This is not an ordinary set of songs and nothing like anything else on this blog so far – “ultra-heavy ambient music” was how it got described when talking about it with a friend – so as such this won’t be an ordinary review either.
I first discovered Earth as a teenager, having trawled both Wikipedia and the Metal Archives for new and interesting genres and stumbled across a lot of weird, lesser known bands and artists in doing so – one of the strangest in particular being Sunn O))), who played an extremely slow, deafeningly loud and monolithic take on doom metal called drone metal. From there on out I started looking into this subgenre and found that the entire thing can be traced back to one band and album…Earth, and in particular their 1993 epic Earth 2 (they went on to drastically change their sound after the first three albums, but for once I won’t bore you with the details). The album cover drew me in the most as going from Sunn O)))’s dark and abstract ones to this bright, pastoral long shot of a field was one hell of a leap, especially as there was no way the music was going to match what I was looking at. It didn’t – although it was warmer sounding and less hostile than everything else I’d heard in the genre, it was still unbelievably loud and single-minded amplifier worship and by and far the least conventional music I had ever heard up to that point. Having tried and failed to get past the first track I left it alone after that, promising to myself that I’d eventually make it through the whole thing.
Ten years later, with a broader taste in music and even less patience than before, I came back and did it.
The album begins as it goes on for the next 70+ minutes: with a colossal wall of distorted noise formed of feedback loops and a massively downtuned guitar and bass. Seven Angels is the shortest track (because it’s hard to call any of the pieces on here “songs”) by a sizable amount, its 15 minute runtime seeming brief in comparison with the half-hour epics that follow it but feeling as though it runs on for infinity. After a short, mood-setting intro, the song begins properly with an earthshaking riff played on both guitar and bass – the latter of which sounds more like some growling machine than an actual musical instrument – and with that a subgenre is born. Seven Angels contains, unless the crushing distortion is all that’s needed, arguably the only traces of metal on this album with its towering doom riffs that sound like Black Sabbath being played at 33 1/3 RPM (or Melvins in an even lower tuning) – especially the one that kicks in at two minutes and then carries the song for the next five. At the seven minute mark everything seems to melt; the mixing desk, the instruments, the music itself, all being reduced to a sludgy and otherworldly pool of sound that slowly expands out from whatever it’s being listened to on – along with startling the listener out of their trance briefly with several short and uncalled-for pick scrapes – and reducing the “lead” guitar down to a crushingly slow crawl. Thirteen minutes in and the epic, song-defining riff comes back in to provide an ending to the track – which, even outside of the context of the album, is a hypnotic epic.
The volume slowly increases as Earth 2 rumbles on, which is obvious if you skip tracks but if you’re listening to it start to finish then it will almost certainly hit you at some point over the course of listening to it. Having completely moved away from chord progressions for a more freeform style, Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine is the first of the two half-hour epics and the most interesting of the two of them being less grounded in metal and more random, the riff at the start sounding as though it’s gradually taking off and floating away into the colossal wall of distortion that surrounds it. Five minutes in unearthly sounds start to appear from the murk, the focus gradually getting shifted from the wall of noise to the (extremely loosely defined) riff at the heart of the song until the textures covering it crawl back in soon after. At the ten minute mark all semblance of conventional songwriting drops away for a while, devolving into formless sound until everything fades away other than the lead guitar which thrashes out loud, somewhat aimless chords – at which point the track starts to feel slightly self-indulgent, even if you’ve stuck with it and enjoyed it up to this point. As the piece slowly rolls on towards the end the bass and almost keyboard-like sounds build back up around it, the hypnotic atmosphere returns with it until the guitar fades out and into the next and final track.
Like Gold and Faceted is the point where the album tips over from drone metal to just straight up drone, managing the impressive feat of drawing one single chord out for 30 minutes straight with the occasional strum to keep it going – along with random drum hits from deep in the distortion, mainly sticking to muted crash cymbals and sounding as though they’re picking up sounds from the studio next door. Every now and then a quiet, eerie guitar lead makes itself known, winding around the immovable object that is the lone A chord that everything else grows from and is pulled back into, and gives the track some extra texture – but it’s not enough to stop the track from turning the album from being meditative and strangely peaceful to straight up boring for a while. Due to taking up a third of the entire runtime and having such a short tracklist it does more damage to the final rating than it normally would have, the same going for the second half of Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine too but not as much due to actually having more than just one single chord and the occasional random sound off in the distance. At thirteen-and-a-half minutes what sounds like a keyboard or – believe it or not – distortion-free guitar pulls itself loose from the pillar of noise, a surprisingly loud series of cymbal crashes following some minutes afterwards to shake you out of the trance along with a bent note that sounds as though it could be a spaceship taking off. Finally, Earth 2 ends in the only way an album like this can – with a wash of cymbals and the volume being lowered again until it fades out to nothing.
This is not an album for casual listening. This is also not an album for sober listening either, unless you’re willing to give yourself over to it and treat it as a meditation aid (or a sleep aid, falling asleep three times during the first full listening has almost certainly cost me metal cred) – in which case it’s a slightly flawed but deeply unique, strangely peaceful and unbelievably heavy experience…and a less intimidating one than Sunn O))).
Genres… drone doom, dark ambient
Best track… Seven Angels