Sub Pop To Release Earth 2 Special Low Frequency Version 30th Anniversary Vinyl Edition Along With The Limited Edition Companion Piece Earth 2.23 Special Lower Frequency Mix Out Worldwide November 3rd, 2023
Tue, Sep 12, 2023 at 7:00 AM
Did you know there are horses on the cover of Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version? There are at least three of them there in the right hand corner, pale brown and blonde beauties gathered inexplicably near a white canvas tent, a human possibly perched among its folds. A black cow (is that a cow?) grazes at the left, an enigmatic peppery blemish on an overwhelming landscape of white heaven, blue sky, and green earth. In 1993, that triptych of strata offered a fittingly bold canvas for the pronouncement of a landmark: Earth 2, the glacially paced but radically charged record that is one of heavy metal’s very few sui generis statements of the last 30 years. But as widescreen and vast as the cover may seem, those little details—the horses, the possible human, the faint wisp of white clouds—give it depth and wonder, something for which the imagination can return.
Did you know that the music on Earth 2—repressed now for its 30th anniversary, back in its original artwork, and accompanied by a riveting set of remixes that demonstrate the reach of what Dylan Carlson long ago called “ambient metal”—works much the same way? The surface is massive and obvious, the meatpaw riffs of Carlson and bassist Dave Harwell pounding and swiping and pawing at the speakers, a true bludgeon in three-dimensional sound. Their combined might speak directly to the end-times-minded. “Seven Angels,”for instance, is staggering, the theme throbbing like techno near the piece’s middle.
They ride the slow changes of “Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine” like celestial surfers who have descended from their Mount Olympus perch, patient and powerful and purposeful. The half-hour finale “Like Gold and Faceted” pours out like a tidal wave of mud, its titanic strength seeming to rend free Joe Burns’ incidental percussion like debris on some ravaged roadway. If you’ve always heard Earth 2 as an engrossing exposition of sustained muscle and exquisite volume, fair enough. It is absolutely that.
Listen, though, for the details in the corners, for the finesse beneath the force, and Earth 2 suddenly reveals new levels of depth and wonder. Hear the way the shells of the amplifiers seem to rattle back during a rest seven minutes into “Seven Angels,” like an unintended rhythm section. Or the way the overtones accrete throughout those 15 minutes, like a subterranean choir singing harmony is steadily rising beneath the din. There’s the vertiginous motion of “Teeth,” where layers of distorted drone wash over one another in all directions until you believe that maybe the very idea of forward motion is a mirage. You could spend a lifetime teasing out where one sound begins, another ends.
And then, with “Like Gold and Faceted,” Earth does something of the opposite, leaking one sound into another as if pouring a guitar’s viscous tone through the world’s longest funnel. Close your eyes just beyond the three-minute mark, and you can hear such a rendezvous, with guitars, bass, and amps crackling into a seamless groan. It is a careful and beautiful moment, like noticing all the brushstrokes a painter used to master some ever-complicated gradient of color.
The widespread impact of Earth 2 suggests that others have indeed been leaning in, listening to these minutiae and making something new of them. A masterpiece without many genre precedents, Earth 2 surely helped send doom metal down its more modern drone, ambient, and avant-garde avenues. Those descendants are obvious. Perhaps more surprising and gratifying are the ways it has influenced electronic music, modern composition, and even hip-hop by realigning our senses of tempo, time, and texture. Earth 2 engendered a rearrangement of expectations, regardless of preferred form.
The new five-remix set, Earth 2.23: Special Lower Frequency Mix, makes this clearer than ever. The Bug has taken a bit of “Seven Angels” and laced it with feedback and big bass, allowing grime luminary Flowdan to climb atop it with his dark, staccato visions. Responsible for many transformational records himself, Justin K. Broadrick of Jesu and Godflesh crawls inside “Teeth” to lash at it with punishing drum machines and sordid layers of new distortion, building it into some brokedown palace of industrial mayhem. Loop’s Robert Hampson makes good on the premise of ambient metal with his 30-minute hypnotic beauty, while longtime Earth cohort and longtime Built to Spill multi-instrumentalist Brett Netson seems to float the sound through a benighted graveyard on his clever “Teeth” revamp. When The Bug’s Kevin Richard Martin comes back around for “Like Gold and Faceted,” he puts it on a dub platter, spinning it through a demented psychedelic fantasyland. These are not obvious directions for Earth’s impact. Again, Earth 2 was never an obvious record.
Earth does not sound like Earth 2 anymore. Along with steadfast drummer Adrienne Davies, Carlson has landed after an extended pause somewhere between Earth 7 and Earth Infinity, using the nominal structure of blues-based instrumental rock to follow flickering riffs through the deep dark. They are refined, subtle, and deceptively quiet now, as if always about to crest some undetected barrier.
The force that made Earth 2 so jarring and affirming is still there, though, hidden in plain sound, as if the image of 1993 has been suddenly reversed. Rather than see mostly the striking mountain and try to tease out the details, as Carlson and Harwell did so rapturously on Earth 2, you now first see the mountain’s minute details—its cracks, faces, grains—and intuit that the imposing shape is still there, even if you cannot comprehend its true enormity. But 30 years on, have we yet to grasp the enormity of Earth 2, anyway, an album that has continued its slow cycle of influence, uninterrupted? Probably not. Hell, most of us don’t even know there are horses on the cover.