15 August 2014
Heaviness, a notion much cherished in rock circles, is achieved in many sizes, shapes and indeed speeds. A couple of decades ago, Seattle’s Dylan Carson and his band Earth took heavy rock on a sharp 90 degree turn with their formative Earth 2 album, a drone masterpiece which took the propulsion out of the music and focused on riffs and frequencies at an almost molecular level. Imagine if Brian Eno had started his career in Napalm Death instead of Roxy Music, and this is how ambient music would have been birthed.
His own life having taken the occasional 90 degree turn itself, a cleaned-up and reivigorated Carson returns with Earth now at the forefront of epic Southern Gothic music. Disguised in the format of a traditional rock three-piece, their thick, portentous brew could soundtrack the next season of True Detective all by itself.
Matters are kicked off by mercurial Manchester psychedelic trance collective Gnod, who tonight have shapeshifted into three electronics manipulators, a hirsute guitar effects / vocal distortion bod and two saxophonists.
From a foreboding ambient drone against a flickering back projection they build up a pulsing, depth charge beat which after some time climaxes in a ten minute white-noise assault. When silence finally descends, the audience applaud enthusiastically, out of a combination of appreciation, relief and shell-shock.
Not willing to let the baton drop, the DJ then puts on Swans ‘The Seer’ album at pretty high volume while the stage is cleared for the headliners. No sense in relaxing at this point.
On stage they amble, with Carson cutting a strange figure, like a memorable background character from a dark folk story – his hair is a luxuriant brown moptop, beneath which his gaunt cheeks and expansive grey mutton-chops drop broad hints to his former life choices. Once playing though, this fragile figure becomes transformed.
He stands stage front and holds his guitar out to the crowd while drawing out slow, expansive chords that elapse with the speed of treacle flow. At first it looks like he’s cutting a classic metal guitar hero pose – he is, after all, wearing a sleeveless black denim jacket with a Richie Blackmore ‘Rainbow’ patch sewn on the back – but as the songs begin to apply their steady constrictor grip it soon looks more like he is holding the guitar with a care and reverence that one would with a religious artefact, or as a scientist with a invaluable glass flask of chemical elixir.
Carefully attended by simple thrumming bass, Carlson’s deliberately sculpted riffs flow out with molten precision, like Ragged Glory-era Neil Young at half- or even quarter-speed.
Drummer Adrienne Davies perhaps has the hardest task in the band, at once propelling and restraining the songs, her limbs moving in what seems at first almost comic slow motion, but as the set progresses she takes on a hypnotic body-rhythm all of its own, swaying like a deep water kelp forest to the music’s own tidal pulses.
The new album Primitive and Deadly is notable for the inclusion of vocalists, but none are present tonight. It’s all about the music, with the new tracks fitting seamlessly into the old. A genuinely awe-inspiring The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull draws out the tension in the recorded version still further, casting an irresistible hypnotic spell which ensnares the entire room.
New song Torn By The Fox Of The Crescent Moon chugs along with a menacing almost-metal riff which fractures at the end of each line, like early Swans covering early Helmet. This leads into a climactic Ouroboros is Broken, which lumbers relentlessly on like a huge herd of mammoths pacing towards the inevitability of their extinction, a dense, crushing track which seems to get slower as it progresses, like a black hole feeding on its own strangulating heaviness.
There is no encore. Where could they go from here?