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Just to the west of Rapid City, South Dakota are the Black Hills, a modest mountain range that sounds more ominous than it really is. The same can be said for Rapid City’s own Woman is the Earth, a long-running trio whose forbidding black metal belies its members’s regular-dude clothes and un-corpse-painted faces. For several years, the band excelled in relative obscurity, releasing a raw but promising debut (2011’s This Place That Contains My Spirit) and a follow-up (2014’s Depths) that documented Woman is the Earth’s early embrace of atmospheric elements and skyward ambition. In 2016, those qualities came into focus on the band’s third album Torch of Our Final Night, a towering union of blast beats, pitch-black growls, glittering guitars, and serene acoustic passages that calls to mind a star-studded sky on a clear night over the American Great Plains.
Their celestial interests sated, perhaps, the three men of Woman is the Earth begin their new album Dust of Forever with some concerted efforts to reel in their sound. Opening track “Emerald Ash” eschews pretty plucking in favor of five minutes of classic black metal rhythms and riffs; it’s followed by the ragged howls and relentless pace of “Crystal Tomb” and a slab of (mostly) throat-shredding thrash called “Through A Beating Heart.” All three of these songs spill over with melodic elements, but they also seem heavy and grounded in a way that counterbalances some of Torch of Our Final Night’s most striking moments.
Woman is the Earth has not completely abandoned its atmosphere and aspiration, of course. Choruses of chanted vocals background several songs on Dust of Forever. “Departure” is a short interlude that showcases the band’s softer, sparkling side. And the majestic “Breath of a Dying Star” sonically tells a story, complete with chapters and scene changes and dynamic shifts. Even in its prettiest moments, though, Woman is the Earth’s sound feels dark and dense and deeply rooted—a lot like those hills not far from their hometown.