24 April 2009

Review: Earth @ The Croft, Bristol, 23.04.09

Originally published at TLOBF

“This is about how you get a medical condition where you can’t look at flashing lights, so lift your glass to your favourite method of self-destruction,” jokes Dylan Carlson before Steve ‘Stebmo’ Moore plays the fateful opening salvo of ‘Engine of Ruin’. Judging by the submissive head bowing and enraptured half-shut eyes of the audience, it’d seem that the preferred road to aural wreckage of everyone present is letting Earth attack their ears with their dismal grace and perturbing volume; like the slow erosion of Chinese water torture. This is one of those gigs that’s so close and impending that it’s left down to booming exhalations from the amplifiers to act as air conditioning for the night; despite Moore’s Wurlitzer blooming a lazy song beneath Carlson’s judgment gavel of a guitar, each note is so elongated and weighty that even contemplation begins to feel like physical exertion, so the occasional blasts of oxygen are gratefully received.

Their six-year hiatus not included, this year and tour mark the 20th anniversary of Earth, and they’re on fine form. To call them forceful, dark and hypnotic would be a crass understatement of their intensity - as they burn slowly through the embers of ‘The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull’ the emotional autonomy of the audience is lost to what feels like an ancient brainwashing ritual, Carlson excavates the protracted depths of ‘Miami Morning Coming Down II’ like he’s after Howard Carter’s prestige, and the Croft’s ceiling tiles give up their hold and tumble to the floor. Neither drummer Adrienne Davies nor Carlson bats an eyelid. ‘Bees…’ vinyl bonus track ‘Junkyard Priest’ raises the set’s brontide to a more aggressive level, with Stebmo taking on trombone duties to flesh out the night’s sleepy dynamic, and to recover a little soul just when it starts to feel like you’re watching a band in slow motion. The same pounding rant appears in an as-yet untitled new song in E flat minor (simultaneously frustrating and gratifying for fans, it’s the only non-‘Bees…’ track they play tonight). Playing with the resounding motifs from what will become its predecessor, it takes a more passive-aggressive turn of events, refusing to satisfy neat crescendos or cyclical melodies with a petulance so ear-ravishing that all you can do is raise your glass as high as you can, and weather the storm.

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