Ten years is a time frame in which anything can happen, especially in the music industry. Relationships begin and end, bands come and go, and trends begin and overturn, causing new heroes to rise and the kings of yesterday to be left in the shadows. But sometimes bands remain on top of their territory past this milestone and beyond.
Enter Chicago’s Pelican, whose ten-plus years on the circuit have taken it around the globe and left it in the higher ranks of post-metal acts. Though 2010 marked the band’s tin anniversary, 2012 is a year of progress, reflected in its new EP, Ataraxia / Taraxis.
Enabler may be a relatively “new” name in metalcore, but it’s full of proven parts, including two ex-members of Shai Hulud as well as ex-members of Trap Them, Today is the Day, Harlots, and more. Unfamiliar listeners may raise an eyebrow upon seeing Andy Hurley’s name listed, but the Fall Out Boy / The Damned Things drummer has long roots in hardcore, including a number of Midwest bands and a touring stint in Earth Crisis.
Since its adulterated release and subsequent reissue in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Sleep’s Dopesmoker (also released as Jerusalem) has stood as a monolith of metal. With its weighty, repetitive, hour-long opus, the stoner/doom-metal trio played a pivotal role in the evolution of metal by pushing conventions, well, higher. But under the weight of contractual issues pertaining to its epically lethargic piece, the band broke up before seeing a complete version of Dopesmoker available to the public.
Most God-fearing people would probably characterize Earth’s cinematic drone-rock music as dark, and the assumption is not without merit. Since 1989, Earth’s founder and guitarist, Dylan Carlson, has specialized in a kind of down-tempo, almost lethargic style of slow rock that easily allows listeners to conjure thoughts of an emotional purgatory.
Carlson describes Earth’s musical destinations in a conversely different light. For him, the band’s resonant, slow-forming instrumentation represents a musically cerebral path to some sort of middle ground, but it’s not so much as a waiting room to hell as it is a medieval common area, where people are free to simply be, free to do as much or as little as they’d like. Earth’s womb-like melodic cocoon is in many ways an external and extremely personal catharsis — an intimate attempt to make sense of an ever-present melancholy that pervades Carlson’s vision of humanity.
What do you think has allowed Earth to maintain the same musical continuity for so long, while so many other bands from your time period have faded from the radar, sold out, died, or come back playing something completely different than what they started?
I think it’s still pretty similar. I think the main difference is more seen by working with [drummer] Adrienne [Davies] and working with the other members of the band more; it’s more of a collective experience than before. There were times when there were very few members of the band — no members of the band — [laughs] except me, so it was definitely more of a solitary pursuit at points, where now I have the luxury of being able to attract musicians to play with me and are able to play with me for at least a couple years at a time, instead of album by album.
That’s different, and I like that. I’ve always viewed Earth as a band, and wanted it to be a band, but it’s not always the easiest thing to find musicians to work with and keep them. I’m more cognizant of what I’m doing than before.
Do you think your sobriety has played a role in that?
Yeah, I definitely think so. I’m definitely more focused on doing music now and not wasting my time running around chasing [pauses] other things [laughs], so that’s good. And I’ve obviously been more productive in this second go-around than I was in the first, in terms of output and performing live.
Has your creative process changed at all over the years?
Yeah, I mean, for the most part, I guess. To me, there are certain things that need to be there for it to be Earth, otherwise I’d do something different. Within that, it should be slow, it should be simple, and hopefully be on the longer end of letting things develop — the longer end of the scale. There’s some wiggle room to do some other things, but if those three things aren’t there, then I should do a different project.
And if I were going to do something different, I’d do something completely different and wouldn’t try to sell that off as Earth. I think Earth has an identity of its own. I don’t think that would be fair to people to make something really fast and new-wave-y and call it Earth [laughs]; that wouldn’t be Earth. That would be my really fast new-wave-y project.
North Carolina-based Weedeater has always balanced its stoner- and sludge-metal aspirations with a wide-open embrace of not just Southern rock but Southern culture as well. Songs about Dale Earnhardt sit alongside Lynyrd Skynyrd covers; odes to mystical demons were right at home alongside ballads praising the band’s titular indulgence.
But despite some commendable efforts (especially the group’s previous disc, God Luck And Good Speed in 2007), these two directions never fully reconciled, and the band’s masterpiece always seemed just out of its reach. Jason…The Dragon, the group’s fourth full-length (and second for Southern Lord), doesn’t quite put the group over the top of the mountain, but it’s never for lack of trying.
Aaron Turner, founder of Hydra Head Records and frontman for pioneering metal band Isis, is no stranger to the art of making an album, from the studio to the shelves.
In addition to laying down guitar riffs and vocals, Turner is an accomplished visual artist, responsible for cover art, layout, and package design for numerous bands. This unique knack for the aural and visual aspects of music inspired us to ask Turner about his favorite fellow double threats.
My Favorite Musicians/Artists/Designers by Aaron Turner
Album art is and always has been an extremely crucial component of the experience of an album for me. Though there certainly have been records I’ve loved that have had terrible cover art, most of those that have left an indelible footprint in my mind have been those with a visual presentation of power equal to that of the music.
When I think back on the records that have shaped my ideas about what it means to make music, I usually have a tangible feeling that comes with that recollection, a sense of the atmosphere that the record created for me and how that atmosphere was accentuated or more clearly defined by the accompanying sleeve art. As that has been true in the past for me, so it is now; when checking out new records, I’m consistently drawn to those with compelling covers that draw me in and make me what to know what’s going on inside.
In the last 10 years or so, I’ve become particularly interested in musicians who are also active participants in designing or creating artwork for the albums that they make. It seems logical to me that those people would have the best understanding of what the music is about and the clearest idea of how to communicate that visually. Some of my favorite album covers now are those that have been made wholly or in part by the musicians who also have created the music itself.
Below is a list of people who reside in that category of musician/designer/artist and who have excelled at both aspects of making memorable albums.
1. Fangs Anal Satan (Boris)
Boris has made some tremendous albums over the years, and the music has always been matched by the equally excellent illustration and design. Like the band, which has mutated through a series of different incarnations (in sound rather than personnel), so too have the visuals, without ever dropping in consistency of quality.
From album to album, numerous tactics have been employed: rigid restraint bordering on minimalism, unorthodox packaging materials (colored foam, die-cut cardboard, hand-painted boxes containing dried flowers, etc.), psychedelic fantasy scenes paying homage to ’70s album artist Roger Dean, parodies of classic metal logos (Venom), extensive and beautifully arranged LP-sized photo books. Each release is a special artifact in its own right and as such warrants even further focus towards the music and the packaging from the listener/viewer.
When Goodfellow Records folded this year, Italian grindcore/black-metal quartet The Secret found itself momentarily without a label following a pair of raging, nihilism-fueled full-length albums. Those releases suggested (if not insisted) that the group had something new to bring to European metal’s increasingly crowded table.
In the wake of the former label’s dissolution (and the band’s countless lineup changes since), The Secret attempts to regain its footing on Solve Et Coagula, its first outing for Southern Lord and an album almost workmanlike in its sound, structure, and unwavering metal attack.