Earth at EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney)

Support: Helen Money
November 17, 2019 at EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney)
Promoter: Old Empire

Earth, without question the single most influential act in the drone rock/metal sub-genre, are playing Evolutionary Arts Hackney (formerly Hackney Arts Centre), in Dalston tonight. Yes, that’s correct: Earth is playing in EartH. I know I’m not the only person who find that very satisfying. EartH the venue is a revamped theatre, bar and restaurant complex featuring a wide stage, cool matt-black interior and a great soundsystem – it comes very much recommended.

Support for the Full Upon Her Burning Lips tour comes in the form of Helen Money, alt-cellist extraordinaire, who has played with an impressive range of artists including Jarboe, Mono, Russian Circles and Bob Mould – even Disturbed and Anthrax – which should suggest something about the way that she plays. A cello recital this is not. Starting with ‘Facing the Sun’ from Become Zero, Money uses violent bowing and gritty distortion to quickly establish what can only be known as Cello Doom: huge violent bursts, following her trademark patterns of closely-slurred, eerily beautiful double-stop harmonies. Money makes effective use of these kinds of dynamic contrasts, subtly establishing quiet, ominous and sombre atmospheres which are broken apart by big, heavy bombast – and I’m often thinking of fairy tales, for some reason, with innocence chased into the woods by drooling monsters. At other times it’s like listening to horror film soundtracks, where metal bands are located side-by-side with uncanny and minimalist classical pieces.

On ‘Midnight’, Money uses her cello as even more of a percussive instrument, roughly striking the distorted strings with her bow, like sawing metal on metal, the tone dial on full treble to allow for all the detail of sharp clonks and clanks. I’m fascinated watching the spider-like spread of her left hand, fingering complex, full chords, and as she methodically strikes the strings behind the nut for high, piano-like sounds. I’m not entirely sure if the low hum we’re hearing is deliberate or not – hard to tell sometimes at drone shows! – but it seems a bit overpowering.

Suddenly, Money pedals in a rumbling, industrial backing track, and she’s layering some swirling, psychedelia, bowing huge guitar-like power chords, which she’s treated with something like delay and bitcrusher effects. There’s a call-and-response piece – with Money responding to a piped-in piano part – that it’s difficult to get your head around, as the cello seems oddly out-of-synch with the piano. This may well be deliberate, though, and it quickly builds into a wonderful song regardless.

Money concludes her set with ‘Red Shift’, again making amazing use of those beautiful slurs, (tastefully lit with red spots dappling her cello), very calm, tender, and melancholy, reminding me a little of the epic landscapes of Ótta-era Solstafir. And – as you also might expect from the Icelandic post-metal legends – Money soon floods these landscapes with more brutal bowing in surging, rushing rhythms. Money comments that it was “an honour to play for you guys”; and it was a real pleasure for us to hear her play for us.

If Money brings rock music techniques a traditional classical instrument, then Earth are known for bringing something of the form, subtlety, and taste of classical music into the arena of rock and metal. Earth are a band as far away from pretence, showing-off and fad-following as it is possible to be – down to earth one might say, if one ironically has absolutely no taste or subtlety at all – so, beyond some waving and amp-plugging-crackle, they launch into recent track ‘Cats on the Briar’ with little ceremony. Supplementing the core duo of guitar-wizard Dylan Carlson and drum-alchemist Adrienne Davis with a live guitarist (Chris?), Earth launch straight into their classic sound: open, ringing, and with the feeling of being slowed down and stretched out.

This segues into ‘Even Hell Has Its Heroes’ from Primitive and Deadly, and the opening riff resolves into two absolutely glorious open chords, which sound simply wonderful. For that’s often the best aspect of Earth’s sound: every repetition establishing the riff more firmly in your mind until you appreciate how well-crafted that riff is, and how the very final part of that riff leaves you gleefully anticipating its reoccurrence.

Are technical difficulties a regular occurrence at Earth shows? Witnessing a slightly embarrassing tech-faff tonight, I remember that Dylan blew his amp at their legendary Temples Festival (RIP) performance, and it took a little longer than usual to sort out. Following an aborted start to ‘Colour of Poison’ there’s jokes tonight about Dylan blowing his amp and about Mercury being in retrograde, but he finally resolves the amp issue, and they restart the song, sounding noticeably fuller and richer.

‘The Colour of Poison’ was the first track released from this year’s Full Upon Her Burning Lips, and I’ll admit that it’s taken me a while to get into its odd, jerky rhythms and oddly-timed pauses. It’s very much still Earth, but doesn’t it somewhat break up the drone flow? Well, hearing it tonight I’ve decided that, nope, no it doesn’t; or rather, yes the stopping section does but that’s another one of those classic Earth moments that you joyfully anticipate every time.

Running through more recent tracks, Earth make good use of twin guitar – there’s no bass player after all – creating a lush natural chorus effect with their harmonies on ‘An Unnatural Carousel’, again, using a chromatic pattern that descends within a repeated chord, which sounds especially good, and perfectly leaves you anticipating its resolution and repetition.

As well as being a criminally underappreciated guitarist outside of drone circles, there’s something heart-warming about Dylan Carlson’s relationship with his wife, Holly. With her name tattooed on his neck, her face adorning the cover of his last solo album, and her dancing occasionally accompanying Dylan’s solo performances, Holly seems to follow him wherever he goes, whether she is physically present or not – so it’s no surprise when Dylan announces that he wrote ‘Datura’s Crimson Vales’ for her.

We’re treated to a completely new track – “so new it doesn’t have a name yet” – which is currently short, with a bluesy twang, and very much Earth’s exemplary business as usual. It’s here that I’m reminded how vital Adrienne’s drumming is to Earth’s sound, with each strike delivered slowly, languidly yet deliberately, as well as how distinctive her style – elbows out, arms raised high – is to watch.

Apologising again for time lost with technical difficulties, Earth plough straight into their traditional encore track, ‘Old Black’ – featuring probably the most satisfying G chord that anyone has ever played – without all the clapping-them-back-on silliness. I was hoping that Helen Money might join them for this song, playing the cello parts from the album (originally played by Lori Goldston, best known for her work with Nirvana), but that’s being greedy. Someone in the venue must be a fan, because Earth return to play another classic, ‘The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull’, after their scheduled closing time, providing further sonic warmth while everyone gradually trails out into the cold night to catch the last train.

Earth, in EartH, on Earth – one of life’s most triple-fold pleasures.

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