Slow and steady wins the race.
That old cliché pretty well defines EARTH’s style of songwriting for the better part of the last two decades. Of course, before 2005’s “Hex…” one could easily include ‘heavy’ or ‘oppressive’ in that phrase. Lately, though, EARTH has been Metal by namesake only, and “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I” continues in this gentler direction.
This might sound like bad news for fans of EARTH’s early work, but worry not; even though “Angels of Darkness…” is undeniably chiller than albums past, it’s successful on many different levels. For starters, it’s a very emotionally complex listen. There’s a lingering sense of unease that sits in the background of the songs presented here, giving them a decidedly sinister vibe that gives new meaning to what exactly “chill” means in the context of music. Every track emits a calm confidence almost as if EARTH is lulling the listener into a false sense of security. There’s a looming feeling that something big, enormous, could happen at any time. That songs are about to bust wide open and break away. You know, get heavy. But just as the songs reach their peak, EARTH retreats. Silence.
In any case, it’s all too easy to become immersed in the waves of sound that come humming through the speakers; EARTH play themselves in circles with such subtlety that it’s hard to believe you’ve been listening to a slight variation of the same motif for the better part of 12 minutes, or more. The music swells and recedes, slow and methodically like an ocean tide. Ironically, the picture painted with EARTH’s spaghetti-western riffs more resembles the soundtrack to some tumbleweed-infested Southwest desert rather than any ocean. Then again, maybe that is exactly the mirage EARTH was going for.
Another shining example of EARTH’s continuing evolution is the addition of cellist Lori Goldston, who is utilized to perfection here. Weaving in and out of the lumbering guitar, Goldston can be found building her own melodies or simply reinforcing existing ones; either way, the interplay between Carlson’s winding, Western-tinged blues riffs and the warm, woody sound of the cello works brilliantly and gives songs a certain hypnotic swagger that they would sorely lack otherwise.
It really is remarkable how, in a world of multi-tracking, auto-tuning and generally criminal overproduction, a mere four musicians and their respective instruments (drum, bass, guitar, cello) can craft music with such atmosphere and depth without resorting to any bells and whistles. Maybe that speaks more to the quality of EARTH’s music as a whole than anything else I could say. It’s certainly part of the reason “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I” ranks among my favorite releases in EARTH’s entire discography.
(Online January 31, 2012)