Once a marginalized sub-genre seemingly enjoyed only by long-haired potheads in hooded sweatshirts, drone metal (or stoner doom, or whatever you want to call it) is becoming increasingly popular in independent rock music. This is due in no small part to Sunn0))), whose crushing low-end guitar soundscapes have found a surprisingly large audience. Sunn0))), however, started out explicitly as an Earth tribute band, and itï¿½s somewhat surprising that Earth themselves havenï¿½t yet found a larger audience.
Earth has mostly been the work guitarist Dylan Carlson. In 1990, he formed Earth in Seattle, and some of his early collaborators included a pre-Nevermind Kurt Cobain, one-time Melvin (and future SunnO))) member) Joe Preston, and Slim Moon, who went on to found Kill Rock Stars. At the time, very few bands were capable of being heavier than the Melvins, but Earth was one of them. Carlsonï¿½s formula was simple but extremely effective: massive, lumbering slabs of guitar sludge stomped flat and stretched to infinity. Earth 2, from 1993, remains the best example of this formula and reigns supreme as the definitive drone-metal album.
Since then, unfortunately, Earthï¿½s output has been sporadic at best. The last proper studio album was 1996ï¿½s Pentastar in the Style of Demons, and since then all that has been released are live recordings, demos and remixes. With this back story, anticipation for Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword was high. Unfortunately, the album is a let-down, more of the same maddening non-output thatï¿½s typified Earth for nearly a decade now.
The album has only two songs, both recorded one productive day in New York City in 2002, but reaches a whopping seventy minutes in length. The first song, ï¿½Dissolution III,ï¿½ is just Carlson playing live at New York Universityï¿½s student-run radio station. This track is a sloppy, stuttering guitar drone. The sound is admirably thick, but itï¿½s punctuated by too many disorienting stops and starts for it to come off as anything better than what it is: a tossed-off bit of improv. The title track was recorded at a show Carlson played that night at the Knitting Factory along with drummer Adrienne Davies. Here, Earth heads in a new direction, embarking on a nearly hour-long jam, abandoning drone in favor of a more straight-ahead, heavy-rock approach. Itï¿½s enjoyable, especially at very high volume, and indicates that Earth was (is?) indeed capable of kicking out the (heavy) jams live.
Still, Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword is by no means an essential listen. Enjoying the record is wholly contingent your upon knowledge and appreciation of Earthï¿½s aesthetic and back story. Those looking to become familiar with Earth (and drone metal in general) would be wise to put on a hooded sweatshirt, pick up a copy of Earth 2, and proceed into the void from there.