Wednesday, November 02, 2005

EARTH - Hex; Or Printing In The Infernal Method CD (Southern Lord)
Friends of mine - big Earth fans at that - have informed me they hate this record, Earth's first studio album since 1996's awesome Pentastar disc. I'll loosely quote the mumblings of one associate: It's really cool that Earth have tried something different; it would've been even better if they did something good. Ouch! What's all the grumbling for? This is a fantastic record, one w/ faults, for sure, but certainly nothing to moan about.
Earth, you say? You know 'em, we all know 'em. By some sort of weird accident of history, or, to be more generous, through years of unrewarded, messianic, artistic visionary-like pursuit, a good fifteen or so years after their recorded debut, they're the godfathers of a whole genre which is so damn hot right now I dare not touch it: let's call it "avant-metal" (AM). AM is doing the rounds worldwide these days; even the pencilneck geeks at The Wire write about it, I'm told (I haven't really read an issue "properly" for a good 3 years, so don't ask me).
So, to capitalize on this whole fandangled fad taking The Kids by storm, what do Earth do? In their never-ending pursuit to grab defeat from the jaws from victory, they take a 180-degree turn and rip out a disc w/ nary a hint of "doom", but instead one which sounds like it probably should've been released ten-odd years ago. You know, the Good Old Days, when frothing-at-the-mouth u-ground hepcats were blowing dole cheques on things like Morricone reissues, Dirty 3 LPs, Neil Young's Dead Man soundtrack and all those "atmospheric", "post-rock" albums you haven't played (and in the meantime sold) since the mid/late '90s. If you're now expecting a big slagging, you're wrong.
Hex... is by no means a milestone album, no matter who's behind the wheels, but after a good dozen listens, I'm convinced: a turkey this is not. It's Earth. It's different. It's good. Aiming for some kind of sunswept, "American Gothic" feel (just check the booklet and the glorious black and white photos within for confirmation of that), the approach here can be frustratingly minimal and slow-going. The downtuned guitar of yore is missing, only to be replaced by a mighty Duane Eddy-like TWANG. Add to the mix some banjo and lap/pedal steel and you have a genuine Americana recording which'll have the longhairs and doom-sayers screaming in horror. The comparisons have already been thrown around (by me, too, of course): Dead Man and Morricone's Spaghetti Western soundtracks, so I thought I'd throw a curveball into the mix: anyone ever buy an album by the post-Savage Republic outfit, Scenic? A dozen years back, I did. I think I still own it, though I can't be bothered looking. From memory, it sounded like this. That grand, expansive, desert-scorched sound. Earth even throw in a bit of near-Allman Brothers-style "classic rock" grandeur in the mix (especially in "An Insect Concerning Teeth"), crescending guitars to the fore, but there's still one track hinting at that patented Earth sound of a decade back: track seven, "Raiford (The Felon Wind)". It may just keep the naysayers happy for its seven-minute duration. Based on a sub-'Sabbath riff, it's the only song present with any kind of, dare I say, "heaviosity", and it's also the best track on the album. Down-tuned yet not in the least bit "metallic" in any traditional sense (the guitar texture is all fuzz w/ no real "sharpness" in its tone), this is as good as anything Earth has ever done.
Only real complaint: did this seriously take 9 years to put together? I doubt it; Dylan Carlson probably spent at least 5 of those missing years in a drugged haze. But still, there could've been more. Hex... is a mere 46 minutes long. That's a great length for a rock 'n' roll disc, but Earth are not rock 'n' roll. The Grand Statement, which is what this should have been (in the meantime knocking their thousands of imitators on their collective ass), requires a double-LP length: 65 minutes or more. Back to the drawing board, but for now, this is good enough.

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