EARTHHarvest Sun @ The Kazimier 1/6/15
For most of the bands who sprang out of the Pacific Northwest corner of the US in the late 80s, the term grunge – and everything associated with it – has hung around their necks like some flannel-clad albatross. However, though it is hard to completely avoid the term when discussing tonight’s headliners, due to Dylan Carlson’s relationship with Kurt Cobain, EARTH have spent the best part of the past quarter-century carving out a fairly unique place in popular music. After Carlson’s return to writing following a long battle with drug addiction, the band began moving away from their heavier, distortion-laden roots and towards a more eclectic sound, making live performances an even more interesting prospect than before.
With a back catalogue of eight studio albums, and a divisive break in terms of musical direction occurring after the third, there is much anticipation amongst the near-capacity Kazimier crowd to see what selection of songs Earth will bring to the table. Will they delve into the foggy, doomy realms of their early records or stick more closely to the filmic meanderings of their most recent work? Such musings are roundly answered by opening track There Is A Serpent Coming, taken from their latest album, Primitive And Deadly. A brooding eight-minute journey clearly inspired by Ennio Morricone and all things Western, the track consists of trademark repeated phrases and almost painfully slow percussion building and then re-coiling like, fittingly, a serpent, and serving as a perfect initiation for any of those present who are yet to delve into the hazy quagmire of Dylan Carlson’s sonic oeuvre.
Though performing as a conventional four-piece there is at times little to distinguish, in terms of sound, the two guitars from the bass. For the vast majority of live shows this would be massively detrimental, but for a band so reliant on drones and low-end noise it has a very desirable effect. The songs are long and drawn-out but at no point do they merge into blandness, with each new track standing alone as a separate entity. The result is a tapestry of often largely expanded hypnotic explorations broken up by the occasional wry comment from Carlson before he eases back into a limp stance at the front of the stage. Perhaps the most transfixing element of the group is actually long-time member Adrienne Davis, who sits behind the drums seemingly playing in slow-motion. With flailing arms frozen in the air above her she exercises admirable restraint, creating space for the other instruments to breathe and keeping the opium-soaked rhythm in check.
As the final strains of the brilliantly titled And The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull settle upon the audience, there is an audible sense of confusion as we are pulled from our trance. For many it has been a lethargic yet enrapturing experience, and for some of us it has been the closest we will ever come to Kurt Cobain without having to go and see Foo Fighters. But I’m sure he’s really sick of hearing about that. Sorry Dylan.