Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 (Southern Lord)
After basically inventing the droning, slow-motion metal riff aesthetic that so many bands would go on to emulate, Earth frontman Dylan Carlson took an almost decade-long hiatus before reconfiguring the project in 2005. That year's Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method had Carlson adding melody, pedal steel, and a Spaghetti Western sensibility to Earth's cleaned-up sound, while drummer Adrienne Davies kept a Percodan-paced beat behind it all. It was a relatively simple but evocative and addictive style, one so successful they basically repeated it with minor adjustments for 2007's Hibernaculum EP and 2008's The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull. If you were into slowcore metal displaying a more scaled-back kind of epic Romanticism, these albums were great, if lacking somewhat in diversity. Now comes the supposed new direction of Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 and it sounds… like another Earth record.
More of more or less the same isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, from a group with such a distinctive, purposeful method as Earth, and there are some new ideas to be found on the album. The addition of Lori Goldston's cello is the most crucial difference, and it blends so naturally with the Earth aesthetic you wonder why Carlson didn't think to add the instrument sooner. With the melodic, sonorous strains of the cello filling out the sound, Carlson is free to loosen up somewhat, applying more tremolo and reverb to add a tinge of warbly psychedelia to his guitar. And while duration has always been central to Earth's process, it's hard to imagine the 20-minute closing title track executed by an earlier incarnation. There's a sustained sense of control and focus that the previous albums might have just been warming the band and audience up for. It's undeniably epic while remaining improbably intimate.