Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Earth—Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 (Southern Lord)

The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull (2008) was a shimmering, hypnotic set based around precision and repetition. Angels of Darkness… showcases a more relaxed approach, as though the band visited Neil Young’s Ragged Glory barn and took some pointers from Crazy Horse. (I often wonder if Neil Young has ever heard Earth, given his history of work in bleak guitar landscapes, from the Dead Man soundtrack to Le Noise.) If The Bees Made Honey… struck you as regimented, the untamed swirling of sounds here will be a pleasant surprise. It’s another refinement to the basic approach Dylan Carlson has taken since Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method—striving for a state of grace through repetition, deliberation, and space. Don’t call it drone. “Old Black” demonstrates the impact of small gestures in this environment. In the first half of the song, Carlson unspools a lengthy, slowly developing riff, punctuating each turnaround with a slight tug on the whammy bar. That minor quaver is enough to stir the soul. When the closing riff emerges, he steps on a wah pedal and everything liquefies. Superb. “Father Midnight” is mainly carried by bass and drums, as Carlson steps back and improvises around the slo-mo groove. Lori Goldston’s cello scuttles and churns underneath. “Descent into the Zenith” sounds like a sunrise, with a mood that fits Carlson’s “Miami Morning Coming Down” series. Only “Hell’s Winter” feels too typically Earth; overfamiliar and overlong. With a vision so strong, and a band so consistent—the same four players appear on all the tracks, and there are no guest musicians—the music pours freely on the title track’s 20 minutes of lolling oceanic improvisation, like an accompaniment to a humpback ballet. This is Earth untethered, gliding through air and water rather than scrabbling through scrub-brush. Angels are at play, yes, but so are demons, exerting gravity via the low notes at the end of a riff, or a downcast chord progression, or Adrienne Davies’ steadfast downbeat. It feels good to be caught amidst this quiet struggle. Let it play and hear it glow.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Creation’s End—A New Beginning (Sensory)

I looked up “Prog/Power” in the OED (it’s been added to the latest edition, I swear) and it said “See Creation’s End.” Which means (a) the OED knows its metal, and (b) if you want some fine prog/power metal, Creation’s End delivers it, straight-up, with no discordant King Crimson moves, no jazz fusion tangents, and no zany circus-music fluff (thank Christ for that). They take a stab at exoticism with some extra percussion in a couple spots, which doesn’t mesh well, but it’s harmless. Creation’s End are a project band assembled by guitarist Rudy Albert and drummer Dario Rodriguez. Everybody’s “ex” this band or “of” that band. They chose well, especially in the singer department. Mike Dimeo (ex-Masterplan, ex-Riot) has lungs of rawhide and brings some essential grit to the enterprise. Albert and Rodriguez put him through his paces, especially on “Hollow,” where a key change pushes him near the breaking point. You’re not sure he’ll get to the end, but he does. With such talent in place, it’s a relief that the songwriting is a cut above as well. Most of the songs begin by establishing quality choruses and effective hooks before they (inevitably) get all tech and paradiddly between minutes 4 and 7, only to have the catchy elements reappear towards the end as if to say “Remember us?” to which I reply, “I absolutely do—welcome back!” All the trappings of power/prog are present, including some way-OTT keyboard solos and songs about war, justice, and religious hypocrisy. It’s stern stuff, powered by brick-shithouse guitar tones and a Neil Kernon mix that’ll put hair on your chest. Everyone involved has obviously poured a lot of love and enthusiasm into A New Beginning. Nobody’s phoning it in. If there’s meat ‘n’ potatoes on the menu in prog metal’s opulent dining quarters, then Creation’s End will serve it up on a heaped platter. Tasty, if familiar, fare.