by Jeremy Ülrey
Continuing apace the goth-country minimalism he's specialized in since his 2005 reemergence, Dylan Carlson once again saddles up his warhorse and heads for the badlands on Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1, ostensibly the first in a series of thematically unified concept albums (though a strong case could be made that all of his studio work since Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method is more or less of a piece). Don't let the recent re-release of the nascent Earth material (as A Bureaucratic Desire for Extra-Capsular Extraction) fool you into believing the band is on a back-to-their-roots crusade; Angels of Darkness follows a direct trajectory from Hex through 2008's Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull to present.
The most noticeable difference between Angels of Darkness and Bees Made Honey is the stubborn lack of memorable riffing on the current effort. It's almost as if Carlson decided he deviated too far from his experimental roots last time around, and now he's seeking a return to the more obtuse atonality of Hex, with its near complete absence of hooks that the listener can hang their dusty hat on.
This is unfortunate. Bees Made Honey was Carlson's masterpiece, a pitch perfect synthesis of moody, Ry Cooder-esque western tone poems and Earth's trademark drone. The riffs created a context – deepened the weary defeat – rather than detract from the avant garde nature of the work, as if through some miscalculated, "rockist" compromise. That's not say that riffs are lacking on Angels of Darkness, they just don't differentiate themselves from one another or evolve much within the same song. On Bees Made Honey, tracks like "Hung from the Moon" and "Miami Morning Coming Down" have a wistful, melancholy strain to them that contrasts nicely with the sinister violence of the two-part "Omens and Portents", for instance; there is a forward driven, cinematic quality to the former work that is lacking in the latter.
It could be that Carlson intended Angels of Darkness to be a more abstract affair than his previous effort – "head" music rather than soundtrack to an imaginary western noir – and as such drew things out a little more, the better to encourage the listener to get lost in the haze rather than to perk their ears awaiting the next riff transition. It's a legitimate argument, but the practical sense is that the Angels riffs are not just repetitive – which would be fine in its own right – but also extremely similar to those on the previous two records… so much so that it becomes difficult for anyone familiar with their discography to regard the present album as a stand alone work. Positioned as the first of a series, it tends to make the die-hard fan leery of Earth's ability to evolve in the near future (if this initial entry in a multi-part saga sounds so similar to what came before it, how likely is the rest of the series to deviate from the formula?).
But that's jumping ahead a bit. Three albums in to what was a pretty groundbreaking new sound at the time, the formula hasn't grown stale quite yet, and Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 is still a dependable (if not mind blowing) effort for fans of Hex or Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull. It just won't top many 2011 year end best of lists, which is a bit of a shame since Bees Made Honey seemed to get largely overlooked in that regard in 2008.
7.5 out of 10