Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1
(Southern Lord)

For many listeners, Earth peaked with 1993's Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version, a mammoth opus of dirge-­­doom drone that bas(s)­ically invented ambient metal. When Dylan Carlson's revolving cast of musicians regrouped after a nine-­year hiatus for 2005's Hex (Or Printing in the Infernal Method), Earth entered a new phase of creativity. They shed much of the overt heaviness that had appeared on their first four recordings, let in some dusty air to the arrangements, substituted twang for klang in the guitar department, and found a pitiless kind of spirituality in the music's newly opened spaces.

The follow-up to 2008's The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 continues in the methodical and solemn path Earth have plowed throughout the 21st century; the record's five tracks sprawl over the course of an hour, accruing an almost gothic, ceremonial formality. The melodies here—achieved on Carlson's guitar, Lori Goldston's cello, and Karl Blau's bass—arc in meaningful slow motion over Adrienne Davies's plodding beats, which hit with the finality of hammers on coffin nails. This new lineup attains a grave grandeur and blasted beauty that'll be familiar to loyal fans, although Goldston does add welcome new textures and melodic grace to Earth's prevalent ponderousness, especially on the 20-minute title track.

Those who've appreciated Hex, Bees, and the disc of rerecorded old songs, Hibernaculum, will enjoy Angels of Darkness, as it offers yet more profound explorations into extended-­duration, minimalist rock, bruised to a midnight blue. That said, it feels like Earth have wrung just about all they can from this mode and they may want to consider another deviation. However, that "1" tacked onto this album's title suggests we're in for more of the same next time. recommended