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First released in 1995, the original "Sunn Amps and Smashed Guitars" release contained just the one live track "Ripped on Fascist Ideas", recorded in London. This is as near-industrial and abstract in sound and approach as droning doom metal guitar reached in the mid-1990s - and it's doubtful that anyone has since tried to match Dylan Carlson and Company in that level of sound sculpture experimentation. All the music heard on this recording is droning guitar feedback carved into grinding, purring, puttering blocks of rumble. The fascinating aspect of this recording is that with such a limited palette of sound and presumably technique, over the course of just over 30 minutes, Carlson actually generates an astonishing variety of noise texture. It's very like hearing someone carving intricate equestrian statues from blocks of wood with a number of big and small chainsaws - but Carlson does it all with one guitar. There's an undercurrent of noise akin to someone on hands and knees smoothing out poured concrete with a flat metal knife, scraping over stone while working.
Depending on prior experience or what they can draw on in their imaginations, listeners can have very different impressions of what's going on: jet aircraft steaming on the runway, a mechanic's shop filled with drilling noises, grinding steel jaws ... there'll probably be very little people already know that compares to this metal monster. For some listeners, this track may be too long in parts - a lot of idling goes on in the middle of thre track - and possibly it could have been edited in parts, especially in its last third section. That's all I can think of to change the track in any way: it's pure guitar feedback experimentation and should stay that way.
In the last ten minutes of the track, Carlson sets a high-pitched drone on permanent stuck mode while a second noise texture, suggesting a wobbling wheel that needs oiling, warbles away. A dopey guitar melody starts cranking away in the last five minutes before developing into an all-out scraping junk metal cacophony. Hilariously once the racket stops, Carlson starts drumming up business for band merchandise. He sure had a cheeky sense of humour in those days!
The 2001 reissue includes four recordings dating back to the early 1990s. "German Dental Work" is a comparatively soft piece (after the aforementioned "Ripped ...", that is) of repetitive drum tapping and a heaving, vibrating, swirling guitar noise tunnel through which steely drones sail implacably. There are surprises in this track and listeners need to be alert and not let the repetition lull them into thinking the whole thing is an endless loop. "Geometry of Murder" is a sedate sludge metal work, again very repetitive but also very powerful and robust: there's variation in the main guitar melody and this is one track that might appeal to Sabbath fans. "Divine and Bright" is a positively happy song after all that we've heard so far and features vocals by Kurt Cobain and screeches by Kelly Canary. Outro piece "Dissolution I" is a garage piece of clanking percussion and quite catchy drone riffs. It grows slower and more stern and sinister.
Along with "Earth 2", this album represents Earth at their most freewheeling experimental, improvisatory and abstract, intent on deconstructing doom metal elements and exploring sound, noise textures and rhythms as far as they can. The tracks suggest a very wide range of movement through what must have been exciting sound territory for them, if not some of their long-suffering listeners at that live London gig!
As with many a drone band, itâ€™s in the live situation that Earth come alive. But like many a drone band, capturing the immense volume and power of a live, amp-melting setup is a difficult one. Earth seem to do a ok job here, although overall this is a â€˜fans onlyâ€™ sort of release.
Itâ€™s always a bit surprising just how far ahead these guys were ahead of their time; surprising that these guys actually thought about making this kind of stuff, surprising that there was an audience and record label for it. I find â€œRipped on Facist Ideasâ€ to be completely inaccessible in all of itâ€™s bizarre random guitar notes and feedback now; mustâ€™ve been totally bizarre 15 years ago! While â€œGeometry of Murderâ€ is a fairly predictable doom-y tune (at a relatively upbeat tempo) and is more about massive Sabbath riffs then anything avant garde thereâ€™s some stuff here thatâ€™s pretty far out. â€œGerman dental Workâ€ is a puzzling but still terrific tune; sounding like some Godflesh with the guitars two octaves lower, before things break out into a more droney but still really-bizarre-for-the-early-90s trance riff. Probably the best track on here, despite the awkward attempts at drum programming . A real crusher of a song!
Itâ€™s not all huge doom though. Divine and Bright could be some sort of grunge outtake (complete with a drugged up Cobain adding vocals) with a really muddy guitar tone, and Dissolution I gets some fuzzed out, country stoner riffing and welds it to some sort of industrial backbone, before getting stranger and darker on us. These two songs are particularly bizarre and not particularly good, more of curio value for the Earth fan and those who really want to hear some of the strangest, most drugged up stuff youâ€™ll ever find.
Indeed, maybe these guys didnâ€™t have a boner for John Cage or 60â€™s minimalism and just really, really loved to take drugs and write stoned, incompetent dirges. However some of this record is pretty excellent; it canâ€™t be denied that Earth really knew how to summon up a fearsome wall of noise, and their pioneering spirit has to be admired, at least. Get this if youâ€™re a big Earth/drone fan, everyone else will likely really hate it.