A beginner's guide to Earth

Long before the idea of ambient drone music became a sub-genre, Earth were experimenting in this area of music. They utilised feedback and noise in a way that was different to almost anyone else. It was a tidal wave of turbulent serenity.

Formed in 1989 by Dylan Carlson, an old pal of Kurt Cobain, the Seattle band called themselves Earth in deference to Black Sabbath’s original name, and their style took the Sabbath doom blueprint, and expanded on it in a skelethal montage of metal, industrial, jazz and classical sounds. They dared to clatter John Zorn influences into a Stockhausen framework, adding a thin flush of Saint Vitus and a coating of Godflesh. Carlson called the style ambient metal, and that has now caught on massively. What Earth began, so many have clutched to their bosom, but this band still remain the undisputed masters of tis craft work. And here are eight reasons why. One track from each of their studio albums so far

Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine

From the band’s 1993 debut album Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version. It’s a sprawling sonic spread across 27 minutes. An astonishing example of just how minimalism and simplicity can be made to dance in a coercive manner. This holds the attention, and is the soundtrack to a darkly foreboding leap off a cliff into the unprotected unknown. It’s both a blanket of claustrophobia, while also being terrifyingly open.

Tibetan Quaaludes

From 1995’s Phase 3: Thrones & Dominions, here the band seep through into that twilight region between sleep, consciousness and dreams. It is a druggy journey that has enough swoops and sweeps to disorientate anyone, and it’s like having a dysfunctional symphony crushed into seven minutes.

Peace In Mississippi

This is a Jimi Hendrix cover featured on the 1996 album Pentastar: In The Style Of Demons. And while you might have thought you’d heard every possible way in which Hendrix can be approached, this is different. This one actually uses the original’s guitar pattern in the background, layering on mounds of rhythmic drone.

Land Of Some Other Order

After a nine-year break, because of Carlson’s drug and legal problems, Earth returned in 2005 with Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method. And this track is typical. A little lighter in touch, it used a drone methodology in a more creative manner, escaping the doom compartment and becoming a lot more insidious.

Omens And Portents 1: The Driver

Earth venture into Morricone territory here, on the opening song from the 2008 album The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull. With noted jazz guitarist Bill Frisell providing dusty atmospherics, this corrodes into a moody melodrama that’s punctuated by an ominous opulence.

Father Midnight

There’s almost a deconstructed funk feel to this track, from the 2011 album Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1. While so many other bands in this area are content to hover in a very limited pocket, Carlson et al are always looking to open up the dimensions. So, this is very heavy without being at all lumpen. It glides with bared, sharpened claws.

A Multiplicity Of Doors

Earth recorded the 2012 album Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light II at the same time as its predecessor. But chose to split it into two records rather than one double. And these are distinctly differences. This one is a lot more spartan and mournfully provocative. It’s chamber music for chamber of mutilations.

From The Zodiacal Light

So, right up to date, Earth move through 2014 with the remarkably erudite Primitive And Deadly album. With vocals here from Rabia Shaheen Qazi, of Seattle psych band Rose Window, this moves a little closer to a more conventional rock song structure. But that disguises the fact that the instrumentation sounds dessicated and vulnerable. A brilliant confirmation that whatever others might attempt is no more than interpretation of what Earth have already explored and moved away from. Expect this to be the blueprint for the next two years of ambient metal flourishes.

Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He died in 2021