8:29pm

Sun January 30, 2011
First Listen

First Listen: Earth, 'Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1'

What happens after rebirth? The newness of one's soul, vision or culture can only last so long until it disintegrates with fading inspiration, jaded attitudes and divided opinions. Rebirth is only as powerful as its ability to continually transform the transformed and those around them. As Earth developed its heavy instrumental vision in the past six years, subtle deviation has been crucial to the band's renewal. Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 is the latest installment in that trajectory, adding a cello, desert blues and British folk-rock motifs to Earth's slow-moving Americana.

Originally, Earth pioneered the minimalist metallic drones that shook speakers to frayed wires with 1993's Earth 2, followed by more straightforward but still heavy fare. After a break, the band re-emerged in 2005 with Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method, a doomy, noirish Americana record that confounded as much as it retained the heaviness that defined Earth. But this time, the group redefined heaviness on its own terms.

Angels of Light finds guitarist Dylan Carlson and his drummer since Hex, Adrienne Davies, in a peculiar position. Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull, from 2008, was new Earth perfected — it's a full experience laid out in outlaw-jazz improvisation and Carlson's thick Fender Telecaster tone. It was curious, then, to read that the influences behind the new album were British folk-rock legends Fairport Convention and the nomadic desert-blues band Tinariwen. On paper, that would require a significant change in sound, but upon a cursory listen, not much has changed.

Or has it? It took a few times by my ears, but the regal melodies of Fairport Convention and Pentangle really do permeate the album; they're just brought to a crawling pace and, perhaps more helpfully, outlined by Lori Goldston's sonorous cello (she famously played on Nirvana's Unplugged in New York). But Goldston doesn't merely act as the token acoustic presence; she also bears into her instrument as if it were an anvil, sometimes doubling the low-end with bassist Karl Blau but often grounding the melody in tracks like "Hell's Winter."

And Tinariwen? That's harder to hear. So much of what makes Tinariwen great is the band's ecstatic trance music, and let's face it: There's not much ecstasy in any one Earth track. But both bands make music of the desert — lonely, sun-bleached and vast. Leave it to Angels of Darkness' most abstract cut, the 20-minute closing title track, to illustrate this point. Carlson keeps the tonal range close, not unlike Tinariwen's microtonal guitar figures, but the bass line is surprisingly bouncy, almost... ecstatic.

Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 will stream here in its entirety until Feb. 7. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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