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Album Review: Earth – “Angels of Darkness”

This is a reprint from Little Advances, thanks Denton!

Dylan Carlson is not a selfish bandleader. For the second album in a row, the avant-metal icon has ceded a hefty portion of the spotlight to an instrument other than his own. Carlson’s thick, glacial guitar lines were the focal point of the early Earth, stretched out over epic song lengths and frequently rolled out without much accompaniment. When Carlson reformed the band in 2005 after a nine year hiatus, re-imagining the project as a creeping doppelganger of Western soundtracks and Dirty Three post-rock, he ditched the metal but kept most of the minimalism. There were changes in the foundation, though.   The band expanded its palate on 2008′s The Bees Made Honey In the Lion’s Skull with the major addition of Steve Moore’s organ.  The spine of the band still consisted of Carlson’s guitar and Adrienne Davies’ patient drumming, but the organ brightened everything up.  Moore’s contributions were the most emotive parts of that album.

Prior to Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1,  Earth’s lineup shifted again.  Moore is gone, but his role has been more than adequately filled by Lori Goldston on cello.  Actually, that’s an understatement – the addition of Goldston to Earth 2.0 is absolutely crucial and has taken the reborn band to new heights.  Angels might not be as groundbreaking as Earth 2, but it’s the best product to come out of the band’s second run.

Goldston’s cello is mournful where Moore’s organ was bright, and it brings out the foreboding undercurrent that has remained present in the band’s work even after they ceased to resemble doom-metal or any related sub-genre. Carlson once again allows a side player to do the expressive heavy lifting, with the cello often sounding achingly close to snapping while the guitar lines remain slow and deliberate.  At other times Goldston sounds like she’s shadowing Carlson’s guitar, reverberating around his spare notes and adding heft even though this still isn’t “heavy” music.

It wouldn’t make too much sense to get into a track by track breakdown of the album, because it’s best digested as a whole.  This is the rare hour long album that feels about 20 minutes shorter than it actually is, a welcome surprise after Bees, an album that could occasionally drag.  This is an immersive listen through and through.

As much as I appreciate Carlson’s willingness to tinker with the formula, I would love to see this current incarnation of Earth stick around for awhile.  They’ve got such a unique chemistry that it would be a shame if this album and the incoming Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 2 (set for release later this year) end up as the only recordings from this lineup. I guess you never know, though – the next version could very well be as revelatory as the current one.