Profoundly thoughtful music that’s moved on from drone metal beginnings.
Chris Power 2011-02-23
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. That band’s Stephen O’Malley is fond of noting that the sun revolves around the earth.
When Carlson reactivated Earth in the early-00s, the sound he had created was becoming a respected sub-genre. But Earth’s second iteration was also an evolution, completing the move away from the ascetic purity of the drone that had begun on 1996’s Pentastar: In the Style of Demons. 2005’s Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method, and the albums subsequent to it, have seen Earth become metal more by lineage than by deed: they still use power chords, but the dominant texture is now a post-rock Americana with a slight jazz trace. The two constants remain speed and scale: funereal in pace, Earth tracks move across vast landscapes like thunderheads.
Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I, Earth’s sixth studio album, sees a key change to the line-up, with Steve Moore’s organ and horn playing replaced by the cello of Lori Goldston (probably best known from Nirvana’s 1993 MTV Unplugged in New York set). Her plaintive playing gives the album a much more antique, maudlin sound than 2008’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, and on Hell’s Winter augments an already potently heavyweight sound with impressive bottom-end depth. It’s equally intrinsic on the album’s 20-minute long title-track, artfully skirting the ringing tones of Carlson’s guitar and fellow new recruit Karl Blau’s funk-inflected bass.
Elsewhere the small-hours sleaze of Iggy Pop’s Sister Midnight and elements of Bohren und der Club of Gore’s doomy jazz seep into Father Midnight, while the wisps of folk rock around Descent to the Zenith represent the closest Earth get – on this outing at least – to sunlit uplands.
The beauty and occasional menace of Angels of Darkness... is made all the more powerful by the control with which it’s constructed. The rigorous restraint of Adrienne Davies’ drumming underpins Carlson’s virtuosic guitar playing. Equally important as his ability, he has a fine sense of the delicate relationship between the hypnotic, the boring, and the precise moment at which to develop a phrase. Earth have left Zen-like drones behind, but they’re still making profoundly thoughtful music.