Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light, Vol. 1

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When Dylan Carlson resurrected Earth after a five-year break, he also reinvented their sound. Gone were the crushing, devastatingly slow, blown-out guitar and bass drones that essentially created the entire post-rock genre. The new Earth create a more atmospheric music with more arid soundscapes; they explore skeletal yet pronounced layered melodies inside their trademark drones, creating the aural equivalent of vast, utterly empty desert landscapes. It began on 2005's Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, and attained maturity on 2008's Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull. With Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light, Vol. 1 -- the first of two thematic albums proposed for 2011 -- that's still the case, but Carlson and longtime drummer Adrienne Davies have succeeded in opening up Earth's soundscape texturally and pushing beyond what was achieved on Bees. The contributions of new members cellist Lori Goldston and bassist Karl Blau make this possible. "Old Black" opens the set with Davies playing a kick drum, snare, and cymbal, with trancelike precision. Carlson pursues a series of chord changes one note at a time; Goldston creates a counter-melody just outside his frame. Blau pushes harder and slower, creating tension and a slightly shifting dynamic as the music intensifies but intentionally never breaks loose; it reveals its considerable power with restraint. "Father Midnight" commences with a two-chord vamp, played by all three string players. Carlson finds just enough extra notes to create a melody. Blau and Goldston assert themselves against this ever-so-slowly evolving lyric statement and one another; harmony and dissonance coexist without antagonism, creating a heaviness and tension that are aesthetically beautiful and emotionally resonant. The title track, a 20-plus-minute mindwrecker that closes the set, allows that dissonance in from the jump as Goldston and Blau explore the lower registers of their instruments in a counterpoint that is bridged by Carlson's low-end guitar only minutely at first. The trio gains traction in minute increases that up the dynamic tension. This creates a sinister brooding resonance that is underscored when Davies enters five minutes later. What takes place for the remainder is an exploration of intonation, space, and melody based on a minor-key blues that transcends the form. Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light, Vol. 1 represents a further shift in Earth's evolution. It is darker -- even sinister -- and undoubtedly heavier than Bees, but it is more seductive with its mantra-like droning repetition and more elegantly detailed in its textural dimension.

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