Earth, Vienna Arena, 2 February 2015

A quick look back through previous entries of this blog confirms that this was at least the third time I had seen Earth in Vienna. They turned up at the Szene in 2008 and the Arena in 2011, although I’m pretty sure I also saw them opening for Sunn O))) at the Szene in 2006, which must have been one of my first concerts since moving to Vienna. It must have been galling to play support to a group who started out as a tribute band to you, and I wonder what the current state of the relationship between Dylan Carlson and Stephen OʼMalley is like, since they don’t seem to associate with each other much these days. But I digress.

My review of Earth’s 2008 appearance noted that on that occasion they augmented their core sound with keyboard and trombone parts. I recall being somewhat nonplussed by these embellishments, so I’m pleased to be able to report that Earth have gone back to basics this time, with the ever-present Carlson on guitar and Adrienne Davies on drums joined only by Bill McGreevy on bass. Carlson picked out long, agonisingly slow guitar solos against the thunderous swoop of Daviesʼ drums, the length and funereal pace of these instrumentals contributing to an overall mood of sludgey defiance that I found perversely invigorating.

Looking wilder and more whiskery than ever, Carlson speaks only to introduce the songs and his fellow musicians. The titles of the pieces (“Even Hell Has Its Heroes”, “There Is A Serpent Coming”) have a pleasingly apocalyptic ring to them that adds to the doomy ambience hanging over the proceedings. Although seven or eight distinct songs were announced, there was so little tonal variation between them that they might as well have been played as one continuous piece. This is not meant as any kind of criticism, by the way. On the contrary, the longer the concert progressed, the more engrossed did I become by Carlson’s relentlessly single-minded pursuit of the perfect note and riff.

In fact, the way Carlson approaches the guitar suggests that he regards it as some kind of block. His playing resembles a sculptural process aimed at refining and stripping down the instrument to its bare essentials. Holding the neck of the guitar aloft, his gaze fixed on the fretboard, he patiently chisels away at it as though in search of some higher truth. Unsurprisingly, none is found to emerge; nevertheless, Carlson’s impossible quest for enlightenment makes for an absorbing evening.

Earth & Richard Bishop, Vienna Szene Wien, 24 February 2008

A very strong concert at the Szene Wien last night by American drone-metallers Earth. The music unfolded at a slow, rigidly controlled pace and barely deviated from it throughout, shaped by the funereal pulse of the drums and the colossal hum of Dylan Carlson’s guitar. Carlson spoke little except to introduce the songs, but he was an impressive onstage figure, looking like he’d walked in from a Tarantino film with his long moustache and slicked back hair. As a guitarist he was a picture of concentration, holding the neck high and gazing fixedly at the strings while playing with a surprising delicacy and finesse.

The group were clearly making an attempt to lighten their sound with the inclusion of keyboard and trombone patterns. Others may disagree, but I could easily have done without these embellishments; they were an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction from the group’s perversely inspiring core sound. I also found myself wishing for slightly more thump from the drums. These reservations notwithstanding, Earth proved themselves to be an uncannily potent force.

Early birds had the good fortune to witness former Sun City Girl Richard Bishop on solo electric guitar. He’s an awesomely talented player, and it was great to see that his mighty technique never descended into empty-headed twiddling. Instead, the music swarmed hectically around the hall, with clouds of notes emerging and resolving into beautifully complex configurations.