Earth conjure Black Sabbath on diazepam with Primitive and Deadly
Drone pioneers Earth have returned, and once again in the tradition to which we have become accustomed, they’ve taken another slight stylistic turn. Primitive and Deadly is the record’s title and it comes off the heels of the cello driven Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light, the free, wandering spirit of The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull and the country twang of Hex; or Printing in the Infernal Method.
Like the shifting tectonic plates, Earth’s development is slow and never really strays from a well-defined and focused path, as band leader Dylan Carlson leads the group through a recognisable soundscape of syrupy, fuzzed out guitars and plodding but meticulous drums all played at half the acceptable speed. Where Primitive and Deadly differs from the rest is in its namesake, as Earth imbues themselves with the theatricality, the force and majesty of metal but without its excess of showmanship and speed.
Something that Earth have always been aware of, even in their early days of dicking about with Kurt Cobain, is that it’s all about the riff. Yet unlike their heavy metal contemporaries, Earth’s musical structures don’t seek to euphorically stun but rather engage the listener in an active trance of ascension through repetition. There’s a reason that Carlson named his band after Black Sabbath, a proto-Earth if there ever was one; Iommi and Carlson are clearly both interested in the ways that sounds can decay across passages of time.
Carlson and Earth take this idea further than Sabbath ever could though, and particularly on Primitive and Deadly, the band take the riff and exploit its mantric and psychedelic qualities. By halving the tempo and repeating ad nauseum, Earth provides a mental experience like none other, achieved simply with a pick, an axe and a giant stack of amps.
Well, almost. Seemingly unsatisfied with the force of their sound, Earth have recruited two guest vocal spots on Primitive and Deadly and the result is a mixed bag. The first is Mark Lanegan whose baritone vocals appear on both “There is a Serpent Coming” and album closer “Rooks Across the Gates”. Lanegan seems a fitting choice on paper, but when the amps start rumbling his vocal performance lacks the unhinged spirituality that Earth so effortlessly conjure. If the cover of Primitive and Deadly presents a figure caught between Earthly pleasures and the divine, Lanegan’s vocals are devoid of such polarities. Rooted in the real, his vocals are nowhere near as elemental as they need to be and rob the instrumentals of their grandeur.
It’s interesting then to note that the addition of vocals to Primitive and Deadly oscillates to the other end of the spectrum when Rabia Shaheen Qazi takes to the microphone. Qazi hails from Seattle based psych-rock group Rose Windows, and comparative to Lanegan’s lack of psychic thrust, Qazi’s performance on the album’s centrepiece “From the Zodiacal Light” is primal, fierce and laden in mystique.
It helps that the song itself is just as brilliant, as Earth’s explosive guitars are pushed to the limit. The track is so heavy that the sound waves seem to transform into psychedelic glows. There is a faint air of Hex in the sounds laid bare here, as the country sounds rear themselves in ghostly apparitions. Like psychedelic gamma waves from John Wayne’s dreams, “From the Zodiacal Light” utilises the sum total of Earth’s musical past, exploiting the darker underbelly of Americana through their drone roots.
Where Primitive and Deadly really sparkles though is in the purely instrumental tracks, particularly the album’s opener “Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon”, a track that conjures up a tranquilised King Diamond. Sinister and melodious, the track represents the potent political thrust of black metal, as the band dare to push the listener’s perspective into novel terrain. It’s a molasses-thick rumble of detuned guitars that sparkle with the joy of heavy metal’s melodious side; indulgence of a different colour. The record then rounds itself out with the giant, psychedelic freak out of “Even Hell Has Heroes”, a lightning crack of a track whose guitars duel endlessly.
What results is a fundamentally powerful record, and while Earth may hastily add elements that drain their core strength, much of Primitive and Deadly is Earth at the top of their game. Exploring new aural territories is part and parcel of Earth’s trajectory, and while they might hit some potholes along the way, it seems that nothing can stop the creative flow of Carlson and Earth’s current incarnation. Issues aside, one can’t help but praise ingenuity, especially when a band so blissfully confronts you with it.