Primitive and Deadly may be the dawning of another new era for the Seattle legends.
“I kind of joke about Primitive and Deadly being a mid-life crisis record, me returning to my misspent metal youth.” Earth’s founder and chief songwriter, Dylan Carlson, may seem flippant about metal in the preceding (out-of-context) quote taken from a recent interview with Metal Hammer, but even though Carlson has been primarily inspired by the dusty drawl of Americana and the quaintness of British folk in recent years, he still acknowledges that metal runs deep in his blood.
Indeed, as Carlson alludes, Earth’s new album is his most “metal” release in a long time—certainly the heaviest since 1996’s Pentastar: In the Style of Demons, the follow-up the (literally) groundbreaking Earth 2: Special Low-Frequency Version (1993).
For Primitive and Deadly, Carlson scaled the band back to the core of him and his partner, drummer Adrienne Davies, and he then recruited bassist Bill Herzog (Sunn O)))) and welcomed contributions from guitarists Brett Netson (Built to Spill) and Jodie Cox (Narrows). More noteworthy, Carlson also brought vocals back to Earth for the first time since he himself sang on Pentastar, with the life-beaten baritone of Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age) and the complimentary call of Rose Windows’ Rabia Shaheen Qazi marking another stylistic shift in the storied existence of the drone-metal pioneers.
Earth needed to make this kind of statement now, as although their recent run of albums—a spurt of productivity that began in 2005 when Earth released Hex, or Printing in the Infernal Method after a nine-year absence—have been of high quality, the recent stability of sound in both Carlson’s solo output and what he has created with Earth led to certain expectations of what would come next.
The fact that Carlson changed tact somewhat (the absence of Lori Goldston’s cello playing being another major difference from the last two albums) and sidestepped predictability in the process is what makes this album so immediately interesting. Therefore the metallic undertow of Primitive and Deadly has in fact arrived at the appropriate time.
The subsonic guitar mauling of Earth 2 (which stretched Iommic phrasing into the abstract, to the point where you felt like you were slowly dip-dyed in vat of LSD), the Crazy Horse-isms that eventually followed and, more recently, the twee interpretation of ‘60s/’70s British folk music through the lens of a modern American musician all moved at a tempo untouched by time; sounding both peaceful and powerful in very dissimilar ways.
Primitive and Deadly is no different, even though it amplifies the sonic heaviness without reducing the melodic, refined dimensions formed after Earth’s devastating early drones. The new album begins with “Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon”, which also sees a reintroduction of the Americana influences that made 2008's The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull such a vivid journey through dusty terrains. A lumbering doom riff and a languid beat allow Carlson space to explore interesting harmonics; the tonal qualities of his playing perfectly captured by Randall Dunn’s production job.
Invoking the desert around Joshua Tree, California’s Rancho de la Luna, where the album was recorded, the instrumental opener acts as a conduit for all previous sounds created by Earth. It also works well in establishing the record’s intentions and setting up the first of two songs featuring Mark Lanegan. “There is a Serpent Coming” is ominous in both tone and theme but some may find Lanegan’s delivery at odds with the music, as he takes an atypical approach: his phrasing bucks against the instrumentation.
A tale of foreboding ensues, though the music moves from sinister, Sabbathian beginnings to a much more hopeful-sounding end. On the other hand, “Rooks Across the Gate” is more traditional Lanegan; his blistered vocal chords, burnt by life’s trials, travel in-tandem with the gradual forward movement of the guitars as they toll hypnotically throughout.
Interestingly, even though Lanegan never sang for a doom metal band before, he has the same ache in his voice as Saint Vitus’s Wino and he is a perfect fit for the downtrodden traits of doom—and the same can be said for Qazi. Her performance on the pivotal highpoint, ‘From the Zodiacal Light’, brings a menacing touch to Primitive and Deadly.
The eerie draw of her voice (similar to Jex Thoth’s) and the way in which she controls the sprawling yet surprisingly seething music beneath, which could adequately be described as either Americana doom or gothic Southern rock, is quite remarkable and her chemistry with the rest of the band is kinetic. Consequentially, ‘From the Zodiacal Light’ is easily one of the best songs Earth have written in their two-decade existence.
However, while the addition of vocals adds a certain immediate spark to Primitive and Deadly, it’s the music itself which provides the source from which the vocals take their strength, and on “Even Hell Has Its Heroes”, Carlson and company prove that without a voice Earth’s music still speaks volumes.
“Even Hell Has Its Heroes” sees Carlson use his raw lead guitar-work to fill the role of a front-person; his soloing sounds so instinctual and effortless throughout this track, moving from bluesy notes to animalistic wails. In fact, Earth’s output thus far could also be described as “instinctual” and “effortless” and it’s Carlson’s fondness to follow the natural path that has made his band so revered. To some it may sound like a regression of sorts for Earth to move away from the folk of their two Angels of Darkness albums (released respectively in 2011 and 2012) and return to heavier fare.
Yet when you hear how expertly arranged Primitive and Deadly actually is, there are no contrived attempts by Carlson to relive “misspent metal youth”. This album is as relevant as anything Earth have released to-date and may be the dawning of another new era for the Seattle legends.