The minimalist drone-riff masters pare away excess and focus on the seismic repetition that made their best work so resonant, creating a new peak in their long discography.
“I would hear riffs from bands that I liked, and I’d want them to keep playing that riff,” Dylan Carlson recalled recently. “I was always wondering what would happen if you just stuck on that one riff.” That such a simple idea could spawn a varied, lasting musical career seems impossible. Yet over three decades, Carlson’s band Earth have crafted a rich discography by doing just that. Early on, they stretched single chords into minimalist epics—inspired equally by La Monte Young and Black Sabbath—to coin a drone-metal style later perfected by descendents Sunn0))). But even as Earth’s sound has grown since returning from a late ’90s hiatus, Carlson remains infatuated with the power of repetitive riffs.
Though he and drummer Adrienne Davies have been constants in Earth Mk II, many musicians have flowed in and out of the group over the past 15 years. That culminated in 2014’s Primitive and Deadly, their first record to include vocals, courtesy of guests such as fellow Seattle veteran Mark Lanegan. Five years later, perhaps sensing their expansion had hit a ceiling, Carlson and Davies have finally made a record by themselves. Full Upon Her Burning Lipsfits the cliché of the “stripped down, back to basics” album, with Carlson intentionally limiting his sonic options and the duo refocusing on elemental repetition. But Earth’s previous explorations earned them the right to reset, creating a new peak in an already highlight-filled discography.
Full Upon Her Burning Lips hits that upper echelon not just through signature repetition, but also the quality of the riffs themselves. Lately, Carlson has insisted that repetition by itself isn’t enough (“[the riffs] should be something that you want to hear again,” he said), and the range of memorable hooks throughout these ten tracks is indeed crucial. Take the wiry curve in “Cats on the Briar”, the hints of funky groove in “Exaltation of Larks,” the beatific circles in the meditative “Descending Belladona” and the poignant denouement “A Wretched Country of Dusk.” Full Upon Her Burning Lips might actually be more catchy than what many consider to be Earth’s best album, 2008’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull. Though the confident swing of these songs can feel contemplative or even languid, the duo’s knack for adding small shifts and subtle accents injects a lot of tension.