With Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I, Earth venture further into the wilderness forged by the album Hex back in 2005 – images of desert mirages, desolate western ghost towns and vacated saloons – yet there’s a rigidity to the melody at work here that gives the album a sense of direction and self-assurance. Hex sounded bleak and utterly lost, yet this new record strides optimistically towards its destination in a manner hinted at during the previous full-length, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull.
In this case, the destination is the glorious closing title track, which immediately claims a spot in amongst my favourite Earth tracks to date. The opening meanders in a beatless haze, as cello, bass and guitar drift cautiously; poised figures in waiting for the drums that finally harness the piece into a fully unified jam. There’s little of the textural decoration that The Bees… was so rich with (such as organ, tanpura etc) – instead, the track’s momentum lies wholly in its four core instruments, locked into a 20-minute jam which could have easily stretched on to double that length.
Carlson seems to have opted for a relatively dry, “live band” approach to the new record. Everything feels immediate and up-front – Angels of Darkness… doesn’t seem to present much in the way of overdubs tucked in quietly for discovery on repeated listens – there’s a ton of intricacy and detail in there, but it lies within clatter of bass strings, the aged croak of cello bow, and all of the other organic inflections and overtones that arise incidentally out of the “moment”. Never has Earth’s sound felt so tangible and real time.
Sticking to a core selection of instruments has put increased focus on the composition itself, which is plenty sturdy enough to carry these tracks through. In fact, it’s thoroughly gorgeous. “Descent to the Zenith” was quick to become a highlight in this respect, which repeatedly falls into a beautiful down-tuned chord, left to linger and resonate before rising up again, and spends its final two minutes wallowing in its own blissful resolve.
I’ve little negative to say about the record. One niggling concern is the similarity between the intro to “Hell’s Winter” and “Engine of Ruin” on The Bees… (the track on the whole just falls short of the quality of the rest too, with the guitar work sounding unsure of itself on occasion). But overall, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I is perhaps the most focused and expertly realised Earth album to date. Sublime.