Hex or Printing in the Infernal Method

  • Earth
  • Southern Lord
  • 2006-01-16

Earth these days occupy a curious position within the world of leftfield metal, having seen their sound aped and taken onto, realistically speaking, new levels as a consequence of Sunn O))), whilst largely only achieving themselves a witness status to the huge increase in the richness and diversity of metal as well as its popularity — let us say there’s been a awful lot of reverb since Earth first touched down in 1991.

Earth themselves, despite going through various changes in personnel over the last 10-15 years have remained vaguely auteur-like in the way they’ve gone about making their music. Through their style they’ve always retained a sort of DIY ‘fuck you’ quality to their sound, initially sounding very much unlike anything else and then later on down the line paying very little attention to anyone else’s sentiments as they delved and scraped at the bottom of detuned, low frequency cesspits. So it comes as a little bit of a surprise when I read the blurb on their fifth official studio album and come across the labels country/western and epic rock. Are they like doing different drugs now or something…? I could never really picture Dylan Carlson and the gang going out for appreciative strolls across the prairie unless that prairie led to a poppy field in Afghanistan. So yeah, Earth’s new sound is a long way from home. So where’s it coming from?

a sentimentality that is cold, hard and deeply isolated

The album sleeve to Earth’s new album Hex alternatively named Printing in the Infernal Method is designed by Stephen O’Malley and places it in relation to a definitive context of late nineteenth-century America — I’m guessing possibly the mid-west judging from the landscapes — with a series of black and white photos from the early civilisations of that period. We have pictures of Indians, Cowboys, cattle ranchers, the first industrialists and family portraits. Whether it is the down to the grainy black and white qualities of the photos or just coincidence, every one of these photos evokes a sentimentality that is cold, hard and deeply isolated. This sentiment, rooted in the beginnings of Americana is what forms the musical basis and mood for Earth’s ‘new’ sound. To give you a feel for it, you could say it’s a little like the score Neil Young put together for Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995), just a little less angular and more deeply distilled. Gone are the huge amounts of static, reverb and bottomless bass that Earth are so well known for, in are the telecaster, banjo and a more referential rock standing. So does it work? Well, yes and er no. By moving away from leftfield metal towards a more conservative rock sound Earth automatically move towards a more incestuous meta-textual world where there is more of an expectancy to explain themselves rather getting away from the “wot is this shit? Sounds fucked up… I like it!” quality they have to some of their music.

achieving the mantra like incantation on Americana that Carlson seems to be aspiring to

“Land Of Some Other Order” is the first real staple and kicks in with a loud evenly placed circular riff that waits patiently before being spliced together with a jagged guitar solo leaving the drums to gently push and pull the two guitars in and out. The main riff is full of authority and one could easily picture the song as a whole within a Western narrative, howling in the background to the death of an esteemed local man killed unjustly by a rogue outsider. Patience and authority within the compositional structures of earth song’s, primarily in their riffs, have always been Earth’s strongest features. Not only did Earth’s rifts give you an eternity for your ear to sink in, negated by the sonic wake of each note, you often sunk so deep that melodies that just shouldn’t have been there were suddenly there. And yep, you encouragingly knew at the same time this music was heavy shit. The majority of songs on Hex are more openly melodic and contain more accentuated solos, Carlson’s bending notes and we also getting verse-chorus-verse-like structures to some of the songs. Yet, ironically with the greater musical conflation a number of the songs on this album, it seem lightweight. I don’t mean this in regard to the absolute brevity of sound, which is intentionally different and lighter, but in relation to the density of the music, for what we have on occasions is Earth moving towards a classic rock sound but still using these very simple and drawn out riffs as utensils. The result is that we get songs such as “An Inquest Concerning Teeth” that flounder in a slow no-where land – not quite doom speed and lacking the intricacy of a subsequent post rock – before being broken up by a guitar solo not out of place on top of a cliff manicured by the hands of Bryan Adams. A little harsh, in light of Hex having generally received good press, but at times I really struggle to see where Earth are coming from and going to on this album.

“Raiford” just sounds that much deeper than the majority of other tracks.

The most successful points in the album seem to come when their source material, whilst still maintaining that country and western ambience, is closer to heavy metal. This is proven on “Raiford”, where finally a mud stomping riff dictates before pausing for a banjo driven interlude and returning even stronger. “Raiford” just sounds that much deeper than the majority of other tracks — the dynamics between feedback, tuning and speed of the guitars seems more natural and comfortable — achieving the mantra like incantation on Americana that Carlson seems to be aspiring to.

Hex/Printing in the Infernal Method affirms that Earth could no longer have carried on with the pure slow-core doom sound of previous years and yet despite the interesting direction towards traditional early American source material, it also illustrates that their not quite able to move away from it either.

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