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This album is as close as Earth ever got to making a rock / pop kind of record back in the 1990's. In some ways it's not so much doom metal or even heavy metal as alternative / indie / college radio rock but done in a way that recalls late 1960's psychedelic rock. The band - yes, for this recording Dylan Carlson assembled a full working "rock band" with a drummer, a bassist, another guitarist and a keyboards player - even nods in the direction of the late 1960's alternative music scene by including a cover of the Jimi Hendrix song "Peace In Mississippi" which in its original form was probably referring to the racial violence that was taking place in that state at the time. And then we have Carlson himself singing on a couple of songs on this album! Yet for all the apparent nostalgia and the move to a more mainstream rock music style, Earth have retained their minimalist riff-based repetitive doom metal template on most songs though it does vary and tends to be more obvious on tracks like "Introduction", "Sonar and Depth Charge" and "Charioteer (Temple Song)" than on others like "High Command" where it's almost watered down.
Each of the 8 tracks here, apart from the intro and the outro, differs from the rest in some way. Nostalgia buffs and kids curious about the kind of music available to their parents and grandparents years ago may be interested in "Peace In Mississippi" which is pretty much a lead guitar workout over a basic bass / drums rhythm backing and featuring some wiggly guitar chords that sound really dated! The minimalists among us may hanker after the mostly two-note piano piece "Sonar and Depth Charge" which is like a never-ending tape loop. Of course if piano ain't your thing, "Introduction" and "Coda Maestoso in F (flat) Minor", the intro and outro respectively, are strong on the same repetitive guitar riff build-up (yes, we Earth fans can never have enough repetition!) and only really differ in that "Coda ..." features a lead guitar break-out.
Carlson doesn't usually sing much but when he does on "High Command" and "Tallahassee", his voice actually isn't that bad and sounds fairly confident enough but it's quite distant in the mix and is treated with reverb. "High Command" seems the least Earth-like of the songs here, it has a definite melody and about two or three riffs that swap around on a regular basis.
And if you're looking for something remotely resembling the drone doom metal that Earth is famous for, you'll actually find it on the most un-Earthly-sounding track "Crooked Axis for String Quartet", a surprisingly airy and light piece that has a long strung-out bass drone.
The album isn't quite on a par with Earth's previous albums, it sounds very much like the distinctive Earth style with the spacious open-prairie feel and the solitary-loner Western-desert ambience has been forced to compromise with a more narrow commercial music mind-set so some of the songs seem cramped and restricted in expression.
I've always thought of Earth as being very "American" or rather encapsulating what I most admire about old Americana: the terseness that you find in the deadpan song titles, the feel of wide open spaces with all the possibilities they offer, the loneliness and solitary vision of the outsider, the shamanistic Native American presence that's as close as a drumbeat ... part of this "American"-ness is present on "Pentastar ..." but not as much as on Earth's other albums that I've heard.