Wait, wait, Earth? Dylan Carlson’s music child that went from pioneering drone doom to dabbling in experimental psychedelic-country-drone-whatnot? How long has it been since they released anything even remotely attached to metal? Nine years, eighteen years? Surely this review has no place here. This is, after all, Angry METAL Guy: trve, kvlt, ov the underground and all that. I’ll be honest, those were my thoughts too until I actually started listening to Primitive and Deadly, a record that left me astonished because, oh boy, do Earth come packing the metalness this time around.
I’ll go and say it right away: this release is one of the finest in their discography. All the myriad of stylistic changes they went through from their first release in 1991 till today have been coalesced and compressed into one glorious blend. The resulting sound is layered with huge riffs upon psychedelic and folky melodies upon repetitive patterns. You don’t have to wait long before this becomes obvious since the album’s opener, “Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon,” doesn’t mess around. No long, wandering intros nor patient build-ups. Nope, it hits you in the face with a heavy riff from the first second and keeps on hitting till the last. The song is driven by unrelenting riffs, droning drums and distorted bass which are then sprinkled with twisted, kaleidoscopic, and melodic elements that float in and out of focus. In fact, the same M.O. can be identified on all of the instrumental tracks on the album. The other discernible characteristic is that the songs featuring vocals such as “There Is a Serpent Coming” and “From the Zodiacal Light” have simplified song structures devoid of instrumental elaborations. Yes, you’ve read that right, there’s singing here. Guest vocalist Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) and his preachiness fit right into the mood on “There Is a Serpent Coming” and “Rooks Across the Gates,” songs which might as well appear on one of his own albums, while Rabia Shabeen Qazi (Rose Windows) provides some ethereal, eerie crooning that makes “From the Zodiacal Light” feel like a trip-hop gone metal song.
Even if the band no longer relies purely on atmosphere and country-droning, some of the songs still sound as if they had been yanked from one of their previous albums, such as Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I & II or The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, and fused with metal riffage and vocals. But it’s when you hear “Even Hell Has Its Heroes” and its never-ending bluesy solo that you actually become appreciative of how unshackled and free from any preconceptions Earth are. While listening to the closing and stand-out track “Rooks Across the Gates,” with its combination of vocal passages and instrumental diversity, the unshakable need for another spin takes root in your mind. Worth noting is that the vinyl version contains a bonus song, “Badgers Bane,” which showcases the group in a more spartan, almost-pure-drone version. A good song that might have been better with vocals.
The music, such as it is, necessitates subtle, patient performances from Adrienne Davies on drums and Bill Herzog on bass so they mostly play steady, repeating motifs. Carlson’s guitar, on the other hand, carries the songs both with controlled and reserved sounds and with growling and meaty riffs. Hard to find anything bad to say about the musicianship. Actually, the only negatives come from the mix which is definitely not ideal, especially with the way that Lanegan’s vocal tracks are handled. He has a powerful voice so it’s too bad that it comes off a bit muted and buried from time to time. What about lyrics and atmosphere? Well, Dylan Carlson’s an intense dude, having dealt with rough things in his life, so those elements of his music are equally intense. Bible-citing levels of intense, actually.
Earth‘s music has always been volatile, relying more on moods and concepts rather than specific sounds. Whatever the style of music they end up playing, the soul and essence of the band remain unmistakable. This album is no different, with the rediscovered heaviness and the added vocals improving them as a whole. Existing fans will surely love this record, everyone else should sample it and let themselves be surprised.