Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II

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By now, most music aficionados regardless of genre are familiar with the trajectory of Earth’s career. Dylan Carlson drastically transitioned his project from drone metal in the early 1990s to the desert noir group of today. Although the new sound might not be as ear- (and bowel-) shattering as before, it is still dark, experimental, and, of course, heavy. 2011’s Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I topped my personal year-end list, and II, released February 14, will be a strong contender for 2012.

Recorded during the same April 2010 session as I, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II features mainstays Carlson on “electric guitar and devices” and Adrienne Davies on “trap kit and percussives”, with newer members Karl Blau (“electric bass guitar,” K Records) and Lori Goldston (“cello and devices,” Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York). Since 2005’s Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method, Earth’s sound has flirted with folk, blues, and post rock, and all coalesce perfectly on the atmospheric Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II.

While the songs on Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I are more riff-oriented, as was the case on 2008’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, II seems less structured, and features more jazz influence via “free” sections and improvisations. Although Earth hinted at this sound on the closing, title track of I, they saved the more experimental material for II. The intro track “Sigil of Brass” is a sparse, jazzy piece that features Carlson playing slow, fractured melodies, with sporadic bursts from the cello and drums. It shows a more subdued side of the band, but the tapering resonance and ghostly feedback remind us that Earth are the drone group.

“Multiplicity of Doors” is closer to Earth’s earlier, heavier material, but demonstrates how much reinvention is possible. Carlson plays a dark, minor chord progression backed by Blau’s plodding bass and Davies’ slow, yet tight and intricate drumming, but Goldston’s cello is the real star of the song. While Steve Moore’s keyboards on Bees were impeccable, the addition of cello for the Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light albums allows Earth to push genre boundaries even further. On “Multiplicity”, Goldston takes the lead with improvised melodies, feedback, and string-skronk not dissimilar to Tony Conrad’s work, or the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”. The cello is at times dissonant and beautiful, with the rhythm section showing tremendous restraint in keeping the relaxed tempo while on the verge of free-jazz freak-out. “Multiplicity” is the most avant-garde song in Earth’s catalogue, and I envision it accompanying the demonic death procession on Stacey Rozich’s arresting cover art.

II features excellent performances, but also a headphones-ready production job from Stuart Hallerman laden with subtle tics and cinematic ambiance. On “His Teeth Did Brightly Shine”, guitar overdubs drift over a minimal, staccato blues riff reminiscent of “Planet Caravan”. The bittersweet melodies and country twang surface and disappear as the main riffs build and unravel, accompanied only by the occasional shaker. The soundscape is dreamlike yet tense, somehow combining the kraut-jazz weirdness of Annexus Quam with the earthy (no pun intended) blues tones of Junior Kimbrough (thank you, Aesop Dekker!).

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Annexus Quam – “Troblush El E Isch”

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Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II is a magnificent and progressive standalone album, but also acts as a great complement to I. Both feature different aspects of Earth’s new sound, and explore conflicting themes; musical or otherwise. A perfect example is II’s closer “The Rakehell,” which contrasts against I’s desolate, formless conclusion. “The Rakehell” begins with a booming kick drum and a bluesy, proto-scuzz riff that could be called “funky” if it were played at double time. The riffs slowly mutate, clean and fuzzy solos meander, and the bass propels the song through a lake of beautiful, echoing resonance. “The Rakehell” leaves the listener with feelings of optimism, fulfillment, and catharsis, as we have just made it through this emotional 48 minute (108 minute if you count both albums) journey alive. I learned from Justin Norton’s interview with Dylan Carlson that he was seriously ill during the recording sessions, and thought they could be his last. Luckily, Carlson made it through OK – great news for him and also for Earth fans, as Earth will continue to make stunning albums, and we will get to hear them.

— Tom Brandow

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HEAR ANGELS OF DARKNESS, DEMONS OF LIGHT II

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Earth – “His Teeth Did Brightly Shine”

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Southern Lord (2xLP, CD)

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