Saturday, August 3, 2013
The Heaviest Album I've Heard - Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” Nietzsche, the Gay Science, section 125.
Is it any wonder Dylan Carlson called his dirt-diggin’ Seattle-based drone band Earth? Both Kurt and Courtney’s main skag connection in Seattle (rumour has it), a friend of the Melvins and Nirvana, central unnoticed lynchpin in that special moment in time in the world. Cultural significance don’t count for nowt when the chips are down, and Dylan Carlson’s chips are down. He’s out touring Europe and writing English fairy songs now, so it’s more shocking than ever to hear his pre-Cobain suicide self on Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version. At the time it was released in early 93 it was, and still is, the heaviest record ever pressed. Drawing equally from the guitar tone of Master of Reality, and the sludge trudge of the cover of ‘Black Sabbath’ on Flower Travellin’ Band’s Anywhere LP, gleaned from the misunderstood cacophony Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and fed through late-night performances and listenings of ‘Hung Bunny’ from the Melvins ultimate LP, Lysol. A scholar of that first scorching Thrones tape, the Melvins’ Joe Preston solo EP and the guitar work of Preston himself on the first Earth EP, Extra Capsular Extraction; Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version presents a vision of the world so singular and solipsistic, so blinkered and closed and restricted and specific while also being universal and eternal.
My understanding of music comes from a single late night playing of the full newly-released hour-and-three-minute cut of ‘Dopesmoker’, with the impossibly imposing guitar lines and religious zealotry imposed by Al Cisneros idiot/genius lyrics and vocal delivery; coming upon Earth 2 many years later was the culmination of a seemingly-endless journey to find something heavier. I wanted something original, something which embraced chaos. Heavy metal as a genre, for all its pretentions to being chaotic, is one of the most practiced and regimented musical genres, you want chaos? Seek out freejazz my son, and Brooklyn’s Little Women in particular, they’ll crispy fry your brainpan better than any of your Napalm Death shee-it. I quickly discovered speed and false aggression were the death-throes of heaviness, not its progenitors. Real heaviness was from the Melvins, the doom metal landscapes of Electric Wizard and their bastard child Ramesses, that stunning lead-bass bone-marrow rumble. I dig the oddness of the Melvins, and their deconstructionist attitude to music and Lysol was their masterpiece. But while the other members of the ‘heaviest ever’ trifecta; Dopesmoker and Lysol were dancing round the broad maypole of Master of Reality Iommi-isms, and were surrounded by skull bong and lawsuit controversy; Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version slipped out relatively quietly, and didn’t make too many waves when it landed a year after Lysol. Which is a surprise because that’s all that will ever be quiet about Earth 2.
So how is the actual record, metaphorically? It’s the deathlike dragging of frostbitten insects in autumn. Naw? It’s the almost undetectable spinning of the room as you throw up all your regret along with last night’s booze. Not quite right? It’s a lukewarm pitcher of unsatisfying Fosters bubbling away in your stomach. Again? It’s taking a few weeks off weight training and then trying for an hour and fifteen minutes to bench three times your personal best. It’s a throbbing hangover migraine. It’s the sound equivalent of the midday desert sun singeing your arm. It’s like the high pitched whistle of the jet engines of B52 bombers soaring overhead and the concussion of the atom-bomb blasts and it’s the god-forsaken future a thousand years hence as technology has been forgotten and computers fill Victorian warehouses and the rumble of those cities and it’s all that played simultaneously? Still not convinced? All the human loathing generated by a series of Here Comes Honey BooBoo condensed into spinning black vinyl. Nein? Howzabout all of Black Sabbath (not latterday Slack Babbath scrubbing mein skins hero Bill Ward out of things) but with every member replaced with a different turn-of-the-century airship bumping against one another until they coalesce into a vibrant slomo explosion. The one thing it isn’t is the cover, emptiness on an almost biblical Cecil B. DeMille type-fashion. What this deserves is a repeat of the cover of Led Zep’s first except with the colours turned up to 99 and exploding in a psychedelic kaleidoscopic nightmare.
Riffs? Forget it. Anything except a guitar and a bass mercilessly feeding back through what sounds like the same sweating amp? Forget it. A beat to cling to? Hit the bricks. Vocals? Pah. You can imagine Iggy and Bowie or Lou Reed in a pinch drifting solemnly in and out of the Manhattan skyline of amps across the stage, no mic, just present. Present at the birth of myself. The overwhelmingly unutterable weight of Earth 2 is matched only by the opening scenes of Lars Von Trier’s spectacular epic Melancholia in which a vast blue orb drifts through the emptiness of space (itself mimicking the shrieking existential terror of Gary Lockwood spinning airlessly and soundlessly in the blackness of space in the sublime 2001: A Space Odyssey) until it encounters the earth, briefly waltzing in the black before an almighty literally world-ending collision. I always thought the Wagnerian wailing that accompanied that spectacular sequence would have been better replaced with Carlson and Harwell encouraging a bone-shaking fuck session between their scratched-up bruised guitars and the shredded Sunn amps they were so fond of. Musically it’s Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. I used a brief ‘vertical slice’ of Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version to illustrate to a philosophy class Nietzsche’s concept of "Gott ist tot” If you feel a deep-rooted existential angst as Earth 2 marches unfeelingly on, don’t fret, it simply shows you are still sane.
It is this spectacular mountainous sound, which is seismic, tectonic, like a mountain range being pushed up by the fluctuations in the core of Earth, of the very ground shifting and changing, that marks Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version out as the Heaviest Thing Ever Recorded. All of the fear and shrieking uncertainty created by Earth 2 is in contradiction to the monosyllabic trudge of this record as it leaves footprints in concrete on your carpet. The late intrusion of percussion into this record doesn’t stop it being psychedelic, and exists merely to add abstraction, because at that late stage of the album the Xanax or booze or Benzodiazepine will have started to work its way up your hairy neck into your sizzling brainpan. I’d recommend the CD version for meditative purposes, because flipping a record every fifteen minutes can harsh your buzz, and you might have to listen to the ticking if you’re so doped up that movement is at the very least incredibly uncomfortable if not outright painful. The album is short, only a single delicate lifetime long.
If you can’t take my word for it and follow the great number of reviews that call Earth 2 variously “tryhard hippy bullshit” and “ambient nonsense” then please try Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s merciless f#a# (infinity), firstly because you can leave the final side running until the world comes to an end, and for that vocal on ‘Dead Flag Blues’. Also if neither of these extended trips fully get you off, smoke a big ‘un, draw the curtains, push the dial and lay back and receive stress fractures from We Are All Terrorists by Palestine’s בלטה which’ll give you the full-blown Raiders of the Lost Ark face-melt experience in twenty minutes. Being under fascist occupation does something to folks I guess…
--Written under duress by Steven Dinnie.