Having founded seminal rock band Earth in 1989 in Olympia, Wa., Dylan Carlson has since been recognised as the originator of what came to be known as ‘drone metal’ or ‘ambient metal’. As the sole original member and principal songwriter of the Seattle based band, Carlson continues to explore new ground and remains an innovator in his musical career and a compelling character outside of it.
As Earth continues to reach new heights, Carlson also extends his musical repertoire towards solitary endeavours. His solo projects, initially under the moniker ‘drcarlsonalbion’, continue the sustained, expansive motifs found in Earth, but under the influence of the traditional folklore, fayre lore and occult history of England and the British Isles. Shorn of band interplay, the focus is on Carlson’s unique ‘voice’ of amplified guitar and tone. Musically, his love affair with the ancient lore of a foreign land commenced with a cassette tape release, ‘Edward Kelley’s Blues’ (2012), featuring a sonic landscape of guitars, mellotron and Carlson speaking Enochian verse over field recordings taken around the River Thames in London (a sight of significance for Carlson’s own personal encounters with spirits in the United Kingdom). This lead to his full length solo LP ‘La Strega and The Cunning Man in the Smoke’(2012): a rendering of traditional folk songs, contemporary pop songs (including a cover of PJ Harvey’s ‘Last Living Rose’,) and Carlson’s original material. It fused his trademark dark American style with an ode to the “grey, damp filthiness of ages” of “beautiful England”, complete with vocals by Italian singer Teta Colamonaco. The third installment, a 7” entitled ‘Modern English Folklore Vol 1: Hackney’ (2012), brought this folklore into the modern day environment of London’s East End; a collaboration featuring spoken word written and vocalised by British writer/poet Rosie Knight.
Never one to be confined to a single genre or label, Carlson’s solo ventures have given him the freedom to experiment with other genres and musicians alike. In his ongoing improvisational work with Dutch free-jazz drummer Rogier Smal, the resulting releases -2013’s split 7” ‘Holly’s Jeans’ b/w ‘Een Trommel Is Geen Percussie Instrument’ and their full length LP release ‘Elephanto Bianco’ (2014)- were both recorded in one take, capturing the two’s aleatoric dynamic together. The genre transcending continued on his collaboration with British experimental dub artist Kevin “The Bug” Martin for the Bug vs Earth ‘Boa / Cold’ EP in 2014. Most recently he joined forces with Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span, recording a song commissioned for broadcast on BBC Radio (‘Psalm For A Revival’, 2015).
Guitar remains at the forefront of Carlson’s solo work. His ‘Gold’ soundtrack (2014) - composed for Thomas Arslan’s German feature film of the same title(2013) - features deliberate and lingering guitar themes. They evolve into forms that fade into the horizon, evoking the desolate wilderness of the American continent. Depth becomes apparent in negative space.
His latest oeuvre, ‘Falling with a Thousand Stars and Other Wonders from the House of Albion’ (2015, self-released, consisting of an album, documentary film and book) sees a return to Carlson’s love of Albion’s supernatural days of yore. Through droning 6 and 12-string guitars, he reinterprets traditional old English and Scottish folk ballads into sombre instrumental pieces. Though a solitary venture, the textures are lush and immersive, summoning the ambiance of a lost time. Ever-present is that meditative, yet meticulous, “restrained majesty” of uncompromising repetition and intensity that is so characteristic of Carlson’s signature sound and style.
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