Earth - Biography
When Earth formed in 1990, metal seemed to be characterized by athletic musical performances executed with extreme precision and incredible speed. The emerging subgenre of doom, or stoner, metal returned to the slow tempos, deep pitches, and heavy feel of classic Black Sabbath, but Earth’s long, slow drones were such an extreme representation of the doom tendency that it seemed strange even to classify the band’s music as metal. In the years since, the growing popularity of Earth 2 (1993 Sub Pop) in particular has popularized the idea of using metal guitar tones and riffs to create and play around a massive, sustained drone. The band’s leader, Dylan Carlson, has credited minimalist composer La Monte Young as an important influence on his work.
Carlson formed the band in Olympia, Washington early in 1990 with Slim Moon and Greg Babior. Moon and Carlson had previously played in the band Eights ‘n Aces, and took Black Sabbath’s original name, Earth, for their metal band. According to Earth’s Sub Pop bio, the band’s original lineup consisted of two guitars, vocals, and analog synths, though it is not clear who played what. Carlson’s close friend Kurt Cobain (identified as “TDG” in the bio, presumably short for “The Dead Guy”) joined as “revolving bass player.” Cobain and Carlson also collaborated on a “white noise side project” called Fragile Sphincter. Slim Moon left the band after an argument with Carlson about Moon’s singing style. Around this time, Moon founded the Kill Rock Stars label.
Carlson moved to Seattle later that year and put together a new lineup of Earth with two bassists, Dave Harwell and Joe Preston. This lineup recorded Earth’s first album, Extra-Capsular Extraction (1991 Sub Pop), at Smegma Studios in Portland. Dickless singer Kelly Canary and Kurt Cobain contribute vocals. Preston left Earth after Extraction was recorded to join the Melvins. In the intervening years, Preston has toured and recorded as Thrones and played in Men’s Recovery Project, the Need, and High on Fire. Carlson and Harwell continued Earth as a duo and they recorded the band’s next release, Earth 2, in Seattle’s Avast! Studio in August of 1992.
Earth 2 is generally perceived as the band’s classic album and is a double LP comprised of three droning instrumentals, the last two of which last about a half-hour each. At the time of the album’s release, it seemed like an even more perverse take on metal than the Melvins’ view. It was slower, deeper, and completely divorced from rock song structure. Harwell quit Earth shortly after Earth 2’s release in early 1993. According to the Sub Pop bio, “Downer use at atrocious, possibly toxic levels in remaining member of band.” Carlson and Tommy Hansen of Seattle hardcore band the Fartz went into a studio in 1993 to record Earth’s third album, but the sessions collapsed. In April of 1994 Cobain committed suicide with the shotgun Carlson famously purchased for him. Carlson returned to the studio in the fall of 1994 to finish the previous year’s recordings, issued as Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions (1995 Sub Pop).
In the mid-90s, Earth toured with the Lemonheads as the opening act. Carlson performed by himself, setting a guitar against an amp onstage and playing with the resulting drone on a second guitar. Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars (1995 Blast First, 2001 No Quarter), originally released on CD in a limited edition of 500 copies, mainly consists of “Ripped on Fascist Ideas,” which is 30 minutes of Earth live in London (although the 2001 re-release adds four demos from 1990). Earth’s fourth studio album, Pentastar: In the Style of Demons (1996 Sub Pop), was released shortly after the band appeared at the avant-garde Hyperstrings Festival in Vienna in July of 1996.
In Seldon Hunt’s 2007 Earth documentary Within the Drone, Carlson says that the album after Pentastar was to have been an orchestral recording with horns and strings, but the project did not materialize. Carlson made his last public appearance for several years in Nick Broomfield’s 1998 documentary Kurt & Courtney, looking thin and unwell in interviews. In fall of 2002, Earth (now a fleshier, healthier-looking Carlson and his girlfriend, drummer Adrienne Davies) toured the east coast. A live show and radio appearance from the tour, both recorded in New York on the same date, are reproduced on Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword (2005 Mega Blade). That same year, Legacy of Dissolution (2005 No Quarter) was released, presenting six Earth tracks remixed by six different artists.
American drone-metal band sunnO))), conscious of their debt to Earth, have toured with them and have continued to release Earth’s records on their Southern Lord label since 2005’s Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method (2005 Southern Lord), whose title refers to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake. Earth and sunnO))) released the split LP Angel Coma (2006 Southern Lord) in 2006. Hibernaculum (2007 Southern Lord) includes new recordings of “Ouroboros Is Broken” from 1991’s Extra-Capsular Extraction and “Coda Maestoso in F (Flat) Minor” from 1996’s Pentastar by Earth’s present lineup. The CD release of Hibernaculum also includes a DVD of the documentary Within the Drone. Earth’s foray from 2008, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull (2008 Southern Lord), features the masterful guitarist Bill Frisell.