Aside from founder Dylan Carlson, drummer Adrienne Davies is the only member of Earth to play on each of the four studio albums the drone-metal syndicate has made since re-forming seven years ago as an elegant blues band. On last year’s Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1, she added an immediate, omnipresent grace. She swung softly during opener “Old Black”, commanding the music’s slow shifts with a righteous thump. And she carefully triggered album apex “Descent to the Zenith” with a light-footed march that served as the swivel for the rest of the band’s melodic swoops. For all the deserved talk of Carlson’s refinement and control as a guitarist, Davies was arguably his superior, guiding the quartet along with an unspoken, perfect resolve. Without her steady presence, one assumed, all of those light tones and slight menace might wash into blur, like watercolors escaping a drain.
It’s surprising if not discomfiting, then, that the second volume of Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light opens mostly without Davies. For the first 12 minutes, she resigns to almost auxiliary roles. On opener “Sigil of Brass”, Carlson explores elliptical snippets of a short guitar progression, a leader advancing with caution. Cellist Lori Goldston and bassist Karl Blau pick up his patterns, stretching the same sounds above and beneath his picking with long exhalations. But Davies plays only her cymbal, and barely, adding occasional clatters that seem mostly like reminders that she’s still behind the kit. She’s even less present on “His Teeth Did Brightly Shine”, the sort of slow, shimmering strut that she’s motored with Earth for the better part of a decade. Instead, Blau mostly thumbs the beat with his bass as Carlson teases out guitar-effects flotsam beneath the sidewinding lead line. Davies merely offers bits of shakers and shells, her percussion becoming an occasional footnote to its normal narrative thread.
Somehow, though, these tracks and their themes don’t wash away or turn into seismic smears that would have suited Earth back when “Kurt Kobain” was offering up guest vocals. Recorded during the same sessions that yielded volume one of this series, they show the strong skeleton, sans distraction. More importantly, they confirm the suspicion that the crew Carlson gathered for the Angels of Darkness recordings is the most sympathetic, versatile, and unselfish group he’s ever had. Without Davies, these first 12 minutes are some of the most muted in Earth’s catalog, showcasing a band comfortable not only with its quiet but also with how a listener can hear clearly from one side of the mix to the other (compared especially to the impenetrable stuff of two decades ago). This is the epitome of cool, quiet confidence.
But it isn’t lopsided growth, as Angels II isn’t simply the softer side of its predecessor. “The Corascene Dog” is gentle but glinting, with Carlson and Goldston trading sinister dialogue between their strings. And despite its classically suggestive title, “Waltz (A Multiplicity of Doors)” is actually one of the most abrasive looks yet at Earth 2.0. Goldston wrenches astringent wails from her cello, while Davies trades her generally quiet thunder for a heavier foot and a relentless tide of cymbals. Blau lets every note linger with a little extra emphasis, and Carlson tucks a web of foreboding guitar effects beneath the serrated guitar line. Earth saves the most revelatory moment for last. “The Rakehell” generously infuses funk, with Davies’ syncopated trot serving as the structure beneath a lysergic smear. Carlson plays bass, using the low notes mostly to state the melody so that his guitar can push beyond it. He refracts, multiplies, and manipulates the tone, using the guitar to find the midpoint between a Meters organ and a wailing, heavy-metal lead. In an unlikely move in a career full of them, Earth add much younger bands like Sun Araw and Eternal Tapestry to their list of contemporaries.
Indeed, for all the talk about this still-nascent phase of Earth versus that earlier frame-shifting phase, the twin Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light releases actually reveal a band with interests broader than such a binary might suggest. Earth aren’t simply softening and separating their drone metal as if by centrifuge, or trying to be stately rather than beastly. These tracks are built on the brethren of blues, rock, and metal, but they wouldn’t be compelling without pieces of bop buoyancy, minimalist restraint, classical consonance, and near-liturgical resolve. Oh, and believe it or not, funk. This version of Earth has simply given Carlson more room and more assistance to explore, well, darkness and light– in his own time, of course.
- Sigil Of Brass
- His Teeth Did Brightly Shine
- A Multiplicity Of Doors
- The Corascene Dog
- The Rakehell
Artwork – Stacey Rozich
Bass Guitar – Karl Blau
Cello – Lori Goldston
Guitar, Performer [Devices] – Dylan Carlson
Layout [Layout & Construction] – Aaron Edge
Management [Management Supreme] – Clyde Petersen
Mastered By – Mell Dettmer
Percussion [Percussives Of All Sorts] – Adrienne Davies
Photography By – Sarah Barrick
Producer – Dylan Carlson
Producer – Stuart Hallerman
Producer [Produced With Assistance From] – Adrienne Davies
Recorded By, Engineer – Stuart Hallerman
Typography [Lettering] – Kyle Hanson
Written-By – Earth (2)
All songs © 2011 Songs of Innocence & Experience (BMI). Recorded and engineered at Avast Studios, Greenwood WA. © Southern Lord Recordings 2012.