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Filling in the space between two studio albums ("Hex; or Printing in the Infernal Method" released in 2005 and "The Bees made Honey in the Lion's Skull" in 2008) together with live recordings and a couple of splits, "Hibernaculum" is a curiosity in that at least two of the four songs featured are re-interpretations of older Earth tracks in the then-new slow country-rock doom metal style of "Hex ...". The results can be interesting if not always the same as or superior to the original versions.
"Ouroboros is Broken" leads off as is appropriate for a track that was one of Earth's first recordings back in the early 1990s. The new version retains the riffing and repetition but the mood is very different: whereas the old version had a certain urgency and aggression about it, the new recording is slow and lethargic in pace, seems to brood as though biding its time, and has a dark sinister air that stirs unease in listeners. Addition of organ around the edges of the main melody structure lends a creepy aspect. For all that, this new version is just half the length of its older sibling; at the same time, it packs in twice as much in atmosphere and sonic complexity despite its very minimalist bent.
The contrast between the old and new versions of "Coda Maestoso in F (Flat) Minor", originally from the "Pentastar - In the Style of Demons" album from 1995, is much less jarring as both are slow and appear to be self-reflective in mood. The track on "Hibernaculum" is a very slow one indeed, picking its way through the main riff cautiously, even delicately, as if fearing to break the tune as the entire song is in a different time signature that makes it dark and meditative. The original version by contrast seems almost cheerful. Piano on the new version that follows the main riff closely gives the impression of fragility. In the last half of the song when lead guitar announces its presence by shafting country-blues tones like knives through a shutter, the mood seems a strange mixture of jocularity and a knowing, slightly sinister attitude.
After these two reminders of the past, "Hibernaculum" looks to the present (in 2007, that is) with "A Plague of Angels" from Earth's 2006 split with Sunn0))) "Angel Coma", and the future with "Miami Morning Coming Down", a version of which was to appear on "The Bees ...". What appears here is very subdued to point of almost appearing tranquillised, at least until the halfway mark where the riff changes and for a short time the track shows definite signs of life and vitality. Likewise, "A Plague of Angels" plods into view quietly and lumberingly; it picks up confidence as it proceeds, changes riff and melody and adds more instrumentation; the mood of the track brightens gradually and assumes a hopeful (and later even joyful) attitude.
Taken together, the four songs in their own indirect way might be drawing a history of Earth from the band's early origins as one of hundreds of Sabbath wannabees, thirsty for meaning to life and direction, through a period of darkness and uncertainty as drug and alcohol addiction take their toll, to a more calm and relaxed band whose future is looking bright. The lush green forest on the cover of the recording with the thick and untidy undergrowth almost threatening to swamp the few trees and shrubs standing suggests a regeneration is under way here. In this respect, it's appropriate that two songs on the album are old timers given a new lease of life. The album is complete in itself and my only reservation is that the latter two tracks on the album aren't richer in sound texture and layering of music and mood; they're almost apologetic when they first start though I suppose that could have been the intention.
Earth. Despite its brevity, the context of that word gives you a general idea of the sound of the band who shares the name. The slow, repeating (but not exactly repetitive), low notes are thinking bliss. I'm a poet, and Earth's music is almost always playing in the background when I come up with a great idea. The music is just...creepily inspiring. Yeah, that's how I'd put it. This is the first and only drone doom album to date that I've heard in full. I've never understood why drone doom is associated with rock, let alone metal. Most of it has nothing whatsoever to do with the general aggresiveness of metal or the generally pumping, optimistic beats of rock. To me, drone doom has always been a genre in its own family. However, a genre's individuality itself can't detract anything from its greatness (or lack thereof), so I will make make no further comments about it. Earth is an instrumental band, along with most bands of the genre. The music doesn't focus on keeping you focused; rather, the way I see it, Earth's music is designed to be background music to some task. This isn't to say that it's boring or tedious (though it almost is), but it flows into the back of your mind, leaving you free to think about other things (for example, writing reviews about the exact same Earth album you're talking about). I've heard some of my less-metal-inclined but still metal-tolerant friends say that this album should be a soundtrack to a movie, other than standalone music, but that's just the point; this album is a soundtrack to whatever you're doing when you listen to it. Why limit it to one movie?
On to the music. The album has a whopping four tracks, though it makes up for it in length: almost 40 minutes long, which tops the majority of thrash metal albums and some classic death metal albums. I might add that all of these songs (except for "A Plague of Angels") are tracks previously released by Earth in a new style: a less gruff, almost southern-sounding guitar. The first track is "Ouroboros is Broken", which is the highlight of the whole album. It, of course, is slow beyond belief. I'm not sure, but if I'm correct it's less than 60 BPM. The song has a great yet extremely simple guitar sequence going for it. (Random bit of trivia; it was the first song I learned how to play on guitar.) It repeats this over and over, developing by replacing a lower note with a higher one in the riff for one time only or adding a small ambient sound. It does this about...ten times, maybe? Can't remember the exact count, but it's something like that. Anyway, the end result is that the last minute of the song is drastically different from the beginning: whereas the beginning is about as minimalist as one can get, the ending is symphonic and epic as hell. The wonder of it is that the changes, the ambient add-ons, are so subtle, you never see them coming, and then when the end of the song comes, you take it in all at once, stare for a moment, and ask yourself "Is this the same song?" The song's riffs are almost apocalyptic, and are surreal to the point of where you can smell nuked cities on the horizon and hear the screams of the dying and starving. But it's not exactly in a "fucking BRUTAL, man!" way; more of a "the death of this Earth is extremely beautiful and artistic" sort of way. Next, we have "Coda Maestoso in F Flat Minor", which is probably the most beautiful song on the album. It's the only one where funerals and dying trees and remembering one's dead child don't come to mind...all the time. The guitar is joined by a piano two minutes in, and it is wholly capable of sending chills down the spine. The bass guitar is more prominent on this song, which reminds me of another point which applies to this whole album: the drums. I usually ignore the drums of songs when they're not blast-beats, especially on doom metal and drone doom, because the drums usually are too loud or actually detract from the music. However, on Hibernaculum, the drums (the crash cymbals in particular) provide a lot to the music. Unlike most types of music, they don't just keep the beat, they add an epic tone to the music in general. For that, I am greatly appreciative. Now, back to "Coda Maestoso in F Flat Minor". Halfway in, the piano is abandoned for a louder, more emotive guitar, which continues until the end of the song. I might also add as a general note here how great Earth's endings are. They build up slowly and end so strongly and anthemically that you almost feel like shouting in zest, and then it lets you down slowly, and you happily wave to the song's energy fading away.
"Miami Morning Coming Down" may be the most variable song on the album. It has a distinctinct piano part at the beginning of hitting a note and proceeding with the same note an octave lower. Albeit, the guitars feel out of place here, and in my opinion the song would benefit if the guitars were simply in the background as rhythm while the piano played its part. But it doesn't matter much, because this interesting song changes directions completely at two minutes in and a repeated cymbal heralds the arrival of a new section of song. The song takes a new sound, slightly less purely "doomish" and more "reflection on how the world is doomed". My descriptions of these particular sounds might be strange, but please keep two things in mind. One, I am not a musician, and two, Earth's music is extremely image-provoking, so it would be fair to use the images it gives to describe it. Anyway, this new sound is extraordinary in its sound, and rivals the first part for attention, but there isn't much way to describe it, other than "remorseful" or "melancholy". The song quietly but stellarly lets itself go, and the only trace of it left is the stare on your face as you recall how great a song it was. Now, the last song: "A Plague of Angels". It's not a song you'll listen to in one setting often, as it's the better half of 16 minutes long. I believe this song to be the slowest of the four, and it has great musicianship, but emotively this song doesn't stand fairly next to the others, except in certain situations. The majority of the song is a quiet guitar riff that grows stronger as time passes, reaching its climax at around 8:15, then quiets back down until approximately 11:37, when the song changes its theme, as it goes from ambient to loud, ringing bells that invoke thoughts of Christmas tunes. It's a bit...strange, to say the least.
Sadly, now I must get to the single yet noticable flaw of this otherwise great album. It's a major problem with many ambient/drone doom bands; they try too hard to be ambient. They make their songs twice as long as they really would need to be. And it's not that I hate ambience, it's just that there's a difference between being ambient and just trying to be epicly long with no backing content. It's like eating ice cream and keeping that ice cream out in the sun for a few hours, then eating it. No, wait, I've got a better simile; it's like most deathcore bands! Just like the shitpile of "br00tal" -core bands and their breakdowns, it seems drone doom tacks on extra length to their songs just because it's the concept of extra length, not because it adds to the music. Now, not every song on this album is a victim of this; "Miami Morning Coming Down" has enough variety for it to pass through okay, and "Coda Maestoso in F Flat Minor" is a bit repetitive but it's acceptable. "Ouroboros is Broken" could and should have had at least two minutes taken out; but the real offender is the last track, "A Plague of Angels". It has plenty of development, but in all honesty it wasn't that great of an idea to begin with. As I said before, that song isn't as image-provoking as the others, and thus, despite its length, it dwarfs in comparison to the other three tracks. If they had shed about six minutes off of the first half of the song, it would be good. The general length of the album would have to be compromised, but I would rather have a 31-minute album be entirely good than a 36-minute album full of many flaws. With that being said, this album is a work of true visionaries. I hope that in the future, this kind of music is what is being played on the radio of my grandchildren. (Whitechapel, Behemoth, and Cannibal Corpse is stretching a little far, so I'll have to settle with drone doom.) This album is too amazing to miss and I recommend it to everyone. Not just the people reading this at the Metal-Archives, but EVERYONE. Lady Gaga fans, Slipknot fans, Basshunter fans...Hell, even Justin Bieber (or especially Justin Bieber?) needs to hear this album. Even though he doesn't deserve it, he should hear it. This is a true beauty, and it is a decisive factor in the battle of whether speed really means more talent. Bottom line: do not die without hearing at least one of these songs. I cannot stress that enough.
On an ending note, take an extra minute or two to observe the album cover. It may not look like much, but it really is beautiful, and is just about as surreal as the music inside its packaging. From the dead trees on the top of the cover juxtaposing the beautiful red flowers in the foreground to the vines reaching through the growth at the bottom left to the lone tree in the middle ground of the landscape... Forgive me for losing my metal edge here (remember, I'm an artist), but it's extremely pretty with its faded colors against quite vibrant ones, and it sums up the music inside quite nicely.
Earth's last album was a strange but incredibly satisfying beast. HEX was a long, slow and barren album, taking the drone and stretching it out into the desolate badlands of the west. Whether it was the night-in-the-desert drones of 'The Dry Lake', or the slightly faster, more traditionally western styling of 'An Inquest Concerning Teeth', HEX took drone in a very different, and yet totally logical direction. Obviously Carlson and crew loved this, because they've redone a few of their older tunes in this style. It works quite well, but it falls somewhat sort of the hypnotic, droney goodness that's in HEX.
Most of the songs here are fuller, slightly less slow and more fleshed out then in HEX. That's both a good and bad thing. Some songs benefit from the extra layers. Ouroboros is Broken is a good example, with a slow, purposeful riff slowly evolving throughout a song. I'm a big fan of songs that do the whole 'develop one riff' thing, and this song is indeed very satisfying, especially when some old Hammond B3 organ comes swirly in to give the song a real sense of space and just that little extra bit of awesomeness. Plague of Angels is slower then most of HEX (an impressive feat). This has been a favourite of mine for some time (I got it with the Sunn/Earth split) and it's an impressive beast, no doubt. The riffs in it are very nice and satisfying, and as the last reviewer commented, the final riff is indeed a treat to the ears, being extremely triumphant in a very slow motion, Earth way. The subtle keys and bits of feedback fill out the song really nicely, and it's an absolute treat to listen too.
Coda Maestro is a bit faster, loses the drone feel and comes out mostly as a slow country jam. It's a bit of a patience tester, but I can see it going really well at shows, and I bet it would be great fun to play. The slide parts in this are great, giving the song new direction and purpose and making the whole thing a lot more lively. It's quite lucky that the worst track in this record is the shortest, the five minute tune Miami Morning Coming Down. To be honest it's just really boring, which is strange as it's quite similiar to the first track, with a few themes developing, some slow fuzzy guitar and gentle, delicately plucked clean beats. It just doesn't develop any atmosphere.
However, despite the general solidness of the material, it doesn't quite match the standards set by HEX. The main reason is that the songs just aren't slow enough. That may sound strange- I'm sure most people would prefer much faster tempos, but it's honestly the truth! As I said in my Earth2 review, this band is best when everything gets really, really slow. It's no surprise that the best tunes on here, Plague and Ouroboros, are the slowest ones. Earth sound best when the notes are left to resonate and intertwine, and everything becomes incredibly hypnotic and so much more desolate.
I'm sure most people would strongly disagree with me on that point, though. And three out of the four songs on this album are really very good. It isn't quite up to previous efforts, but it's still a very good album. All drone fans should get this one!
Hibernaculum sounds great. Every track (there are only four) is strong, each with its own character that I'll discuss below. This track-by-track diversity is what makes Hibernaculum musically superior to the (excellent) Hex. The only downfall is the short length.
The first piece, a re-working of "Ourobouros is Broken" from Extra-Capsular Extractions, is one of the two tracks that most closely recalls the previous full-length, Hex. It is 9-bar vamp on the same riff that slowly, all most unnoticeably, develops in arrangement throughout its eight minutes. By its end, it has grown quite thick and deep. It has a stark, Old West-type atmosphere, the same as Hex did. This track, however, sounds to me much more full-sounding than the Hex tracks. Steve Moore, who plays trombone and keyboards on Hibernaculum, helped out with the arrangements. Here's hoping that he stays around for the full-length. My only gripe for this track is that the Hammond B-3 organ gets a bit too loud in the mix at a couple points, which for me detracts from the overall mood.
Coda Maestoso in F (Flat) Minor is next, and it's beautiful. The original Coda Maestoso in F (Flat) Minor first appeared on Pentastar. While it keeps generally the same atmosphere as the preceding track, the mood is all most entirely different. Another 9-bar (or 4.5-bar, as it may seem) vamp here. The arrangement is again quite full on this track, which really helps it achieve majestic proportions by its end. An acoustic piano (slightly detuned for a chorus effect) makes an appearance here, and doesn't sound out of place at all. I was thinking that perhaps they were going for a saloon piano sound. By and far, for me, the most exciting and astonishing harmonic aspect is a (slide?) guitar that is introduced a bit more than half way through the track. It performs this surprising minor 3rd to Major 3rd gliss that all most completely turns the direction of the piece around.
Of the three re-workings, "Miami Morning Coming Down" is the only one that I had not heard prior to this recording. It seems to be from a comp from 1997 on the Ash label, entitled 'Scatter.' This track seems like a sort of 'cool down' from the first two tracks. It is broken in to two sections - the opening, and the vamp. The opening consists of a very minimal 9/4 motive that begins with very soft-sounding piano, moves to very soft sounding clean guitar, and repeats. The vamp section consists of two chords repeated for several minutes. This section introduces a fuzzy guitar that holds out high notes.
At first I thought it was out of place, but it sinks in after a while. Adrienne Davies, who previously amazed me with her solid slow tempo time keeping, eschews beats in favor of cymbal rolls. This piece is the shortest track on Hibernaculum, and as such isn't so much about development. The mood created, however, is unexpected and entirely uplifting. I can best describe it as simply laid back - makes me think of driving on the highway at the end of a really sweet day.
"A Plague of Angels," from the Sunn O)))/Earth release 'Angel Coma,' is last, and is track most like those found on Hex. The drums and guitar are the most prevalent instruments, and they create a very drear atmosphere, indeed. It is the longest piece here, which might suggest that the time would be spent developing a single theme. Actually, several themes are introduced and given their own amount of development throughout the piece. Generally speaking, things get more intense as time progresses, and the final riff is truly satisfying. I admittedly took this piece for granted on my first listen, thinking "more Hex, all right." There is some different sort of stuff going on here, though, and a good thorough listen is rewarding.
I find myself really wishing that this release was lengthier. The quality of these re-recordings of "classic Earth tracks" is outstanding. If they had only reworked a few more! I'd have liked to have heard "Crooked Axis for String Quartet," and maybe "Harvey," done in the new country/western style.
The DVD material, "Within the Drone," is mostly notable for the live footage. The interviews with Dylan Carlson (and occasionally Adrienne Davies) are moderately interesting at times, particularly when he talks about his influences and theories about music (and its contrast to noise), but several clips seem pointless, and others are too hard to hear due to nearby conversations being picked up on the mic.