Despite being heralded as a paragon of minimalist Drone, Dylan Carlson and his fluctuating incarnations of Earth have eschewed the usual expectations of such music, moving through variations on the theme throughout their thirty-year existence. Ninth studio album Full Upon Her Burning Lips (Sargent House) sees the band return to its core of Carlson and percussionist Adrienne Davies, leading to a partial revisit of earlier days.
Opener ‘Datura’s Crimson Veils’ is one such halcyon moment: Carlson’s sparse lead nevertheless piercing the mind, allowing the subsequent riff and Funeral-paced rhythms to breathe melody while maintaining a leaden undercurrent. There remains the soft Country twang of more recent excursions but these are further anchored by a bassline that resonates through the ages, and oscillating waves of space which provide the perfect balance of air and weight.
What’s noticeable during this opening epic is the increased presence of Davies, the booming drums and shimmering percussion delightfully higher in the mix than usual, and this is evident throughout the album. The relatively brief, beautiful ‘Exaltation Of Larks’ has a warm sensibility but this does not overshadow the drummer’s deft, explorative take on her range of instruments. Cymbals play a key part in the Soundgarden-tinted ‘Cats On The Briar’, but it’s the slow, syncopated rhythm that’s as prominent as the chiming, hypnotic solo work. The Sabbath-like sinister bedrock of ‘The Colour Of Poison’ is frequently punctuated by sudden breaks in the riff, and this allows the attention to fall again on Davies: yet she does not overfill, instead making those drums talk with sparing, fluctuating pressures.
Occasionally the statement is so isolated, so striking, that the impact is euphoric. The cascading chords of the glorious ‘Descending Belladonna’ are interrupted by the chime of a bell, a wailing string, both commanding their own stage: while second epic ‘She Rides An Air Of Malevolence’, evoking Tony Iommi with every delicious chord, shatters the mind as it sporadically threatens to break from the metronomic tempo; its eerie denouement the hooded eyes of confident loathing. The suitably sombre interlude ‘Maiden’s Catafalque’, meanwhile, thrills the skin with its tumbling, echoing lead.
What Carlson demonstrates so wonderfully is that Drone needn’t be a tiresome experience of elongated, unflinching noise. ‘An Unnatural Carousel’ is filled with mellow melody, those strings jangling with emotive portent, which is all the more remarkable as this seductive track’s progression is akin to a 45 being played at 33 rpm. As Davies’ tubular introduction to the penultimate ‘The Mandrake’s Hymn’ heightens the senses, Dylan’s storytelling is an invocation of the dead, the shaman beckoning to the magic of the spirits. The plaintive moans of closer ‘A Wretched Country Of Dusk’ carry a latent fire which, you realise suddenly, has been here all along: merely hidden by a profound work of stunning beauty and creativity, an album for any mood which ranks alongside Earth’s greatest.
8 / 10