2019 is Earth’s 30th anniversary, and Full Upon Her Burning Lips continues Dylan Carlson’s deepened exploration of Ennio Morricone-influenced Americana which has been the staple characteristic of the band’s output since 2005’s Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method. From their inception, Earth were a minimalist drone band who used distortion, volume, repetition and musical inertia to great, genre-defining effect, and their albums Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version and Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions are rightly considered as stone-cold classics of the drone metal oeuvre. In the early 00s, Earth returned after a nine-year hiatus between records with a sound which was more melodic, gentle, less abrasive and confrontational than much of their earlier work, as they used aural tropes from country and folk as a shift away from the monolithic slabs of noise that they were known for.

All of the ten songs on the album share the same musical sensibilities as space; restraint and moderation are at the core of Full Upon her Burning Lips. Of note is Carlson’s guitar playing and the instrument’s sound, which is bereft of many of the distortion, reverb and echo effects which have been at the centre of his style for many years. This is not to say that such effects have not been used at all – the opening bars of ‘The Mandrake’s Hymn’ make that obvious – but they are not as evident as on previous albums. This adds a sense of vulnerability to the work as a whole, an honesty to the playing which adds a degree of plaintive contemplation in the absence of aural barriers to hide behind. Adrienne Davies’ drumming is equally self-controlled and measured, but also so purposeful that the drums are not there simply as sonic adornments to the guitar work - the players are perfectly aligned, in tandem with one another’s bleak solidarity.

‘Datura’s Crimson Veils’ opens the album, and is both the longest and best song here. Carlson’s guitar chimes through spirals of initially hard to define melody before the drums are introduced and a repetitious guitar line is used which brings to mind an open landscape, a sense of futility and beautiful despair. This is music for wandering the streets at night, alone and drenched with rain as a film noir style voiceover offers narrative exposition on your frame of mind for the biopic playing out in your mind’s eye. Despite its languid nature, there is a light feeling to the track as it continues with each returning cycle of the song offering a more optimistic element in its stoic brilliance.

There is a psychedelic aspect to some of the album’s tracks, an element to Earth’s sound not covered in this second iteration of the band. ‘Exaltation of Larks’ and ‘Descending Belladonna’ both play within the boundaries of psych rock, albeit leisurely psych rock, with descending guitar patterns which weave their intricate patterns over distant-sounding, ethereal and masterful drums to great effect. ‘The Colour of Poison’ has echoes of slowed-down early Black Sabbath, as Carlson and Davies wear their early 70s rock influences on their sleeves (Earth are named after an early, pre-record deal incarnation of Sabbath, happily choosing that over the alternative of The Polka Tulk Blues Band).

Full Upon Her Burning Lips requires patience from the listener as its contemplative pace offers multiple rewards on repeat plays. There is a depth to the album which is more evident with an enhanced investment from the audience as layers are revealed in the aural panoramic panacea that are hidden within the subtext of the songs.