Review by Paul Castles, photos by Rich Thompson
With three performing acts, none of which featured a singer, it’s fair to say that it was something of an eclectic night at The Oobleck. This though hadn’t deterred around 300 connoisseurs from descending on the Custard Factory hotspot.
First up were a laid back duo, Don McGreevy and Rogier Smal. The pair began in such a low key nonchalant fashion that it wasn’t initially apparent if we were witnessing the start of their set or merely a late tune-up. Smal was stroking his drumkit so gently he could almost have been trying to get a baby to sleep, while Don, who we were to see more of later in the evening, was carefully plucking on his guitar as though picking daisies in a field.
It was not so much riffwork in action as the creation of an ambient aural landscape. Gradually the combo upped the ante, with just about sufficient strength to disturb any cobwebs, the attentive audience transfixed by the pair’s hushed harmonies. Don exchanged acoustic for electric on their third and final song, the most energetic of this teasing triumvirate, featuring more jumps than the Grand National. Hell, its disjointed dialogue even drew some slight head movements from one or two punters.
Don and Rogier were followed on stage by another two-man operation, this pair under the name of Black Spirituals. It was soon after they came onto The Oobleck stage that I had to head off to interview the main act of the evening. It was clear though, in the little I caught of Black Spirituals, that they were a spikier partnership than the opening duo, sounding much angrier, deeper and significantly louder.
Headliners Earth are an intriguing proposition but one that after around 20 years now clearly possess pulling power. The Seattle trio’s opening UK date in Islington drew 800 people and The Oobleck was pretty close to a sell-out. As the band’s founder and figurehead, Dylan Carlson took great pride in telling us midway through a captivating set, that Earth’s latest album Deadly And Primitive outsold the collective total sales of their first nine full length releases inside the first week.
There may be a number of factors behind this startling stat but one could well be that for the first time in around 19 years Earth have opened the door for singers. However, as these were special guest bookings for the recording session alone, live at The Oobleck, Earth returned to their earthy heartland of pure jams, riffs and harmonies.
Holding the bassline was our old friend Don, the charming Adrienne, now celebrating her 10th year as drummer with Earth, and of course Dylan himself on guitar. Having spoken at length with Dylan earlier in the evening it’s clear that his heart and soul is embedded into the metal family. While that was reflected by a number of black hoodies and t-shirts, it was also clear from the number of couples present that Earth’s roots had now reached out to embrace a wider audience.
Opening with ‘Badgers Bane’ from the aforementioned latest release, Earth set about delivering an extraordinary set packed with their trademark drone delivery. This genre is sufficiently dark and deliberate to make doom look like a skip through the tulips. Sustained deep chords are thrown down so low they’re almost biting your ankles and the depth and unrelenting commitment is almost exhausting to watch, let alone play. Don’s beatific baselines rolled across the room like an army on the march. Why play five notes when one really long one works just as well!
At the back of the stage Adrienne executed her drumming with methodical poise and purpose, every strike of the trembling skins preceded by both sticks held high overhead as if in homage to the great drone demons, before steadily hammering down to send ripples across the floor like a percussive tidal wave.
Most songs come in at around 10 minutes. When you consider earlier Earth work was often twice as long, songs like ‘Even Hell Has Its Heroes’ may appear almost snappy in comparison. But as that song opens with heavier dimensions than a freight train that is perhaps not quite the case after all.
Anyone with ear canal problems will have had that fixed faster than a visit to the local syringe excavator. The cavernous craters of dominant drone are near guaranteed to reduce any debris to dust. Although Earth’s sound is something of an aural assault course, frontman Dylan could scarcely be a more likeable fellow, sharing quips with the crowd in between songs in his familiar Seattle drawl.
Unfortunately just when you think nothing can resist the unremittingly punishing barrage, an amp pops midway through ‘Bees Make Honey’. A brief lull followed while the necessary repairs took place, before kicking on with the crushing ‘There’s A Serpent Coming’ without the vocals of Mark Lanegan, who guested on the album. However, such are the unremitting surge of the riffs that the absence of singing scarcely detracts from the overall impact.
After Adrienne had brought the song ‘Old Black’ to a mighty crescendo, Dylan then introduced ‘The Ouroboras Is Broken’ the first ever song he penned for Earth back in 1989. Cruelly, another amp then waved the white flag of submission, almost symbolically signalling that the grinding battery was simply too formidable to handle.. This time a hasty retreat to the van in the nearby car park was necessary, leaving Adrienne to perform a sequence of stretches at the side of the stage to keep limbs warm and supple.
Problems solved for the second time, Earth then began ‘Torn By The Fox Of The Crescent Moon’.
Dylan then explained how they would have gone off at this stage, before returning for the encores. However, having already had two interruptions it would appear a little graceless to throw in an unnecessary third so the trio rolled straight into set closer ‘From The Zodiacal Light’. On the album this achingly melancholic homily features the quivering vocals of Rabra Shaheen, who is more often to be found performing with Seattle folk sextet Rose Windows. While her smoother than silk style was not able to grace The Oobleck, Earth still spun its hypnotic spell.
We’ve heard a lot about drones lately. Some people seem to think they’re some kind of mini flying saucers that zoom around above our heads taking snapshots of our daily lives. Those privileged to witness Earth at The Oobleck will know that ‘drone’ is much more interesting than that.
1. Badger’s Bane
2. Even Hell Has Its Heroes
3. The Bees Make Honey In The Lion’s Skull
4. There Is A Serpent Coming
5. Old Black
6. Ouroboras Is Broken
7. Torn By The Fox Of The Crescent Moon
8. From The Zodiacal Light