The Bug vs Earth: Boa / Cold

This collaboration between legendary producer the Bug (Kevin Martin) and legendary metal band Earth promises, fulfills, and then promises so much more.

The Bug vs Earth

Boa / Cold

Label: Ninja Tune
US Release Date: 2014-11-28
UK Release Date: Import

Primitive and Deadly, Earth's latest, left me in a state of doubt. For years I thought they'd had been making all the right strides. With each new album Dylan Carlson and his dead-eyed band of outlaws had constructed sonic landscapes that didn’t merely evoke the environments they seem modeled after -- the West of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian in Hex, the deserts of the ancient Middle East with The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, the frigid air of a mountain top and the cosmic vistas of space with both volumes of Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light -- but in fact embodied them. Even sober it was easy enough to close your eyes and find yourself wandering the desert, parched and starving and desperate or stranded at the zenith of the world with the only light, the only notable landmark, the distant and menacing light of stars. No music has ever, I felt, evoked desolation or emptiness in quite the same way.

By contrast, Primitive and Deadly was dull. Uninspired vocals ruined Carlson’s normally flawless scene-setting; uninspired arrangements that hearkened back in no small way to older Earth tracks, such as “Ouroboros Is Broken” made many tracks feel superfluous. Some of Earth’s earlier catalog had been ponderous, some of Earth’s worst efforts had been ugly, yes, but not a single track off of earlier efforts had ever felt as much like filler as “Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon”. No Earth song before “There Is a Serpent Coming” might have been described as hokey. Far from moving forward and charting new territory -- because where else does one go from the firmament but to realms unimagined? -- Earth seemed to have reverted but not to any primitive state. They were cast from the heights of Mt. Sinai to the deserts of Israel and they had nothing to show for it except a brief brush with the infernal as manifested in“Even Hell Has Its Heroes", a track as diabolical as its names suggested. With dueling guitars, a scorching rhythm section and a tone of no small omen it was a hint that Earth might have found a new direction even if it took them an album to do so. They’d visited Heaven and found a dead-end there while their initial brush with hell proved all-too exciting.

Only the detour they’ve recently taken with the Bug (aka legendary British producer Kevin Martin) might prove more promising still. For once, Carlson seems to have found a collaborator who understands his most nihilistic, brutal tendencies, an ear who could hear Earth's desperate, lonely keening. There’s always been a questing character in the band, as if Carlson was dragging his friends across the world’s most forsaken landscapes in search of something he knew from the start would not be wherever they arrived. What he found instead was always some variation of the same, which explains why Earth’s general timbre has always equal parts windswept and dusty, sun-baked and cracked. Arid, desolate (tundras, after all, have more than a little in common with deserts). Ironically, though, the band never seemed to journey into urban centers. Even its grungiest efforts, as with Pentastar, were far removed from urban roots, coming instead from some doped out interior space.

The Bug hasn’t forgotten how ugly the city can be, though, and he’s done a great job of teaching this to Earth, of showing it just how likely it is that an urban hell will crush you by its sheer indifference, how the smog will poison you and how the hot, unforgiving concrete is so damned inhospitable even weeds, at home anywhere, seem to struggle to find purchase in this ground. Carson and company, for their part, have learned and learned well.

Boa/Cold, named without any kind of pretense after the two-sides of this limited release, is the result of their collaboration, and the result is nothing less than an evolution of Earth’s natural style. The same steel-guitar drones and deliberate pace are still there, the band’s love for fading and slowly layering as pronounced as ever, but now there’s a distinct sound of something industrial underriding all of this. There are additional effects, here, the kind you’d never imagine might show up in an Earth album -- distant, fragile chimes and slight tinks from a synthesizer -- but the real innovation is in the various flavors of industrial percussion the Bug introduces into all of it.

Those throbbing drum machines, those smoggy snares, the slow building bits of gnarly, twisted grinds that can only come from various sound-effects: it’s all here and it’s all ugly and it’s all so perfect because of this. Synthesizers drone high above, like helicopters -- unmanned -- hover above, watching. Bells ting in the distance and the sound is not unlike a funeral chime; by the time these bells have moved up to the forefront, as in “Boa,” they are unmistakable. Not merely “like” funeral chimes, they ARE funeral chimes, tolling for whomever should hear them. Those additional percussive effects which might have seemed unthinkable -- Earth has always been a very, well, earthy band, with a very natural sound; the noise from a digital stream seems almost anathema to the world’s they’ve explored -- here seem necessary. They lend an urgency and an oppressive weight to these songs, replacing the literal loneliness of the hermit in the desert with the more abstract loneliness of someone alone in an urban center, surrounded on all sides by people but noticed only by an oppressive Authority.

It’s not pretty music anymore, no. If Earth continues down the path that the Bug has shown it with this EP, they’re sure to lose the semi-divine element of its sound, that natural essence that smacked of nature’s cruelest and its loveliest. But what Earth has gained might be far more exciting than the wicked hell-fire flare it demonstrated in rare spots on Primitive and Deadly, may chart a sludgier and more promising future for the band that long ago cast off the muck of their earliest efforts for austere, severe and scathingly dry music. I wouldn’t advise Earth to shoo the Bug away and slam the window on him just yet: he’s clearly carrying a potent strain of some viral agent, one that will make the band that much stronger. Assuming, of course, that it doesn’t kill them first.





Journalist Jonathan Cott's Interviews, Captured

With his wide-ranging interviews, Jonathan Cott explores "the indispensable and transformative powers of the imagination."

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Coronavirus and the Culture Wars

Infodemics, conspiracies -- fault lines beneath the Fractured States of America tremble in this time of global pandemic, amplify splinters, fractures, and fissures past and present.


'Switched-On Seeker' Is an Imaginative Electronic Reimagining of Mikal Cronin's Latest LP

Listeners who prefer dense rock/pop timbres will no doubt prefer Mikal Cronin's 'Seeker'. However, 'Switched-On Seeker' will surely delight fans of smaller-scale electronic filters.


IYEARA Heighten the Tension on Remix of Mark Lanegan's "Playing Nero" (premiere)

Britsh trio IYEARA offer the first taste of a forthcoming reworking of Mark Lanegan's Somebody's Knocking with a remix of "Playing Nero".


Pottery Take Us Deep Into the Funky and Absurd on 'Welcome to Bobby's Motel'

With Welcome to Bobby's Motel, Pottery have crafted songs to cleanse your musical pallet and keep you firmly on the tips of your toes.


Counterbalance 23: Bob Dylan - 'Blood on the Tracks'

Bob Dylan makes his third appearance on the Acclaimed Music list with his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks. Counterbalance’s Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn are planting their stories in the press.


Luke Cissell Creates Dreamy, Electronic Soundscapes on the Eclectic 'Nightside'

Nightside, the new album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Cissell, is largely synthetic and electronic but contains a great deal of warmth and melody.


Bibio Discusses 'Sleep on the Wing' and Why His Dreams Are of the Countryside

"I think even if I lived in the heart of Tokyo, I'd still make music that reminds people of the countryside because it's where my dreams often take me," says Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) of his music and his new rustic EP.

Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.