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Album Review

Arriving in 2007, Hibernaculum, a beautifully packaged a double audio/video disc combination issued on Southern Lord, proves that the change in sound that Earth mastermind and guitarist Dylan Carlson and drummer Adrienne Davies created on Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method was no one-off. On the CD version of the set, Earth cover three tunes from their previous incarnation as pioneering heavy metal drone masters, including the cut "A Plague of Angels," previously available only on a rare tour-only split 12" (with Sunn 0)))), all done in the "Hex" manner. On first glance — and perhaps even on first listen — with only 36 minutes of music included on the audio disc, this might appear to be a stop-gap on the way to a new album; it's seemingly more in line with the demos and other oddities Carlson had issued in the group's previous incarnation before he disbanded it. Having resurrected the band in 2000, Carlson decided to follow this different tack: playing music that is heavy in a very different way. Snaky long guitar lines are played with a restrained force, little distortion or feedback, and no drones. The hypnotic effect is achieved more from the repetition of the guitar patterns themselves and the space in between them. It's usually trebly and contains single lines as well as chord changes, with slow droning riffs that rely on the microphonics of volume to achieve their effect. It's given a flourish by Davies and bassists Don McGreevy and Jonas Haskins, and some analog synth sound coloration by Sunn 0)))'s Greg Anderson on the first two cuts, "Ouroboros Is Broken" and "Coda Maestoso in F (Flat) Minor." These two cuts, which lead into the last two, are heavy because of their intentional restraint. The music isn't pretty; it touches upon everything including Ennio Morricone's spaghetti Western film cues and even a warped form of desert country music that could have come from Tucson in the 1980s.

"Miami Morning Coming Down" begins with a spare piano playing the four-note theme, which is completed in sparse fashion by Carlson's guitar playing in the second half. The music doesn't so much whirl around. In fact, in many ways it feels static in its repetition, but it draws you in all the same, offering a hint that something, anything, might happen. And it does — the numbers of notes are the same but not their sequence, not the amount of space between theme articulation and completion. It begins to hover and float as fuzz tones take over on the guitars, cymbals shimmer, and a bassline emerges. It's hypnotic and haunting. The final cut is where Carlson and friends show the true menace in their sound, opening with a drone that seems to slip in and out of a crack in the world, the break that points to the void. Over 16 minutes in length, it unfolds and disintegrates rather than really building — its tempo remains very slow, almost still, but the dark, heavy plod becomes a thud with a ringing guitar touching on pedal steel atmospherics and the sonics themselves peeling off the layers that surround this simple melody. As good as the rest of the material here is, it's "A Plague of Angels" that is the payoff. It wraps everything heard so far into a messy little package that points not inwardly but out toward the night sky itself. In its purposefulness, it's not just an aesthetic, it's a poetic. The film by Seldon Hunt on the accompanying DVD offers live footage of Earth during their Hex tour in Europe, interviews with bandmembers and with Carlson and others, providing an in-your-face, intimate view of the band as it exists in the present day. Hibernaculum may or may not be a stop-gap, because what exists here is somehow enough. It's Earth as a developing entity that transcends all the different genres that wrap into their sound for the sake of creating a music that is "heavier" than any of their peers.


Formed: 1990 in Seattle, WA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Earth's drone-heavy experimentation is largely the result of its one lasting member, guitarist Dylan Carlson. The band was originally formed in 1990 in Olympia, Washington by Carlson, Slim Moon (who later founded the Kill Rock Stars label), and Greg Babior. Moon and Babior left soon after and were replaced by Joe Preston. Earth played a few live shows and then recorded some material with Mike Lastra. After opening for L7 in Seattle, the group was approached by Sub Pop Records, which released the...
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Hibernaculum, Earth
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