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Earth

Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1

Rating: 2.9/5.0

Label: Southern Lord Records

It’s a minor miracle that it’s 2011 and Earth is still making music. Of all the bands to rise from the ashes of the Seattle grunge scene, guitarist Dylan Carlson and his troupe of drone doom instrumentalists seemed the least likely to endure. Nevermind (pun intended) the drug and legal problems that sidelined Carlson over the years; what seemed more likely to limit Earth’s creative lifespan was the expiration date seemingly stamped on the band’s sound. Pioneering as they were, with their lengthy, droning doomsday guitar riffs, Carlson and co. also sounded bound to a dark, limited atmosphere in a dark, limited age of music. Unsurprisingly, after Pentastar in 1996, the band fell off the musical map for nearly a decade.

And then they returned, evolved and renewed, with Hex in 2005 and The Bees that Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull in 2008, incorporating elements of country, folk and even jazz into their distinct metal sound. With this month’s Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1, the group attempts to write the next chapter in its underground legacy. It’s a chapter, perhaps unfortunately, that only those in the most somber of mindsets could enjoy in its entirety.

Angels is certainly the band’s most unobtrusive effort, void of the highs, lows and hooks that defined Earth’s early discography. During its best moments, the mostly restrained instrumentals are layered with experimental embellishments – Lori Goldston’s weepy cello contributions on “Hell’s Winter,” the barren echoes of “Father Midnight” – that give off a nightmarish spaghetti western vibe. The members of Earth are undoubtedly masters at serving up a vivid picture of the world at its most desolate and unwelcoming without uttering a single word.

Still, it makes for a difficult listen at times, and even though pieces of ambient music, psychedelia and even the occasional bluesy riff appear, the tonal transitions are immoderately subtle, too often giving Angels the atmospherics of a film score without a film. Sensory under-load is inevitable in parts, especially during the more crawling segments of the 20-plus minute closing title track. Because there’s little noticeable variation between tracks (with the exception of the mildly spirited “Descent to the Zenith,” which alone boasts something approaching a traditional, melodic arrangement), the album’s five songs seem to take a lot longer than 62 minutes to sludge through.

Of course, it’s also immediately evident that Earth accomplished exactly what it set out do, and despite the experimental label that will inevitably be attached to Angels, not a single slippery riff, sonic reverb or clanging cymbal sounds even remotely accidental: this is a band that’s capable of a bang but chose to whimper. The album is not for everyone, and it may take an inordinate amount of temperance and an appreciation for music at its dreariest to buy into it. If nothing else, kudos to Earth for still being around, still reinventing their sound, still being alive. Not too many years ago, all those things seemed impossible.

by Marcus David

Key Tracks: Father Midnight, Descent to Zenith

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