Over the past few years, Earth mastermind Dylan Carlson has become a cult icon amongst the metal elite; he has his own living tribute band (Sunn 0)))), receives glowing praise from the likes of Tool, Mastodon and Isis, and perhaps most importantly, there's an ever-growing legion of supporters begging him to wake his slumbering beast of a band. Though he and (now permanent) collaborator Adrienne Davis have toured sporadically over the years, the low-frequency Earth machine has lain dormant for the better part of a decade.
With drone-based metal (arguably) at its commercial and critical peak, there couldn't be a better time for Carlson and Davis to unleash Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method. It's a better-late-than-never move that should net Carlson a kingly piece of the drone death-march pie that so many have feasted upon in his absence. The downers still work to quell the pain of a sped-up existence, and the agonizingly measured deal that Carson made with the devil this time around seems guaranteed to leave a pile of bodies so big it's visible from space.
This is a return to the halcyon days of Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions, where heavy-as-hell doom collides head-on with bourbon-basted Southern rock licks. The duo stick to what they do best on "The Dire and Ever Circling Wolves", pummeling a single, Hades-scraping riff until all sense of tonality and fluidity has been beaten from its limp, lifeless figure. "Lens of Unrectified Night" is Sabbath's "Fairies Wear Boots" slowed down to one-eighth speed, then roughed up by a gang of droogies for good measure, and the pulse wave-driven "Mirage" is Carlson's guitar at its most enigmatic, conjuring howling desert winds and whirling sandstorms with only the slightest chordal movements.
Some listeners might argue that Earth being Earth simply isn't good enough any more, especially as so many bands have reformulating their sound to maximum effect. However, it's important to remember that Carlson has built a career on slight variations of an ongoing theme -- lightly tweaking detuned riffs and navigating sparse rhythm beds until they disintegrate into festering piles of sulfur. Now, nine years later, Earth have added another drone-addled chapter to their legacy, albeit with slightly better results and a unification of purpose that was absent from their earlier work. If you worshipped them before, chances are good that you'll kneel at their feet once more -- but if you were foolish enough to think that this old dog was going to learn a whole new set of tricks, you're kidding yourself. Fifteen years of history led Earth to this monumental juncture.
Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method doesn't set out to reinvent the wheel -- it just wants to make it roll a little more slowly.