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If South Dakota is known for anything, it’s probably Mount Rushmore; the faces of former U.S. presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt expertly carved into the side of a granite mountain. But now that I have discovered the band Woman Is The Earth, I can affiliate South Dakota with something else and it just so happens to be Black Metal.
Woman Is The Earth was formed in 2007 and originally released their full-length record “This Place That Contains My Spirit” in 2012 without being signed to any record label. Due to its very limited release and the bands reclusive behavior, the album was kept in obscurity and Woman Is The Earth became one of South Dakota’s best-kept Metal secrets. This year, German record label Eisenwald Tonschmiede decided to remaster and re-release this album only a few short weeks after the band released its second full-length album “Depths”.
Woman Is The Earth, as the user CrimsonFloyd on the Encyclopedia Metallum describes, has “the most clichéd name for a Cascadian black metal band ever” and I would have to agree. This style of Black Metal is stereotypically associated with Eco-activism, Henry David Thoreau-inspired transcendentalism and feminist ideas. A name like Woman Is The Earth seems to cover all of these bases in the band name but on the bright side, it’s still memorable.
Just like “12 Diadems” and “Two Hunters”, the Wolves In The Throne Room albums that no-doubt inspired “This Place That Contains My Spirit”, the record only consists of just four tracks but each track is enormous in length. The shortest track, “Bird Song”, is close to nine minutes long while the finale “Glow Beyond the Ridgeline” is a whopping sixteen minute-long composition (although I should mention that an atmospheric electronic outro encompasses the last half of its duration). This four-song album clocks at over three quarters of an hour so there is quite a bit to chew on, no matter how big of a bite of “This Place That Contains My Spirit” you take.
The distorted guitars build a rich and layered moodiness to every song. The vocals, although incomprehensible and flooded with reverberation, add detail to the wall of sound that the band produces that conveys feelings of loneliness, awe and despair. I really love the drumming on this record too, even though they weren’t mixed very well the first time around. I think Eisenwald Tonschmiede succeeded at restoring the tone of the kick drums in particular, vastly improving them from what they sounded like on the original release. They aren’t overtly prominent but they aren’t buried under the valleys of mood and tone created by the guitars and vocals.
Overall, Woman Is The Earth have made a Cascadian Black Metal classic and have really impressed me as far as Metal bands that come from South Dakota go. If you are a Eco-friendly tree hugger that just so happens to love Black Metal, this album is made just for you.
(originally published on Metal-Temple.com, 4-26-2014)
The Cascadian black metal movement, which was popularized close to a decade ago by Wolves in Throne Room’s Diadem of 12 Stars, has rarely seen much growth outside of the area for which the movement is named. There are a few bands from the outside that share the warm Cascadian tones, the region’s love for nature and the genre’s penchant for long winded songs of the emotional variety. So, honestly, it should be no surprise that a mere 1200 miles away, on the opposite side of the Rocky Mountains, the Cascadian movement has struck a chord with three lads from Black Hills, South Dakota, who formed Woman is the Earth in 2007.
As seems to be standard with this specific style of black metal, repeated listens are in order to fully embrace the depth of the band’s performance. Presented are four songs that span nearly fifty minutes and certainly seem to be kindred spirits with bands such as Weakling, Wolves in the Throne Room and Alda. The band’s sophomore album, This Place That Contains My Spirit, was originally released independently in 2012, but in April of 2014 Eisenwald Tonschmiede remastered and reissued the album worldwide.
The album is full of exceptional and intricate tremolo riffing at varying tempos, from the sullen and serene during “Sage Moon” to the blistering arpeggios on the album’s title track. The guitars are definitely the focus of the album, and rightfully so, as they are impressive and well thought out patterns and motifs are present throughout. Even though the guitar work is captivating, it doesn’t hurt that the guitars are blatantly pushed forward in the mix, so far forward in fact that they drown just about everything else out, except for the drums, but we’ll get there. The band’s drawn out and lengthy songwriting approach consists mostly of swirling pieces of black metal touching certain emotional facets and then moving on. Like the slowly swelling surge of post-rock atmospherics during the introduction to “Glow Beyond the Ridgeline” which builds into a rather frenetic chunk of fast paced black metal with a prominent keyboard backing. The furious black metal riffs then play off of each other, slowly moving into a different trem pattern that is not wholly unlike the one that came before it. After all of the riff changes and careful structuring, the band hits the brakes and then dwells in ethereal ambiance for the remainder of the track, which is a rather fitting way to end the album. Each track follows this same type of pattern: gentle lead up, carefully selected trem riffs cycling all over the fret board, some type of post-rock-isms, gentle lead out. Well, it’s not really that simple, but damn close.
Each track is similar in that the band utilizes some small portion of the post-rock sensibilities of Deafheaven and all of the self-proclaimed shoegazer styled black metal bands… you know, the kind of artsy fartsy stuff that all of those Cascadian natives eat up. Thankfully, Woman is the Earth really keeps these tendencies to a minimum; some folksy choral chanting here, a few acoustic interludes there. Really, we shouldn’t expect the rural breeding of South Dakota to be THAT affected by the current trend of black metal. The post-rock accoutrement here doesn’t really take anything away from the album, and really help cement the band as disciples of the Cascadian path.
The biggest flaw on This Place That Contains My Spirit is the production (even with the remaster, mind you). The guitars, which are great, are pushed way to the front of the mix. The vocals, bass and drums take a back seat. That’s not a terrible thing as far as the drums go, because this album has one of the worst drum sounds I’ve heard in a long time. Everything sounds like it was muffled and muted, as if the bass drum was wrapped in a wet towel and the drummer used some type of fluffy pom-pom instead of drum sticks, but then after it was recorded they realized that the drums were too quiet so they turned up the volume. It’s loud, yet it’s muffled and sounds flat, and it is irritating as all hell. The cymbals are extremely tinny and all over the place. It sounds like the drum patterns are solid, especially the double bass runs, but that damn production kills anything viable. The vocals, which are way to rear of the mix, act almost like an atmospheric trimming, much the same way bands use keyboards. The vocals are basically tortured howls and groans that sound distant and dissonant and never manage to fully take your focus.
Jokes and qualms aside, Woman is the Earth does have some great moments during this album. The band’s continuous firing of trem riffs which cycle down the fret board coupled with the atmospheric touches and slight post rock-isms make for a rather engaging listen, if you can get past that drum sound. I’d like to hear what the band has in store on future releases, because I really like what they’re getting at here. This Place That Contains My Spirit is a rather solid atmospheric black metal album with more than a leaning towards the Cascadian side of things and a dash of hipster post rock, all from the lovely land of South Dakota.
Written for The Metal Observer:
If Cascadian black metal keeps growing in popularity, Portlandia is going to need to do skit starring a Cascadian black metal band. The band will need to have some absurdly crunchy name. Perhaps "Woman is the Earth.” With a name like that they can even put on a show at In Other Words feminist at bookstore! Amazingly (or perhaps not so amazingly) that name is already taken. Yes, this South Dakota trio wins the award for the most clichéd name for a Cascadian black metal band ever. (There are no women in Woman is the Earth, if you were wondering.) It's kind of like when Marduk became obsessed with being the most extreme black metal band ever and delivered songs with golden names like "Christraping Black Metal" and "Fistfucking God's Planet.” But hey, those Marduk songs do achieve an unparalleled level of brutality for black metal, so let's not assume that a funny name excludes Woman is the Earth from accomplishing anything worthwhile.
This Place That Contains my Spirit, the group’s sophomore release, contains four massive compositions of moody and emotive black metal. As you might have guessed, Woman is the Earth’s biggest inspiration is Wolves in the Throne Room, especially circa Diadem of 12 Stars and Two Hunters. Whether by proxy or via direct influence there's also a lot of Weakling inspired passages as well. The songs have nonlinear structures, with no recurrence of passages or motifs. It would be a stretch to call this “Wolves in the Throne Room worship,” since the band doesn’t go so far as duplicating specific passages or riffs, but it’s certainly derivative.
Even if Woman is the Earth is treading a beaten path, at least the group knows its way through the forest. There are some truly captivating compositions on this album. While the opening track is a little underwhelming, the next three tracks are all strong. It’s beautiful watching how “Bird Song” unfolds from a tortured, melancholic opening into a series of fervent, heroic riffs. “Glow Beyond the Ridgeline” effectively uses passages of clean guitar and ambiance to build tension between expansive stretches of melancholic black metal.
This is a raw, lo-fi, recording. The production works well with the guitars, which have that classic black metal buzz-saw tone. The gruff howls lie pretty far in the backdrop, but are still effective as an eerie background element. However, the drums sound terrible. The flat bass drums smother the middle of the mix while the cymbals are totally unrefined; it sounds like someone was shaking a Ziploc bag full of silverware in the recording studio. The drummer might also just be bad, but it’s hard to reach a conclusion with a mix this poor.
Some people are good at blocking out one element of a soundscape. If you can ignore the drums, This Place That Contains my Spirit offers its share of quality riffs and compositions that create a damp, woodsy ambiance. However, a lot of people will find it impossible to ignore the horrid drum tone. Add to that the band’s derivative style and it’s hard to beat the drum too hard for Woman is the Earth. Still, this band has upside; the compositional sensibilities are strong enough that fans of Cascadian black metal should at least remember the name for the future reference. Not that you could forget it.
(Originally written for deafsparrow.com)
I have little experience in black metal as a whole, let alone the US scene. Besides Woman is the Earth I know only Wolves in the Throne room and Christ Beheaded but I'm not familiar with ether band, nor am I well versed in ether of their musical escapades. WITE is NOT like Wolves... as one might think, sure they may share the same intense interest for nature as WINTR and maybe they have taken some influence from them but it is minute at best. I like how the homemade digi pack sent by the band came tied with straw along with a small poster that was tucked away above the case in the envelope; it was something I did not expect from a self-release from the band themselves.
The music was another pleasant surprise, I had expected something much less than what was presented. The riffs here are great and all four songs presented here are full of them, much more than the production can handle at times. The riffs themselves are far more expressive than I had hopped; the atmosphere they project is uncanny and renders the keyboards useless. Quite a bit of the riffs featured here are trembo picked save a few spurts of black/thrash (around the 3:10 mark of 'Bird Song' an epic black Viking riff rears its head) and several instances of clean guitar (such as a brief moment on the title track). The prospect of long songs (10+) is usually a bit more than most can handle, mostly due to the fact that in the face of repetition most riffs fold after two or three times; but here the riffs never lose their effectiveness or become tired or boring they only thrive here.
However this is an album with several faults that impact the album rather negatively, the production is the elephant in the room when concerning this. It favors the guitars over the drums and vocals (whenever the drums try to speed up they become muffled and nearly impossible to hear; think the effect of the productions on Vital Remain's Forever Underground drums whenever they would perform a blast beat, but more universal) this does apply more to the first two songs rather than the final two, however the drums and vocals are still muffled slightly. The vocals are hit the worse, they are pushed to the very back and while this does not present a problem for their audibility; sense they are nothing more than screams and moans, if they were to do anything else they would be completely overtaken by the rest of the recording. The ambiance is another, it is spread across the four tracks sometimes in the middle, beginning or end depending on the composition. While it will occasionally go well with some clean guitar parts, their introducing the distorted rhythms renders the purpose of the ambiance useless.
All in all this was a fantastic experience despite any hindrances the production may have inflicted; the recordings presented here have met my expectations and exceeded them with incredible ease. This is most certainly one of the most atmospheric and incredible releases I had even had the fortune to hear. While I don't expect another from Woman is the Earth anytime soon (there is a three year discrepancy between their first full length and this one) I more then look forward to their next. Recommended to anyone who enjoys long song with eminence atmosphere, Wolves of the Throne Room fans may find something of interest here as well. Enjoy.