The Tigris-Euphrates river valley, rumored site of the Garden of Eden, today smolders among the ruins of war. It’s also the region that spawned the Biblical riddle “Out of the eater came something to eat, out of the strong came something sweet,” i.e., a lion’s skull housing a beehive. And if a crater carved from crippling addiction and blinding guitar distortion (equal parts La Monte Young and Tony Iommi) isn’t an exactly comparable analogy to Iraq, it’s at least a hint as to the direction Earth frontman Dylan Carlson’s career has taken since 2005, when his cabinet-melting lava feedback hardened into desert rock and emerged in cleaner, calmer form, with a Duane Eddy twang engraving and a well-honed instinct for the repetitive cycles of drone metal. The result was Hex: or Printing in the Infernal Method, a sparse landscape evoking the violent West of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.
Earth records often carry the echo of previous releases, and The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull is no exception. “Engine of Ruin” could’ve been on Hex if not for the soft undercurrent of piano; now, amid the ruins, Earth have indeed found sweetness. The improvisational tendencies of the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service are the band’s newest weapons, but rather than allowing the result to devolve into chaotic psychedelic garnishment, Carlson distills the electric essences of country and gospel through his Stratocaster, while retaining the minimalist tendencies of drone. An album best experienced in near darkness, Skull‘s slow sense of foreboding eventually allows for cloud breaks of light, like a lotus unfolding among skeleton hordes. There is an unlikely undercurrent of hope—hope for order from chaos, and life from the hollow, burned-out faces of those who’ve seen paradise turned to dust.