Concert Reviews

Pioneering Doom Band Earth Never Phones in the Heavy

Even though co-headliner Boris had to step out of the Denver date due to illness, it didn't seem like many, if any, fans opted out of attending the Earth show on Friday night, August 19, at the Bluebird. One might credit the addition of local support with the bluesy hard-rock band Alterity and the doomy psych group the Munsens with the number of people that showed up, but it was Earth that clearly possessed the gravitas that kept listeners around to the end.

Cited as pioneers of doom and drone metal, Earth has never been easy to categorize. For this show, Dylan Carlson, Adrienne Davies and Bill Herzog looked like characters out of an unlikely Cormac McCarthy novel about rock and roll. That is to say, the trio looked like it had spent years backing some outlaw country artist, experienced the kinds of lurid experiences the Eagles sang about and managed to escape the Hotel California, only to find themselves living out the fantasies Jim Morrison talked about in “Roadhouse Blues.” Yet when Carlson spoke, he sounded like none of those types of experiences had hardened him. Rather, he sounded like someone possessed of a tender heart and a tentative ego — the kind of person who would persuade by example rather than steamroll you with the power of his music.

Earth has a reputation for being heavier than heavy, and while that impression is not unwarranted, the band displayed a nuance of songwriting and use of sound that speaks to roots in country and folk as well as blues. There was indeed a heaviness to the music, but it wasn't hard. Thorny but never harsh, gritty but never abrasive. The songs moved in great arcs rather than striking like thunder or grinding hard. The dynamics suggested circular patterns that didn't operate according to the rigid logic of a lot of heavy music.

Carlson, Davies and Herzog looked and even sounded like they were honky-tonk veterans, but their name invokes Mother Earth, they often use the Ouroboros symbol as a logo, and their compositions often invoke pre-Christian symbolism — all of which suggest a kind of feminine energy and hark back to traces of early spirituality for inspiration. Sure, in naming a song “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull” from the 2008 album of the same name, Earth drew on a biblical reference, but one imbued with meaning older than Judeo-Christian culture.

All hints of references to ancient cultures and pagan religions aside, Earth looked like it was fun music to play, not some gloomy affair on the downbeat. Though slow-paced, the energy from the band was magnetic, with Davies tracing the outlines of the lingering haze of sound with her drum accents, almost driving the music along in a curiously energized slow motion. At the end of the show, Carlson told the crowd that Earth would be back with a new album. If the group's creative trajectory so far is any indication, and if the bright energy of this show is any hint, that new album will push the boundaries of anyone's conception of what makes for doom metal or drone or even post-rock. After all, Earth isn't just about the music. All of its previous albums are fairly different from one another, which points to creating from a core of following intuition and an honest depiction of emotional spaces. One also senses that on stage the band is very in the moment and not just spacing out adrift among abstract melodies. At the Bluebird, that quality gave the music an emotional and sonic heft that merely playing the right notes and the right chords in the proper rhythms could never muster.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.