In a double-headed beast of a tour alongside drone-lords Sunn O))), Earth came to London in support of their recent double-titled release Hex; or Printing In The Infernal Method. The sound the band offer on Hex is faily removed from previous Earth releases, however, it contains elements distinctly apparent throughout the band’s career. That career is a long one, spanning over fifteen years, and one containing multiple personnel shifts, all around the core of mainman Dylan Carlson.
minimal, broody and lengthy pieces
The band opened with the recent Hex material, showing the more melodic side to the band. The album has signalled a shift towards a more classic rock or country feel (matched by the group’s awesome array of facial hair – notably Carlson’s worthy handlebar) but by no means straightforwardly — that’s not how this band works. The songs are minimal, broody and lengthy pieces, much less ‘rock’ in fact than the band haved previously been — especially on Pentastar, In The Style of Demons. On record, the tracks are slow, and live this is taken to further extremes with the bpm cranked down just that extra special bit.
Although this most recent effort is a great album and some prefer its newer sound, most people’s thoughts of Earth rest with the early drone/doom work exemplified by genre initiator Earth 2, its predecessor Extra Capsular Extraction, follower Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions, and the noisy live album Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars. And being at what was obviously also a Sunn O))) gig, you could sense the exitement when Carlson told the crowd that now it was time for some old stuff.
‘S l o w’ is the new slow.
First came “Ouroboros Is Broken” off their first record Extra Capsular Extraction (Also known in the chronology as Earth 1) and it was a treat to hear. I don’t think anyone would have come to the show expecting to hear old material like this — Earth just aren’t a heavy drone-rock band anymore. The song wasn’t played like the minimal metal track it sed to be though, rather it was fed through the Hex filter, and transformed into a song with much more of a relationship wit the new work. Sure the bass was thunderingly huge but the guitars were toned at top-end treble, and only distorted half of the time — but it worked. The drum machine is now replaced by Adrienne Davis and the song’s updating was completed with the awesome addition of bottom-end trombone, yes, trombone! The meaty hint of brass was an effective boost, adding a theatrical doom-ness but with a distinct twist. Carlson’s penchant for repeating a riff into oblivion was played out here, the small changes then offering greater effect. And when the “” riff had served to its fullest, the band moved on to what for some, after it’s inclusion on the soundtrack to Nick Broomfield’s Kurt and Courtney, is the most famous repeating riff from the Earth canon, “Introduction”/”Coda Maostoso in F (flat) Minor” off Pentastar. This track had once again been given an updated treatment, the riff’s timing changed, fitting the looser, rootsier and more sparse feel of the new album and giving it a more meditative feel, but even more affectingly the track was played at about half the speed of its recorded original. ‘S l o w’ is the new slow.
“Raiford (The Felon Wind)”, probably the most fitting convergence of the band’s older and newer material
The band returned to more Hex material with which they finished their hour-long set with. One of the tracks played was “Raiford (The Felon Wind)”, probably the most fitting convergence of the band’s older and newer material — with the heavier drone-riff, the sparse texture, the country hint, and the extreme meditative, medicative quality. The album offers some beautiful reflections and they transposed to the live performance accordingly. Earth’s new direction is powerful in a different way to their dirgey drone metal origins but its a more mature and accomplished sound which still invites and draws the listener in in similar ways to before — but without most of the noise which turned non-fans off. Although many have a romantic and sentimental attachment to the more harrowing frequencies of the old Earth, the new incarnation is incredibly appealing and this show didn’t just highlight but proved beyond doubt how Carlson and his band still have the ability to be different and fascinating and just put on a good show.