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If you want an entry into the early music of Dylan Carlon's Earth, this would be the album to start with. The first five tracks are not all that long and are exercises in doom metal minimalist repetition. This is the kind of music that launched a thousand careers in drone doom metal in the manner of Helen of Troy whose beauty supposedly launched a thousand ships. (Well, maybe both I and the ancient Greek legend are exaggerating a little: fellow US band Sunn0))) at least was inspired by Earth and for a short while was an Earth wannabe band but the other matter about the ships I'll leave to the archaeologists and historians.) The music is fairly clean for drone doom music with slightly rough edges around the riffs: this helps to give shape to the tracks so they don't sound like sludge all the way through and the riffs themselves are catchy and memorable in their own way. There's enough variation in the music in most tracks so that they do not all sound like extended intros going on and on into other extended intros going on and on. Out of the first five pieces, "Tibetan Quaaludes" and "Song 4" stand out as the best and if Carlson had been so minded he could have added a few lyrics to them both and they would have been virtually proper songs, complete in themselves.
The music starts perking up with "Site Specific Carnivorous Occurrence" which features stuttering and sometimes tribal-sounding drumming to the pulsing guitar riffs. Acoustic guitar licks and some erratic percussion effects help to push this track along. Suspense builds up and up: something dangerous or sinister, as suggested by the track title, is sure to happen. But the track cuts abruptly and next thing you know, we're blasting over hot white sands in "Phase 3: Agni Detonating Over The Thar Desert" - I'm guessing that Carlson is using tape loops of distorted guitar scree here to suggest frothing clouds of enging or torpedo blast at Mach 2 speed over a hot blasted desert landscape. And what an interesting title: dry sci-fi meets Hindu religion - correct me if I'm wrong but I think Agni is the name of a fire-god worshipped by people in India about 3,500 years ago. The piece is very long and monotonous but trancey as it progresses.
The title track "Thrones and Dominions" has an amazing atmospheric stillness behind the clear drones as though a mystical spiritual presence is close by: this presence is something I associate with very early 1970s Kraftwerk when that band was part of the German cosmic space rock scene and creating formless atmospheric music. The long drawn-out tones float serenely for a long time, a guitar melody starts up with deeper drones following, the music continues to develop and build up with changes of melody; then all of a sudden it collapses in on itself as if a huge inter-galactic empire has extended too far and has been swallowed up into a black hole. Well, this is how the universe deals with overreaching hubris. An elegy labelled "Song 6 (chime)" which has a desert country feel and which is actually fairly jaunty ties up the stray loose ends.
I can see how people might be disappointed with this album as none of the tracks finishes with triumphalist guitar pyrotechnic displays and there is no emotional release. Most tracks cut off very abruptly as if they are excerpts of much longer works and that can be annoying. The recording seems to suggest that ultimately visions of grandeur, splendour and spiritual revelation come to nought: not the kind of theme you'd expect from a metal album generally. The minimalist structure of the later tracks links Earth to more experimental improvised music which at the time the album was released (1995) was unusual for metal, as was also the combination of a science fiction theme, which could have come out of a novel by UK writer J G Ballard (he wrote "Crash", "High Rise" and "The Concrete Island" among other novels, and currently pens stories about dysfunctional upper middle-class communities that collapse into communal violence), and exotic Eastern religious spirituality. Even the cover photo is strange: a little girl holds out a seed in her left hand and the seed in close-up turns out to be a portal to a compressed universe!
Yes, this can be a frustrating listening experience: expectations are confounded and even I feel there should be something more than this album gives - longer tracks in the first half of the album maybe, some sort of resolution in the second half, but this would have been contrary to Carlson's intentions at the time. This is still a worthwhile and interesting recording to get as long as you understand and accept its concept.
Its a damn shame how little recognition this album gets in comparison to its predecessor, the monunmental album Earth 2. While Earth 2 pretty much established drone doom as a subgenre and is still cited by many as the only worthwhile album Earth released, Phase 3: Thrones And Dominions is proof that Dylan Carlson is more than a one-trick pony (this would be proved again in 2005 when Earth returned with the fantastic Hex: Or Printing In The Infernal Method).
Phase 3 can be seen as the logical evolution of the extreme simplicity and heavieness introduced by Earth 2. The first several songs, while highly enjoyable, can't really be considered drone in the traditional sense, as the riffs are easily identifiable and played in a much more standard tempo, and the songs are fairly short. Dylan begins experimenting with the country-influenced licks that would come to be the main facet of his music (see Hex), and even sees fit to add some drumming to his music, in the interesting track "Site Specific Carniverous Occurance."
And now the album really delivers. "Phase 3: Agni Detonating Over The Thar Desert...", while seemingly unimaginative and unrewarding at face value, can be an extremely effective noise experiance, given the right mood and volume level. And then, the album highlight, "Thrones And Dominions". This song stands as probably my favorite Earth song ever, an astounding showcase of classic Earth drone interspersed with mocking country riffs and strange feedback whispers, all culminating in a huge storm of sound before collapsing in on itself. This song is worth the price of the album alone, and its reasonable length (albeit still a wopping 14 minutes) means that unlike the songs on Earth 2, you'll actually feel compelled to listen to it frequently.
Overall this album is a great combination of the unrelenting drone marathon of Earth 2 and the more conventional heavy fuzz rock sound of the dissapointing Pentastar: In The Style Of Demons. People intersted in Earth, and drone in general, should definately check out this excellent album.