Dylan Carlson formed Earth in 1989 and became a major figure of Washington drone metal, along with Sunn O))) and Burning Witch. (Check out 1993’s Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version here). Drone is metal’s answer to ambient music or post-rock; it consists of heavily distorted guitars and overpowering low tones at either very slow tempos, or no tempo at all. The track lengths are astronomical, and they’re usually sans voice, beside the occasional chanting. It’s the perfect soundtrack for contemplating a deep black abyss.
Carlson took a break from Earth in 1997 due to, per Terrorizor, “heroin addiction, rehabilitation, his connection to Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and incarceration.” Cobain and Carlson both knew each other well in Olympia. Unfortunately, Carlson was the owner of the gun Cobain used to commit suicide.
Carlson came back to Earth in 2003 with a new drummer (Adrienne Davies, his girlfriend) and a cleaner sound. He eschewed the constant overdriven fuzz and piercing feedback, instead composing vast, open soundscapes like a slo-mo Morrecone. Critics described the first album of this trend–Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method (2005)–as “surprisingly beautiful” and “an elegant and singular effort filled with sparsely beautiful passages that lead headlong into the void.” From then on, Earth’s music has tight-walked between metal and soundtrack, more suited for a long lonely drive through West Texas than head-banging.
Regardless of genre, Earth’s ear-splitting show at Bottom of the Hill Wednesday night impressed me. Davies drove the low tempos accurately and emphatically, seeming to dance with her drum kit. It can’t be easy to play 40 BPM for 15 minutes straight, but she made it seem like the time of her life.
Carlson strummed his lethargic, elegant riffs with just the right emphasis, filling the void once occupied by guest musicians such as guitarist Bill Frisell and cellist Lori Goldston. Carlson was also an affable host, chatting with fans before the show by the merch table and graciously warning the crowd that flash photography would give him a seizure. Bassist Bill Herzog played with restrained flare and had great sound–he also looks like he jumped through the TV screen from Guitar Hero.
Did I mention they were fucking loud? Like leaf-blowers pointed at your head at a firing range, or being run over by a fifty-foot vacuum cleaner. My earplugs even hurt, I don’t know how that works.
Photos by Gracie Malley