Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I: A New Dawn for Earth

At this point, 21 years into a massively influential career (if the band was a person, that person would be able to drink legally), Olympia, Washington, drone champions Earth are really only comparable to themselves. Guitarist/bandleader Dylan Carlson, whose work has set more ships sailing than did Helen of Troy, continues ceaselessly to refine and redefine Earth’s sound, working with a range of players and adopting conceptual aesthetics on a by-album basis. Earth’s latest hour-long opus, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (Southern Lord) continues a line of remarkably strong outings, started with the band’s 2005 studio revival, Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method and continued on both the 2007 Hibernaculum EP of re-recorded earlier material and 2008’s brilliant The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull full-length. Fans of those offerings will recognize some elements on Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I, but as ever, Earth have maintained their penchant for subtle sonic shifts that wind up making a huge difference in their overall affect.

Earth’s music is like a sentence that does the work of a paragraph. Joining Carlson on Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I are longtime drummer Adrienne Davies and newcomers Karl Blau on electric bass (Angelina Baldoz will play live) and cellist Lori Goldston, who makes her mark on the album immediately on opener “Old Black.” A rocker by Earth standards, “Old Black” isn’t so far removed from the Americana vibes of Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, but the bare minimalism of that record is replaced by a fullness of sound brought on by the inclusion of bass and most especially the cello, which runs a naturalistic drone in long-held notes playing beneath the guitar and drums. Goldston runs her own lines for sure, accompanying rather than following Dylan’s guitar as Blau mostly does on bass, and making the songs all the more lush and engaging. The purported concept behind Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I was a partial paean to British acid folk, and listening to “Old Black” or the closing title track, I could almost hear a Sandy Denny-type of voice over the material, though a song like “Father Midnight,” which follows the opener, is most exemplary of Earth’s own work over the last six years.

Like the rest of Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I, “Father Midnight” is extended, time-wise. At 12:11, the song has a hypnotic soundspace all its own apart from the rest of the album, led by Carlson’s repetitive guitar lines. He offers a few lead notes here and there toward the song’s midsection, and that does a lot to make “Father Midnight” feel active, but “Descent to the Zenith” (started with a drum fill by Davies and the shortest track on the record at a mere 7:30) is where Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I really starts to separate itself from its predecessors in Earth’s catalog. Aside from Goldston’s work, already noted as a change in both feel and affect, Blau’s basslines add a soft physicality to the music that comes across on “Descent to the Zenith,” and perhaps that’s because it’s on “Descent to the Zenith” that Blau pulls farthest away from what Carlson’s playing, making it so that the track has almost three movements happening at the same time. That may not sound all that outlandish, but this is Earth we’re talking about. The sultans of stillness! Sure, the song is still soft, slow and sweetly melodic, but there’s a lot going on as well, Carlson’s guitar issuing effects waves toward the end in a relative build that soon capsizes and fades out.

The momentum continues through “Hell’s Winter,” which is probably Davies’ hardest-hitting performance on Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (again, speaking relatively). Carlson returns to his leadership role with Blau and Davies following his lines, and Goldston provides suitable foil again. As the album shifts between shorter and longer tracks – it goes under 10 minutes, then over, then under, then over, before hitting the 20-plus-minute title-cut – the structure is well revealed by the time “Hell’s Winter” comes on, and the scope Earth are working with is established, the fourth track doing more to affirm than revise the impression given by the three songs prior. If there’s revolution yet to come, it’s in the form of “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I,” which takes a minute of orchestral warm-up before getting started in earnest. Carlson steps back and Blau and Goldston set the initial course of the song, which runs through several different movements and boasts a complexity of arrangement that outmatches everything else Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I has to offer.

They are the masters of their craft, and listening to “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I,” it sounds like they’ve started to believe it. There’s a stateliness in the performances here – and yes, I’m acknowledging that the classical element of the cello is a part of this – that Earth haven’t ever really shown before. Even as the song’s final moments ring out to their close, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (which was produced by Stuart Hallerman, who handled the band’s 1993 classic Earth 2), Earth sound not only mature, but completely assured of both their legacy and their current, constantly-progressing direction. Carlson’s guitar is as hypnotic as ever, but as Earth have made known over the better part of the last decade, their sound is much more than just sustained notes and drones. As they enter 2011, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I finds the band as unwilling as ever to settle creatively, toying with titular contradiction, fostering a previously-unheard richness of tone and taking their rightful place at the head of their genre. The bees, indeed, have made their honey.

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3 Responses to “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I: A New Dawn for Earth”

  1. eddiebo says:

    not a lot of doom reviews citing Sandy Denny, and probably not many fans even know who she is. One of the most tragic figures, died after falling down a flight of stairs. If you want to hear a real tale of Doom listen to “Matty Groves” off the Liege and Lief album

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