I would be satisfied if The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull
turned out to be the final album that Earth
puts out. I don't want
it to be, but it would be a nice way to end the band's career. Looking back in time to the first full-length Earth album in 1993, Earth 2
, all the way through Phase 3
, up to 2008's Bees Made Honey...
, the evolution of Earth's sound is laid out for all to see. If you listen to the albums in order the changes in style become evident, but put side by side, Earth 2 and Bees Made Honey...
appear to be polar opposites.
Earth is a drone band that has origins in a grim, hateful, glacial style of doom metal. Earth 2 was an hour and thirteen minutes long, and evoked images of roughly hewn towers of grey stone, hundreds of kilometers high, crawling across dark plains and moaning to the starless sky. There were no vocals, and only a few seconds of drums. It was the definitive drone doom album, and it's likely to remain so.
The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull is still a drone album, but beyond that it is hard to classify. There are elements of country, post-rock, and stoner rock, but this is also a wordless album, and there isn't too much modern country music without singing. To actually label it as a country album is laughable, but less so than most labels, so we'll stick with "drone country" for now. Like all Earth releases, the music is guitar-centric, but there are drums as well (there is also, on occasion, an organ that is put to very good use). However, the songs are all maddeningly slow and there is only the bare minimum of drumming needed to keep the beat.
What makes this album great is not the guitar itself, but the reverberations and shimmering echoes of the notes. Because the music is so lazy and repetitive, the listener has unlimited opportunities to explore it in great detail. The degree of distortion is perfect. The notes are quite clear, yet they buzz in a calm, coasting manner. At times they can be soft and lilting; at others, growled and solemn. In Earth 2, the distortion was the music. The voices of the guitars were choked with tar and cotton. In Pentastar, the tone was raunchy and loud. Besides that though, Pentastar: In the Style of Demons and The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull are similar albums. Pentastar features Earth-founder Dylan Carlson's vocals, and there is the matter of the belligerent guitar tones, but with those aside, the two are not so different. Both are very minimalistic, repetitive, and sound quite a lot like a soundtrack to a western.
1. Omens and Portents I: The Driver: 9:06
2. Rise to Glory: 5:47
3. Miami Morning Coming Down II (Shine): 8:01
4. Engine of Ruin: 6:28
5. Omens and Portents II: Carrion Crow: 8:04
6. Hung from the Moon: 7:44
7. The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull: 8:15
Bonus track on vinyl version: Junkyard Priest
Bees Made Honey... could be called ambient music. Fans of Earth (and of drone music in general) will actively listen to it with full concentration, and this is the only way to enjoy the full scope of the album. Others may play it in the background, and while it was surely not intended for background noise, it works well in that capacity. I've seen a dozen reviews and recommendations that mention how perfect the album would be on a playlist for a cruise in a convertible across the desert. I myself have described it as cowboy music. Bees Made Honey... does have a bit of a Southern twang. It never sounds frivolous or light, despite being so laid-back. Every note is placed with a weighty purpose that pierces the thick haze being produced.
Here we have Dylan Carlson's vision of the history of drone music, with Earth 2 at one end and The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull at the other. They occupy different sides of the same spectrum, and while the moods are completely different, the intent is the same. Slow down and pay attention, and you'll find yourself in a universe that you have overlooked.
Earth - The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull - 2008 - Southern Lord