Earth Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword

[Troubleman Unlimited; 2005]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: doom; minimalist sludge; ambient drone; experimental guitar
Others: Sunn O))); Corrupted; Boris; Skullflower

Admirers of Earth, the seminal ultra-minimal ambient doom outfit from Olympia, Washington, are likely to find nothing extraordinary or groundbreaking in Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword. This may serve as a comfort, however, for those who may be concerned that the band have altered their approach to their own peculiar variety of experimental drone metal. This 2005 release on the Troubleman Unlimited label features two lengthy live tracks, both recorded September 17th, 2002 in New York City. Guitarist Dylan Carlson and drummer Adrienne Davies must have had an extremely busy day that September day, as these two tracks alone take up a considerably large part of it. But seriously, folks, together these two pieces clock in at almost 75 minutes in length (track lengths have been included below for emphasis) and were each recorded at separate locations. It can also be safely said that listening to this album at a single sitting does not do these two pieces justice. To gain any kind of measurable insight into these monolithic tracks, the payoff is in repeated exposure. Granted, it's an extraordinarily daunting task to try to set aside several 75-minute segments of time to listen to a mere two tracks, but for the discriminating listener who can appreciate "ambient doom" as more than simply monotonous, gratuitous musical wankery, the experience is likely to be a rewarding one.

The album's opener, "Dissolution III" is an instrumental piece performed on solo guitar. The phenomenal sustain of previous Earth releases is still to be found on the track, but Carlson's tone is notably more trebly, and, to this listener's ears, may not even be down-tuned. While Earth's classic recording Earth 2, and to a slightly lesser degree, Phase Three: Thrones and Dominions, featured extremely low-frequency, doomed-out sub-Sabbath riffs, Carlson's hyper-distorted buzz has an almost black metal tone on the entirety of Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword. Though, in typical Earth style, the cut features a single murky chord progression that is repeated ad nauseam throughout the track's entirety; his execution of noodly guitar leads on the high strings while simultaneously sustaining heavy, menacing riffs on the low strings lends an innovative breadth to this piece. The riffs are also frequently interspersed with intriguing minor-key, suspended, and various and sundry other chord shapes that, while most likely improvised, serve to break up the monotony of the tracks while infusing them with a spooky dissonance. Furthermore, (sarcasm alert) it appears that Dylan Carlson may have taken to listening to Helmet, as his start-stop-start dynamics are reminiscent of Page Hamilton's trademark style.

It is the second (and title) track, however, which is the high point of Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword. As the work of a duo, it is in general a denser, richer, and more engaging piece. It is on this track that Adrienne Davies proves herself to be a worthy successor to Earth's previous drummers. At just shy of 60 minutes, it must be uncommonly difficult, as a percussionist, to keep pace with a musician playing nothing but repeated, droning riffs that change time signatures at frequent intervals; but Davies proves herself to be up to the task. Her drumming style has an almost tribal, rhythmic cadence that is a measured counterbalance to Carlson's ambient metal style -- a style that is as much about atmosphere and the use of space as it is The Riff. But the two are oddly in sync throughout "Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword." The track never comes off as either forced or meandering, despite its length.

Southern Lord was wise to point out on their web site that this recording is not the long-awaited Earth studio album. That would be Hex: Or, Printing in the Infernal Method, to be released on Southern Lord this September. Frankly, however, Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword has slaked this reviewer's craving for new Earth material, while simultaneously stoking his desire to hear their forthcoming long-player.

1. Dissolution III (Live on WNYU Radio 9/17/02) [14:29]
2. Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword (Live NYC 9/17/02) [58:54]

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