Dark, Pagan, and Really Nice Guys

King Dude opening for Earth at the Shakedown Tavern in Bellingham, Washington.

Polished and Muscular

Astonishing. Raw. Loud. Earth is on the road with King Dude, two Seattle-based metal titans. Earth’s new record from Southern Lord is called “Primitive and Deadly.” The sound, the overall aesthetic, is poetic and memorable, and elemental. The live show was, as far as I’m concerned, a set of highly structured and intricate instrumental songs, without a singer on the tour. The studio LP has vocal contributions from Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) and Rabia Shaheen Qazi (Rose Windows).

Just before the band’s set at the Shakedown Tavern in Bellingham, Washington, three bats—yes, bats—flew in through an open transom or window someplace, or maybe through the front door, from where I was at the stage front I couldn’t see how they were getting in or out. The trio flew into the very hot performance space, and made numerous journeys around the space. Each time they flew to the inner-most part of the bar, then left. Even the band paused before starting their set to watch as these flyers passed just a few feet over our heads, circling, leaving, returning, before they finally left the house.

Earth songs played live have a complexity that astonishes. As the band played, they also moved with their instruments, including the drummer, in a way that suggested a kind of subconscious choreography. It’s been years since I’ve seen human beings so connected to their guitars and drums. The performance was sensual and fluid. Each song unfolded slowly as if by a precise score, and yet each musician played, for the most part, with his and her eyes closed in an almost improv, trance style. The entire set felt like a cross between improv and chant (the guitars as voices), as outrageous as that might sound. They played totally in unison and somehow followed each other to precise queues. That was the astonishing bit.

This was my first drone metal show (though a label like that is misleading, I think), and in that regard my expectations were totally shattered. I expected an aggressive audience, I suppose, because mainstream metal bands project such aggressive and commercial images, bordering on stereotypes of themselves, for the most part. But for this audience, it was as if the music was something personal for each person. Most in the audience lowered their heads, as if in prayer, making the evening seem all the more spiritual, swaying to the songs.

“Primitive and Deadly” has a timeless feel to it. Earth is a band at the height of their powers. The double gatefold LP from Southern Lord is sumptuous.