fri 14/06/2024

Earth, Union Chapel | reviews, news & interviews

Earth, Union Chapel

Earth, Union Chapel

A church proves a fitting venue for occult aficionado Dylan Carlson’s instrumental grandeur

Earth: Adrienne Davies, Dylan Carlson, Karl Blau, Lori Goldston (left to right)

There have been many Earths. Dylan Carlson has been the only constant, using the shifting line-ups as the vehicle for his vision of a music that is all about space, slowness, and repetition. As last night's concert made clear, he no longer needs a heavy metal framework to achieve his goal. Nowadays, understatement achieves heaviness. You could call it maturing.

Earth are currently Carlson on guitar, bassist Karl Blau, percussionist Adrienne Davies and cellist Lori Goldston. Goldston is best known for playing with Nirvana on MTV’s Unplugged. Carlson was once Kurt Cobain’s roommate and they were close friends. This line-up recorded the last two Earth albums, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I and II, and two-thirds of the set was cherry-picked from these: the title track of The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull provided the evening's closer, while the encore was a new piece, titled “Badger". The show began with another new, untitled song drawing from the folk standard “Black Waterside”. An airing of 1996’s “Tallahassee” was a surprise.

This was a concert to be experienced rather than enjoyed

Less surprising was that this was a concert to be experienced rather than enjoyed. On stage, the quartet were a formidable unit, taut and locked together. Carlson was in charge and communicated, mainly with Davies, by the odd nod. The music was built around repeated refrains. On “The Rakehell”, the six-note phrase was restated, recast. A basic jazz form. In practice this meant that the live Earth sounded like a quarter-speed Television, stripped of the flash. Or a treacle-footed Neil Young. Pushing away from minimalism, Earth are now about managing space rather than eradicating notes. They’re there, but far apart. All this makes Earth seem desiccated, without an arc. But Carlson has created a parabola, feeding back into itself. The effect is mesmerising.

Beyond the form of the music, his guitar technique was equally intriguing. His chosen amplifier was the relatively puny 22-watt Fender Deluxe Reverb. He played a Telecaster. Together, they provided a piercing clarity. He’s keen on sustain: natural, coaxed through bending strings, agitating the neck of the guitar or controlling feedback. You wonder how Carlson would get on if his guitar were fitted with a whammy bar.

Earth’s is a music of contradictions, but that’s why they stand out

Overall, the experience was psychedelic, but without the sinuousness that LSD brought to music. It’s a music of contradictions, but that’s why Earth stand out. They were and are influential. Beginning by disassembling Black Sabbath’s sludge and binding it to Terry Riley’s minimalism and La Monte Young’s drone invented a music that became the template for Sunn O))) and Finland’s Circle. Earth's debut, 1993’s Earth 2, was the doom-drone-metallist’s textbook.

After sowing the seeds, Earth were put on hold in 1997 as Carlson vanished into a personal black hole. When the band re-emerged with Hex in 2005, country, the psychedelia of San Francisco’s ballrooms and the British folk of Fairport Convention and Bert Jansch coloured the music anew. The recent brace of Angels of Darkness. Demons of Light albums add nods to Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western soundtracks and jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, who contributed to their predecessor The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull.

Carlson though is known for more than his music. Kurt Cobain committed suicide with a gun owned by Carlson. Nick Broomfield’s 1998 documentary Kurt & Courtney featured an interview with Carlson that didn’t appear to be of this earth. A drug addict, he suffered liver failure in 2005.

His medical history hasn’t diminished him. In person, Carlson is arresting. Regardless of the striking facial hair, he is a presence. Although the clothes are modern, he seems from another era. The early 19th-century Union Chapel is the right place for him, although Carlson is preoccupied with earlier eras. The tattoos on the back of his hands are 16th- and 17th-century spells. He’s spoken of being in London and experiencing encounters on the streets of Camden Town and Waterloo. Jimmy Page, rock’s most-famous occult aficionado, has never been this explicit. This side of Carlson is captured on the recent solo cassette Edward Kelley’s Blues (named after an associate of 16th -century occultist John Dee) and will coalesce next year with the release of the book/CD/DVD Falling With a Thousand Stars and Other Wonders From the House of Albion.

And here he was last night in Earth, in a church, taciturn but no doubt well aware of the tension between his interests and what this building is dedicated to. Songs were announced, the players introduced and the audience thanked. There was no make show. Beyond the encore, there was little deference to the tropes of a rock show.

Last night wasn’t the disconnect it could have been. The deliberate pace, length and austerity of Earth’s instrumentals invite reflection. Theirs might not be a traditionally devotional music, but the formality of delivery and its grandeur make it - at least - ceremonial. Hearing it in a working church made sense.

Earth perform "A Multiplicity of Doors"

The live Earth experience is psychedelic, but without the sinuousness that LSD brought to music


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article


didn't feel they weren't quite as on it as when i saw them at the scala last time around but the version of bees made honey was worth the admission alone. sticker on the back of dylan carlson's guitar read "Have a fairy nice day"

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters