Style: Stoner Rock
Release Date: 24 May 2019
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The line-up of Earth, famously named for the original name of Black Sabbath, has varied considerably over the years, reaching five people on occasion but never, until now, dropping down to a duo. That's Dylan Carlson, the founder of the band and consistent leader throughout, with Adrienne Davis on drums, as she's been since the band reformed in 2001. Like any drone band, they're an acquired taste but they're more accessible than most and I've become fond of 2005's Hex and its follow-up, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull.
This 2019 album, their ninth, doesn't grab me as much, but it's an enjoyable album for those into this sort of thing, with Carlson's guitar taking off on slow flights of fantasy and Davis maintaining a surprisingly light grounding underneath it on her drums. It must have been a constant temptation for her to cut loose and speed up the tempo but she steadfastly remains restrained all the way through.
Without any apparent commercial concerns, Earth almost deliberately make it hard for the uninitiated to get a grip on this album by kicking it off with a twelve minute track, Datura's Crimson Veils, almost like a challenge. You don't like this? Then you won't like the album. Make it through intact and there's another fifty minutes for you to enjoy.
The problem is that, while this track is capable enough, it doesn't do what it needs to do in my opinion to justify that track length. Sure, Davis does some interesting things with her cymbals but it quickly feels long and that isn't a good feeling to have at the start of an album. It's the third track, Cats on the Briar, where accessible nuances show up and this sounds like the Earth I enjoyed in the mid-eighties, albeit in even more stripped down form.
It's here that the album gets really interesting. The Colour of Poison mixes it up even more, almost playfully pausing guitar notes and runs for a minute or so until it finds a riff it likes and then runs with that until it wants to go back to playful pauses. Descending Belladonna highlights that Carlson isn't only playing guitar here; he's also providing bass, which is welcome for its presence at last. Davis brings in some interesting sounds, surely a combination of woodblocks and bells, and there's a glorious echoing sound I adore that really elevates the song.
That's three winners in a row, all running five minutes plus. The fantastic Earth that I remember is certainly here and, As always, the best way to let them in is to switch out the lights, turn up the volume and let this music take you somewhere, whether you're under the influence of illegal narcotics or not. I like the groove to be found in the eleven minute She Rides an Air of Malevolence but, if you don't find a trance state quick enough, it's not going to seem to end.
My other favourite here is Maiden's Catafalque, which at under three minutes is insanely short for Earth. Short it may be but it's an acutely inquisitive piece, a feel that's to be found elsewhere on this album but not in such a concentrated form. Davis has teetered on the edge of jazz throughout but she crosses the line here, I think, albeit in as restrained a fashion as she's been all the way through.
As perhaps Earth's most stripped down album thus far, this is certainly not for the uninitiated. Start out with Hex and work forward in time. If you're still listening by this point, then you're a fan and you're more than able to appreciate the slow and minimalistic sound with all its various nuances. If you're already a fan, this will still seem minimalistic to you, but it'll sound good to start with and still grow on you with every listen.