Earth - Hibernaculum (Southern Lord CD + DVD)
Last year before Earth's "Living in the Gleam of an Unsheathed Sword" came out there were stickers and logos and banners everywhere proclaiming that "this is not the new Earth album" (because that of course was to be "Hex; or Printing in the Infernal Method", which came out a few monthers afterward). Yet new or not, it still came out and ruled. Now those same warnings are preceding the release of "Hibernaculum", because even though it's comprised again of new recordings, it's not a "new" album per se - the first three are old Earth songs and the last one was released last year as the B-side to a Sunn O)))/Earth tour split 12". The lure here is that those three Earth classics have been re-done under the new Earth style (circa "Hex"), which in plainest of terms can be summarised as a sort of country/drone/dissonant approach. And what do you know? This album rules too, and rules so much so that part of me wants to say I like it even more than "Hex" though I don't know if that would be technically fair. But shit. It's close.
"Hibernaculum" opens with a truncated take on one of Earth's best-known songs (if that can even be said), "Ouroboros is Broken" from 1991's "Extra-Capsular Extraction". It would almost come across as audacious to not only reinvent a literal standard from the guitar drone/occasional percussion glory days of Earth, but to also shave off a good 10 minutes from the original running time. However - and this cannot be emphasised enough - the resulting "new" version is so fucking good. I mean, really. Not even exaggerating. The '91 version was/is great and Dylan Carlson's endless guitar menace may be forever ingrained in the heads of any heads who nodded out to it more than once, but the "Hibernaculum" version takes the rather simple melody into a whole 'nother stratosphere...Carlson's clean guitar tone glides alongside the twin low-end provided by Don McGreevy and Greg Anderson (bass and synthesizer, respectively), the latter of those two guesting from you-know-where. Adrienne Davies' rigid, almost militant percussive thump is down to formula by now and Steve Moore's trumpet, which worked to such great effect on the last Earth and Sunn O))) live albums, demonstrates his uncanny ability to conjure up the perfect creeping aural haunt. The thing that kills me about the new "Ouroboros" is that is straddles the line between ominous despair and weather-breaking hope that it's like my heart is in a constant battle between staying in my ribcage and bursting out all over the floor. The same struggle occurs again in "Coda Maestoso in F (Flat) Minor", specifically when the piano comes in to replace where the effected-guitar stood in the version from 1994's (unfairly) maligned "Pentastar: In the Style of Demons". Thankfully the world-beating conclusion is still in place, just "Hexorcized" if you will. Like the band invited Neil Young in to finish it off. "Miami Morning Coming Down" is a chiller led by Steve Moore on piano, and is the only track to feature the basic Earth quartet exclusively (Carlson, Davies and McGreevy being the remaining three). It's also quite a bit more disparate than the others, with Carlson's searing guitar shots bolted to Moore's dramatic piano line, and Davies and McGreevy coaxing supporting tones from their respective instruments. Carlson's wrangles the riff until it's ever-so-slightly torn around the edges before he lets it and the rest of the track face off. "A Plague of Angels" is practically an act unto itself, being almost as long as the three previous tracks combined. It features another plodding rhythm from Davies and McGreevy while Carlson adds a contemplative, endless-desert type riff that grows more urgent as the minutes go by. Moore works in the shadows again, this time adding wurlitzer to his arsenal, and album producer Randall Dunn checks in with synthesizer. What's most compelling about "Plague" is the story Carlson tells with his guitar, using the rest of the song as a backdrop. It's like listening to a story where you understand none of the words and all of the feeling, like it's being told to you by Ewoks or something. I've got no idea how that can be but listen to "Plague" and you'll be on my side, I'm sure of it. On an album level, "Hibernaculum" can't really compete with "Hex" because "Hex" just works so fluently whereas this one does not as much (for obvious reasons)...and maybe I'm just giddy at hearing old favorites re-worked in a new, equally-brilliant light, but there ain't nothing on here that can't go toe to toe with anything else from Earth's back catalogue. "Earth 2" included, motherfuckers. I said it.
"Hibernaculum" also comes with a DVD by Seldon Hunt called "Within the Drone", which details the inner workings of the band through interviews and conversations with Carlson and the other members. It also includes footage from their 2006 tour of Europe. I wish I could tell you what I think about it, but unfortunately I've lost my DVD remote and can't figure out how to watch a DVD without it. But from what I hear, the tour footage is great, and the interviews not so much (apparently Carlson says "you know" too much, in case that's a problem for you) but who cares. Even if it is the first Earth footage to be released since their return, the CD is where the goods are at, and the bonuses are just that. And if you feel the same, well you can buy the vinyl version that just came out, since the DVD isn't included with that edition. Whatever course you take, just make sure you hear "Hibernaculum" sometime before you die. Here's praying "the new Earth" is planning on being around for another ten years or so.
Ouroboros is Broken (excerpt)
A Plague of Angels (excerpt)