transcendent stasis of drone minimalism. Ambient metal, art metal, crawl metal, drone metal, doom metal, stoner metalthe niche may not have a name that everyone can agree on yet, but already specific albums have been nominated for canonization: my own personal short-list would include Sleep's Dopesmoker, Skullflower's Exquisite Fucking Boredom, and all of the excellent Sunn O))) records. But no attempt to list the records that define this genre would be complete without reference to the back catalog of Earth.
Their second album in particular, Earth 2, is one that people look back on as the album that "did it first" when it comes to the creation of repetitive riffscapes of black-hole gravity. With a release date of 1993, this album has a substantial head-start on most of its imitators, and it's lost none of its glory or power in the intervening decade.
Over its lifespan, Earth's existed in various incarnations (even Kurt Cobain served as an early member), but guitarist Dylan Carlson is the common denominator. Carlson's still with us, but exactly how much interest he still has in the Earth project is difficult to assessthere hasn't been a "proper" Earth studio album since 1996's Pentastar : In the Style of Demons (rumors have Southern Lord releasing one at some point in the future). Although Living In the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword is new material, inspection of the liner notes reveals that one of these pieces ("Dissolution III") is a piece recorded for WNYU radio in September of 2002, and the other piece is a live set, recorded on the very same date as the radio session.
As far as a day's worth of work goes, Living is impressivethe live set (the album's title track) gives us our money's worth of tidally-ebbing-and-flowing guitar roar (with Adrienne Davies backing on drums). This piece clocks in at nearly an hour, which I think gives it the record for the longest track in the band's official discography (no mean feat), and it sticks close enough to the standard Earth playbook that most fans will be satisfied. Those coming to Living in the hopes of gaining a hint of "what's next" for Earth, some sign that Carlson has a game-plan for the future, may be disappointed, however: the album doesn't break much in the way of new ground, and it consequently feels like something of a placeholder, a disc put out not to make a statement, but rather to meet the demand for new material.
Once upon a time, each Earth release was notably distinct from the one that went before, a process which seems to have culminated in Pentastar's provocative failure. Since then, Earth has released nothing but a handful of live albums and demos, which have impressive heft and gravity but which seem to have chosen formula over innovation. Enough of this and it begins to seem like Earth has become an Earth tribute band. That can be a great place to startlook at Sunn O))), who began there and then went on to do awesome thingsbut it would be an ignoble way to end.
On Troubleman's MegaBlade imprint.