One of the stranger marriages in modern music is heavy metal and minimalism. As an 80’s thrash metal kid, I expected all my metal bands to be fast, loud, and obnoxious. Bands like Cryptic Slaughter, the Crumbsuckers, and Wehremacht were the Speed Kings and there were a million other garage metal bands fighting for the fastest band in the heshian land status. Of course, in their speed quest, a lot of bands forgot about songwriting and good riffs. The music was played at such a spazztic blurr that heaviness took a back seat to insanely fast tempo. However, the Melvins took the opposite approach. They realized that heaviness is found in the low frequency so they played lower and slower than everybody else. Dylan Carlson, who once swore off music because the Melvins already perfected it, soon came along with his Earth project and took the Melvins’ dirge template even further. Earth slowed it down even more and used repetition to create some of the heaviest music on the planet. At the time, I used the Melvins as my reference points, and enjoyed Earth in that context. Years later I heard classical minimalist composers like Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Morton Feldman, and Earth’s music made even more sense. Earth were one of the first heavy bands who understood that there is power in the drone and influenced a whole slew of modern day dronesters like Sunn 0))), Growing, Black Boned Angel, Asva, and the Holy McGrail.
The band was originally formed in ‘89/90 by Dylan, future Kill Rock Stars’ head honcho Slim Moon, and Greg Babior in Olympia, Washington. Greg and Slim didn’t stick around long and were then replaced with Joe Preston and Dave Harwell for their debut 1991 recording, Extra-Capsular Extractions. Recorded by Mike Lastra at Portland’s Smegma Studios and featuring guest vocals by Dickless’ Kelly Canary & Kurt Cobain, Earth’s debut confused the hell out most hipsters who were expecting the ‘Sub Pop’ sound. Joe Preston soon left the band for the Melvins, recorded the great Lysol and solo EP on Boner, and then set off to join as many bands as possible. The remaining members (with some help from Laceration’s drummer Joe Burns) then released Earth 2 in 1993, which was pretty much ignored at the time yet has become the definitive drone metal record. Several line up and records later, Earth broke up and Dylan vanished from the public eye. But Dylan couldn’t stay away from the drone metal spotlight for too long and resurrected the band with Adrienne Davis a few years ago and released the great Hex LP on Southern Lord Records in 2005.
Around 1994, some friends and I drove from Bellingham to Seattle’s Velvet Elvis for a Thanksgiving Day Earth show only to find out that band had canceled at the last minute. Since we were already there and made such a big effort, we decided to stick around and watch the other bands. Earth’s replacement was a New York hardcore band called State of the Union and their signer went on a twenty-minute lecture on the genocide of Native Americans in the 1600’s. It was not a fun show and I will carry the disappointment of Earth’s cancellation to my grave. Luckily, a Portland friend taped this solo Dylan Phase 3 era show on his hand held tape recorder at the X-Ray Café a few months later. It’s crude and lo-fi, but if that bothers you then you are a pussy.
Earth – Live at the X-Ray Café
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-- MC Tom