Some 20 years after their inception, Earth is still a band with an atypical sense of purpose, forever navigating the oncoming currents in their own curious way. Led by guitarist Dylan Carlson (who remains the only original member), the group came of age in early 1990s Seattle, just as grunge was at its peak of mass popularity. However, in a move that speaks volumes about the predominantly instrumental band, Earth didn't capitalize on the melodic, cash-friendly approach frequently utilized during their place and period. Instead, they used Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version, their 1993 debut LP, as a playground for zoned-out, distortion-packed guitars, slowly stomping along like Armageddon, nuclear war or another delayed but inevitable disaster. Earth 2's three songs (which were 15, 27 and 30 minutes long) laid the foundations for drone metal, doom metal and sludge metal — a trio of less accessible mutations of the genre. It's fitting, then, that this year's Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I also operates on idiosyncratic terms. The sunken, amp-scorching style of riffing forever linked to Earth is absent. In its place is a minimalist, experimental folksiness where the act sounds softer and brighter than before. Still, the crawling, calculated pace persists, and it's undoubtedly a very Earth experience.
Angels just didn't appear out of nowhere, however. In the mid-'90s, Earth traveled to Hartford's Studio.45, a recording spot housed in the Colt complex (the studio moved to Enfield in 2002), to record 1996's Pentastar: In the Style of Demons. (Carlson even seriously considered moving here). Their output then proceeded to fall entirely off the radar as their leader underwent some nasty personal problems, largely involving drugs. Earth returned with 2005's Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method, establishing the base of their current sound, and followed it with 2008's The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull. As Carlson had a lot of downtime post-Bees, he explored odd territory to find inspiration for Angels.
He became obsessed with '60s English folk; namely, the bands Pentangle and Fairport Convention. Album-wise, Liege & Leaf, Fairport Convention's 1969 LP, was the most crucial material of all. Liege included songs called “Reynardine” (which has the same name as an ancient English ballad involving a werefox who kidnaps attractive women) and “Tam Lin” (which shares its name with the name of the hero of an old ballad from the Scottish Borders). In turn, this ignited an interest in antiquated myths and fairy tales, leading Carlson to texts like Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (a novel about magic in the 1800s), Walter Evans-Wentz's The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries and a collection of Welsh folk tales known as The Mabinogion. “I don't have a grand master plan, but if there's any theme in what I've been doing, it seems as the band goes forward, I keep going backwards for influence,” says Carlson, a careful speaker who is prone to thoughtful tangents and nervous chuckling. “I've always been a history and a mythology buff, so it's a continuation of that.” This fascination with legends has roots in other facets of musical background, too: Carlson's a Led Zeppelin fan, and he mentions that Jimmy Page never hid the fact that Zeppelin's “Black Mountain Side” was derived from a traditional Irish folk song called “Blackwaterside.”
In combining the above influences, Carlson's said that Angels (which will see its second part released next year) is his treatise on the futility of a dualist ideology, where good and evil are perceived as separate entities. In February, he told The Quietus, “As I get older, I've started to reject the simplicity of reason and rationality.”
Of course, having guitar, drums, cello and bass — no vocals — to express such a specific angle creates murkiness, but the guitarist is comfortable with letting his music have ample room for interpretation. “What I like about instrumental music is that you can allow people to participate in the making of meaning of the music. It's always gratifying when someone comes up and is like, ‘This is what the song made me feel' or ‘This is the imaginary landscape I came up with.' You realize you're communicating with someone without the explicit knowing of what the song is about,” he says.
Putting Angels in an even broader context, the two-disc project also lets Carlson express his dissatisfaction with where mankind is headed. “One of the main things screwing up the world right now is monotheism and Aristotle ‘either/or' logic. I sort of view this as my anti-monotheism record. Also, I think we've become woefully out of touch with the world around us.” His phrasing is nebulous, but when he eloquently discusses “hierarchic structures and this rapacious acquisition of wealth,” it solidifies the idea that Angels is, to whatever level of effectiveness, his weapon against this direction. “Hopefully, we can do something about the relentless march of history that we're fighting against,” says Carlson, before chuckling. “And then sometimes, it's just rock 'n' roll. I don't want to get too pompous about it.”