Dylan Carlson and Earth reach back to roots they never knew they had for their first studio album since 1996?s ?Pentastar: In the Style of Demons? (Sub-Pop). The journey from then to now has been--to borrow a phrase--one long, strange trip. Carlson has had issues with chemicals, thugs and bad business, all behind him now. A couple live albums came out over the last five years, and at the same time the doom generation has taken full bloom (if such a thing were ever possible), and everyone and his mother now name-drops Earth as the band that started it all. Fair enough, considering no one else ever thought of layering multi tracks of down tuned sludge and playing Black Sabbath riffs in the style of Steve Reich before ?Earth 2? (Sub-Pop) hit the shelves.
?Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method? is a far cry from the thorazine dreams that characterized that storied album, or anything else the band has ever released for that matter. Earth here is a duo of guitar/drums, and ?Hex? is a subtle trudge through the Old West (read as hell), dustbowls and endless sepia toned horizons. The album title is a nod to Cormac McCarthy's classic nightmare western novel, ?Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West,? which Carlson states as a direct influence on these recordings.
His guitar playing is much more precise and deliberate than on any of his previous works. The effects, though present, are stripped down for the sake of a wandering, spectral mood. The sound is cavernous and haunting. One listens to the plodding percussion and cymbal crash beneath angular rhythms of ?Lens of Unrectified Night? and envisions a funeral procession at dusk comprised of dark cloaked figures with haggard faces, walking in step to the dirge. The much shorter, preceding ?Left in the Desert? tells the fate of the one they bury with the sounds of tinkling bells and wind swept dunes.
?Raiford (The Felon Wind)? features a stately burst of wah-wah guitar leading a dusted slow blues plod that would be heavy metal if played just a little faster. Carlson piles on just the right amount of restrained fuzz before eventually unleashing a retina melting blast of desert sun that dissolves into a low moan: the Old West?s answer to Buddhist chant. It all eventually fades to ambient feedback and a lone horse neighing far off somewhere in the distance.
This album features an amazing production job. Each piece has an austere, surreal quality that lends itself to mirages and heatstroke. The overall spare approach hearkens to the earliest recordings of maybe Low, but with no vocals and at slightly faster tempos. Another reference could be Slint and their many followers, but again Carlson and his percussionist Adrienne Davies make this sound entirely their own. ?Hex? is an album that rests on many borders--between post rock and doom, the Old West and the modern era, life and death, heaven and hell. It?s an album of surviving for some and perishing for others, and it?s an absorbing journey every step of the way. Excellent package design by Stephen O?Malley. 8/10 -- Lee Jackson (27 June, 2006)