Upon Dylan Carlson’s messianic Second Coming in 2005, fans of Earth sat rubbing their hands to the bone, eagerly awaiting another bowel-loosening fix of drone drawn from the same pool of primordial ooze of Earth 2. But after dropping the needle on the group’s first studio album in almost 10 years, some Earth followers denounced Hex: Printing in the Infernal Method as an utter disappointment. Where were the 20-minute tonal La Monte Young-inspired drift studies cum proto-sludge riffage of Tony Iommi’s guitar (Sabbath’s original band name was, you guessed it, Earth)?
For Carlson, the Second Coming of Earth was a chance to formulate a different formula. While still slow, still doomy, and still dark, Hex showed hallmarks of an entirely new sound. Suddenly, twangy guitars, Wild West Americana gospel, and Quicksilver-style psych-rock were being utilized, transforming the stoner churn of early Earth into something more subtly psychedelic, something that throbbed with the pedal steel twang of country rock while still retaining that sense of paranoid doom. Close your eyes while listening to Hex, and one’s mind might picture a high-noon showdown with the sounds of saloon doors flapping in the background as a tumbleweed rolls by. Last year’s Hibernaculum saw Carlson and crew take three live staples and give them a retrofit in the new cryptic folk style, which can be seen as a philosophical bridge between the Earth of yore and the seemingly more refined Earth of present.
On the other side of that bridge lies Earth’s new album, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull. Taking its name from a Bible verse supposedly relating to the story of Samson and Delilah, the title evokes themes of life and death and their interrelationships. Like the nectar produced in the rotten jaws of the lion on the cover illustration, something sweet arises from decaying power. If Earth 2 is the lion’s skull, then Bees is the sweet nectar left behind in its decayed head.
The Bees Made Honey showcases Earth at their most mannered. Space and silence permeate between the instrumentation, and instead of a cosmic soup of reverb and delay, Carlson’s guitar tone is clean and relatively untreated. He politely slings his strings, bending notes into the ether while weaving a delicate yarn with the symbiotic drumming of Adrienne Davies, who provides a sparse, steady beat in which the real pleasure is listening to what she doesn’t play. Legendary jazz guitarist Bill Frisell adds some shine and shimmer to a few songs as well, complimenting Carlson’s guitar with the sweet hum of his Fender Telecaster. Don McGreevey, longtime live bassist makes his full-length studio debut with the band, and Steve Moore (Zombi) adds some sparkling Hammond organ, electric piano, and trombone.
The Bees Made Honey is the most orchestrated, complete Earth record since Carlson’s return to the music scene, and the best of the “new” Earth. It is also far and away the most beautiful, awe-inspiring, and uplifting record Earth has ever recorded (ya heard me). It seems Carlson has made his own honey in the skulls of his past and is now stoically looking into that great sunset, optimistically awaiting a peaceful, bountiful future.