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The Bandcamp Guide to Earth


For nearly 30 years, Dylan Carlson has occupied an unlikely dual role as a true vanguard of experimental music and an undisputed Lord of the Riff, garnering respect from outer-sound explorers and metal heshers in equal measure. He’s also a critical part of a mainstream history of alternative music that doesn’t quite know what to do with him. Earth’s debut EP, Extra-Capsular Extraction, came out on Sub Pop the same year Nirvana released Nevermind, and when Kurt Cobain committed suicide three years later, it was with a shotgun Carlson bought for him (originally as a means of self-defense). You’d forgive a band whose early years were so intense for flaming out quickly, or for milking their notoriety on the nostalgia circuit. Neither of those scenarios has been the case for Earth.

Amid the chaos of the Seattle scene, Carlson was essentially inventing the drone/doom genre that bands like Sunn O))) and Boris would later expand on. He figured out a way to twist Tony Iommi’s amplifier worship into something with a dynamic spectrum so tight that the slightest deviations—a familiar riff coming back with its final note bent, a feedback squall that shatters a meditative drone, a cymbal hit that comes in a half-beat early—became seismic events. Reinvigorated by the addition of drummer Adrienne Davies in 2001, the band is making some of its finest work today, including the brilliant Full Upon Her Burning Lips. The album’s cover is a first for Earth—a portrait of Carlson and Davies in vivid close-up, both defiant, both still standing, all these years later.


Here’s a guide to a few of the most essential releases in Earth’s vast discography.

A Bureaucratic Desire for Extra Capsular Extraction

The seven songs that comprise A Bureaucratic Desire for Extra Capsular Extraction spent 20 years waiting to be reunited. Recorded in October 1990 as a debut full-length that never saw the light of day, the songs were parceled out across demos, EPs, and limited-edition records before finally being remastered and presented as a full album in 2010. It’s almost shocking how fully-formed the aesthetic of Earth’s first incarnation sounds on their earliest recordings. Carlson seems to have sprung from the womb capable of building towering drones out of detuned post-Master of Reality riffs. “Ouroboros Is Broken” is the obvious masterstroke here, an 18-minute treatise on heaviness that remains a staple of the band’s live set.

Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method

Following a series of essential ’90s albums that shaped the sound of drone metal as we know it, Earth went on hiatus. Carlson was in the throes of heroin addiction and dealing with the fallout from his friend Kurt Cobain’s death. Music was the last thing on his mind. The band rebooted in the early aughts, and 2005’s Hex LP was the first major document of their ongoing second era. The impossibly heavy guitar drones remained, but they were complemented by the genius feel of drummer Adrienne Davies, and Carlson’s country and Western influences started to come through more in the songs. Earth have always had an Ennio Morricone streak, but on Hex, he’s a spiritual ghost writer.

The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull

In 2008, Earth released what many consider their best album. The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull is the band at their most grandiose, taking inspiration from the Biblical story of Samson and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and enlisting a crack team of collaborators to add new dimensions to their signature sound. Steve Moore—who releases music under the name “Stebmo” and has also performed extensively with Sunn O)))—splashes piano, Hammond, and Wurlitzer across the sonic canvas, and the legendary avant-garde guitarist Bill Frisell (of Naked City solos) with a controlled chaos that contrasts Carlson’s desert-rock drones brilliantly. The hypnotic riffs on the album double as hooks, too; good luck listening to “Rise to Glory” or “Miami Morning Coming Down II (Shine)” without getting them stuck in your head.

Primitive and Deadly

The vast majority of Earth’s music is fully instrumental, and when it does utilize vocals, it’s typically to add another sonic texture, not to shift the focal point of the song. Primitive and Deadly is the glaring exception. Fellow Seattle alt-rock hero Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees brings his gravelly voice to the ominous tone poems “There Is a Serpent Coming” and “Rooks Across the Gate,” and Rose Windows belter Rabia Shaheen Qazi steals the show with her histrionic performance on album centerpiece “From the Zodiacal Light.” The remaining two songs are instrumental, and they make the case for Primitive and Deadly as the most metal Earth album. “Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon” is driven by a palm-muted riff that chugs forward like thrash played a quarter-speed, and “Even Hell Has Its Heroes” indulges in a 10-minute guitar solo.

The Bug vs. Earth – Concrete Desert

Here’s the album where Dylan Carlson renewed his experimental pioneer license. Concrete Desert is a collaboration between Earth and U.K. noise/dub/industrial artist The Bug. If that sounds like an odd fit, especially for the Western-obsessed Mark II version of Earth, then the project did its job. There’s room enough on Concrete Desert for The Bug and Earth to both sound like themselves, and also room enough for them to collide in unpredictable, thrillingly cacophonous ways. The best song here might be the JK Flesh-featuring bonus track “Dog,” which in an alternate timeline would have fueled the wildest raves of the early ’90s.

Full Upon Her Burning Lips

Full Upon Her Burning Lips, the latest Earth full-length, foregrounds the humanity of Carlson and Davies, both in its striking cover art and in the intimacy of its compositions. It retains the widescreen scope of the best Earth albums, but it also manages to make it feel like we’re in the room with the band while they’re tracking it. Musically, the stop-start dynamics of “The Colour of Poison” introduce a new wrinkle to the classic Earth sound, while the two 11-minute-plus tracks, “Datura’s Crimson Veils” and “She Rides an Air of Malevolence,” rival the most epic moments of the band’s career.

-Brad Sanders

Certified: Spirit Adrift Forge Modern Arena Metal That’s Built to Last

Certified-Spirit Adrift-1244

Photography by Joey Maddon

Certified is a series on Bandcamp where we spotlight artists whose work we think is worthy of additional attention.

Arena metal. It’s a vivid phrase in search of a practical meaning. Outside of a few hallowed names—Metallica, Maiden, Priest—nobody playing heavy music can actually fill an arena these days. That makes the relentless, Sisyphean drive of Spirit Adrift’s Nate Garrett all the more inspiring.

“You can use the word ‘arena,’” Garrett says in response to a sheepish suggestion that Spirit Adrift’s third album, Divided by Darkness, sounds like it should be performed in huge rooms. “Hell yeah.”

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This Week’s Essential Releases: Astral Folk, Soul, Grindcore and More

7 essential

Welcome to Essential Releases, our weekly roundup of the best music on Bandcamp. Each week, we’ll recommend crucial new albums that were released between last Friday and this Friday, plus pick an older LP from the stacks that you may have missed.

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Big Ups: Shovels & Rope Pick Their Bandcamp Favorites

Shovels Rope
Photo by Curtis Millard

Shovels & Rope, the folk-rock duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, represent the platonic ideal of a musical partnership. Since their initial meeting in 2005, by way of Charleston’s small but-impassioned rock scene, the musicians have gotten married (10 years and counting!), had two young children, and oh, yeah — become one of the biggest bands in the south, releasing four albums, plus two collaborative projects; and headlining multiple tours. They’ve even launched an annual, music gathering in their adopted home of Charleston, the High Water Festival. (This year’s lineup features Leon Bridges, Jenny Lewis, Mitski, and more.) Talk about #relationshipgoals.

It makes sense, then, that these partners of more than a decade share similar tastes where their Bandcamp favorites are concerned; their picks reveal a mutual, deep-seated passion for Americana, rock-and-roll, and heartland folk — further reflected by their new album, By Blood, which puts a distinct Shovels & Rope spin on the aforementioned styles. Bandcamp caught up with the pair amid their present headlining trek through the U.S.

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This Week’s Essential Releases: Techno, Jazz Fusion, Goth Rock and More

7 essential

Welcome to Essential Releases, our weekly roundup of the best music on Bandcamp. Each week, we’ll recommend crucial new albums that were released between last Friday and this Friday, plus pick an older LP from the stacks that you may have missed.

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Accidental “Vocal Acrobat” Sequoyah Murray Is Art Pop’s Next Big Thing

Sequoyah Murray

Photo by Amber Felix

Vocalist Sequoyah Murray’s sophisticated, three-octave baritone mesmerizes from the moment he picks up the phone and says, “Hello.” It’s a voice he’s been nurturing and developing like an athlete since he was a teen. And now, the musician and producer—who’s been self-releasing much of his music since he was 15 years old, not to mention collaborated with respected avant-electronic producers James Ginzburg (Emptyset) and Dave Corney (Hyetal)—has made his first power move with his inaugural EP, Penalties of Love, newly arrived on Thrill Jockey.

None of this was in the original plan.

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Album of the Day: The Physics House Band, “Death Sequence”

The new EP by British quartet The Physics House Band lasts less than 17 minutes, but it feels like an eternity—or at the very least, like listening to a bunch of albums at once. Consider the first five minutes of opening track “Death Sequence i.” The band shift from rising prog rock to cinematic guitar meditation, and then from mathed-out metal riffage to nearly symphonic bombast. They pull off these pivots with the muscular prowess and skillful precision of lab-tested scientists. To say they make every second count is an understatement. Continue reading