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In writing about the new Earth album, The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, I was reminded of the first time I heard Earth 2, the Seattle act’s debut full-length and the record that started the drone-metal movement.
Earth 2 came out on Sub Pop in 1993, at the height of the grunge boom. At the time, I was a volunteer at a college radio station. I was as indifferent to grunge as was possible at the time, though I liked a song here and there (Nirvana’s “Negative Creep” and Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick”). Thus, I didn’t even bother listening to Earth 2 when it arrived at the radio station. I just looked at the back cover photo of Dylan Carlson and his lone bandmate and decided that it was odd—and kind of sad—that this grunge band didn’t even have a drummer.
It wasn’t until a few years later, in 1996, that I found out that Earth 2 isn’t really a grunge record. I first heard it when I visited the Trans Am house in Takoma Park to interview the D.C. post-rock band for a never-published issue of my fanzine. It was late one Sunday morning. Various housemates and houseguests were beginning to stir and eat cold pizza when I got there.
Before long I noticed that there was a really pleasant buzz coming from the speakers in the living room. Ambient instrumentals were all the rage at the time and I just figured that this churning, slow-burning music was the product of some new band that Trans Am had befriended on the road (the trio had already done a European tour with Tortoise at that point).
But I was wrong. It was Earth 2. At the time, no one was championing metal in the indie rock underground (grunge had ruined the sound of distorted guitar for a lot of alt-rock types), so whichever member of Trans Am rescued this disc from a used bin deserves props for recognizing it for what it was: a precursor to the rise of instrumental rock. Only later would it become clear what it is: a precursor to the advent of alt-metal.