Earth - "Father Midnight" (Angels of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1)
The recent unearthing of A Bureaucratic Desire for Revenge (some of the very earliest Earth recordings, complete with Kurt Cobain guest vocals) reveals the long transformations of Dylan Carlson’s drone-fixated unit as well as the continuities held over across two decades. Since the group’s reemergence mid-decade, and its initially surprising dive into Gothic Americana, Carlson has modified Earth’s lineup continually, aside from the constant of longtime collaborator Adrienne Davies on drums. Now with cellist Lori Goldston and bassist Karl Blau on board, Carlson continues his explorations on Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1.
Idiomatically, Angels of Darkness shares a few similarities with its predecessor, The Bees Made Honey in the Lions Skull. They are both interested in how repetition of certain intervals or minimal progressions over long durations can create a drone-like constancy, tweaking your phenomenology of listening. But while the earlier record had a kind of bright chime to it, as on the sunny burble of a tune like “Miami Morning Coming Down,” this latest is far darker in its affect and articulation. It’s not just the relatively more dour melodic shapes; the use of cello is so crucial here, at times groaning like a contrabass and at times sonorous like a bass clarinet, and the general dark wood feel gives the music a grainy, throbbing texture that somehow makes the repetition more effectively trancelike (in this regard, perhaps it’s more akin to Hex, or Printing the Infernal Method, the first step outward from the heavy drones that preceded it).
On these five tunes of moderate to epic length, there are fewer lines and hooks here than previously, as the ensemble simply sinks into pools of tonality, sticking in lone spaces that eschew movement and modulation for oscillation, density, and grain. Opener “Old Black” has one of the few actual sequences and progressions, realized through the reverb-drenched sound of the guitar and cello. Elsewhere, they pare things down more, even while inhabiting the same basic sound territory. On “Father Midnight,” they pull at a simple interval like it’s taffy, the spaces filled with backwards-tape sounding guitar and deep, guttural cello. And while the chiming trance of “Descent to the Zenith” is infectious, it’s the 20-minute title track that captivates the most. Echo-laden and sere, its deep woody throb goes further into hypno-repetition than, say, Om could ever dream. The modest electronic effects Carlson and Goldston use here create an ambient shimmer, like waves off heated asphalt.
While Carlson and company continue to explore new influences (much has been made over the band’s recent declaration of affection for Pentangle and Fairport Convention), Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 sounds to me like a different manifestation of the same sound they’ve been exploring for some time now. But they don’t sound stuck building their own clichés; rather, I hear in it something like the Theosophists’ fascination with the “universal chord.”