Words About Music
Earth “Primitive and Deadly”
If Kurt Cobain had his way, Earth would probably be the most well-known Seattle band, not Nirvana. The history between experimental drone doom metal project Earth and the grunge legends goes all the way back to the late ’80s and early ’90s. Before Earth’s 1993 debut album “Earth 2: Special Low-Frequency Version,” they cut a few demos with Kurt. He even did vocals on some of the band’s early stuff. Dylan Carlson, the band’s ringleader and sole consistent member, had an odd friendship with Cobain. Some even say that “In Bloom” is about Carlson. What we do know is that Carlson bought the shotgun that Kurt used to kill himself with. What’s more important, though, is that Earth is often considered to be the very band that invented the ambitious technique of minimalistic heavy metal known as drone. Long bouts of distortion and feedback; layer upon layer of heavy guitars and bass with no discernible rhythm. That first album is drone at its most bare bones before groups like Sunn O))), Boris, and Om sought to reinvent it. Carlson ended the project in 1997 in the midst of legal and drug problems before reviving it in 2003. Post-revival Earth, though, sounds quite a bit different from the band that brought the monolithic masterpieces of the ’90s. The new incarnation of Earth sought to include drums and melody into the mix. They still play very slowly, but rather than stick to what they invented, they felt that it was time to move past it, and so far they’ve done an excellent job.
Nine albums into their career, it’s hard to really predict what Earth will do next. “Primitive and Deadly” represents yet another shift in their musical output as it features their first songs to include vocals since the mid-’90s. In fact, I’d say this album is more focused on vocals than any album in their entire catalog. Featured vocalists include former Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age vocalist Mark Lanegan as well as Rabia Shaheen Qazi of Seattle rock group Rose Windows. Brett Nelson of Built to Spill also contributes some instrumentation to this record. If I were to attempt to accurately describe what’s going on here to someone that’s unfamiliar with Earth’s repertoire, I’d probably say that “Primitive and Deadly” sounds like if Swans played the blues. The songs are long (none are shorter than 8 minutes) and perfectly represent what Earth is best at. They make slow-moving, slow-building tracks that feel like post-rock without the climax.
If you’re a fan of experimental metal and you haven’t heard Earth, you should definitely check them out. And if you’re only familiar with Earth’s early work, definitely check out the stuff they’ve been putting out since they reunited. They’ve been putting out albums at a pretty consistent rate and nearly all of them have been pretty good. To me, though, I think “Primitive and Deadly” is one of their best to date. I especially love the two tracks that Mark Lanegan sings on. He’s got one of my favorite singing voices in rock music, so it’s great to hear him collaborate with Earth.
This won’t be an album for everyone, but it’s one of the more relaxed metal albums you’ll hear. Carlson’s guitar playing is still on point, and it all sounds even better when you have other instruments to focus on. Earth’s early drone stuff was challenging and rewarding, but now that they’ve aged and cleaned up their sound, they’ve proven themselves as a band capable of all sorts of music. Try and categorize this album all you want, at the end of the day it’s just another Earth record. Some of the songs do sort of blend together, but Earth is as much about constancy as they are about variety. It’s a weird ride and probably not one you’ll get on first listen, but it’s worth it. The world didn’t need more Earth records, but I’m certainly glad they’re still churning them out.
SCORE – 7.8
FAVORITE TRACKS – There Is a Serpent Coming, From the Zodiacal Light, Even Hell Has Its Heroes
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