Earth’s curious career has led them from drone-rock pioneers to gorgeous Americana-doom, fusing their natural aptitude for stark minimalism with a huge bank of influences. In their distinct second phase, The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull is a creative peak; warmer and busier and sunnier, and already celebrating its ten-year anniversary.
Drifting from the raw, blissful soundscapes on Earth II and the monolithic, frightening power-drone on Phase 3: Thrones and Dominions and Pentastar: In The Style of Demons, the country-doom that emerged on their comeback record Hex; Or Printing In The Infernal Method is warmer and much less destructive. By 2008, their aesthetic became much more welcoming. Bees… is a curious mix of folk-psychedelia, American country music and the aching, lugubrious drone that characterizes both phases of their career. This is even showcased in the title, the biblical reference evocative of sweetness in the wake of brutality: a fitting nod for an often-oblique, hard-to-read band.
Though the musical ideas develop gradually, there’s a hell of a lot of them. The record is glacial, and the tone shifts microscopically. Opening with languishing psych guitar draped over the drippy drums of “Omens and Portents 1: The Driver,” the shimmering instruments gradually shift and coalesce, a theme continued on “Rise To Glory” which introduces layers of guitar chaos over the creeping melodic progression. Steve Moore’s piano really comes to the foreground by “Miami Morning Coming Down II (shine),” which languishes in the imaginary sunshine, giving way to a busier, noisier, guitar-focused “Engine of Ruin.”
When the sinister “Omens and Portents II: Carrion Crow” emerges, the tone darkens; the guitars strike deeper and the sun-bleached sheen is peeled back. The shimmering guitar layers are back in full force on “Hung From The Moon,” featuring the most present guitar work at the mid-point, a gradually deconstructed guitar solo. All these ideas are focused on the slow, sad “Bees Made Honey In the Lion’s Skull”; possibly the lightest touch on the record, it flutters and trills around the central theme, not hugely unlike a swarm of bees around a lion’s skull.
If Earth II led to the rise of Sunn O))) and a legion of copycats, the glitter of Bees… can be heard in so many of today’s fuzz-heavy doom bands (and the numerous acts named as some reference to the title). Indeed, the tracks have become live mainstays, immortalized on both 2008’s Radio Earth – Live 2007/2008 and 2017’s Live at Third Man Records. Earth are commemorating the release with a new merch design (a collaboration with Alan Forbes) and Southern Lord are preparing a special anniversary edition.
Bees… is a record that means a lot to a lot of people because it was the moment that Earth’s vision because truly gorgeous, a thick morass of liquid gold where previous efforts had been more oblique. In any case, it’s telling that they reached such a high peak that they didn’t really do a follow-up; Angels of Darkness… I and II share an aesthetic but the sunny psych elements are underplayed, and 2014’s Primitive and Deadly is much close to their harsher influences. Bees… felt like an itch they scratched, which led to a well-deserved focus on experimentation later down the line – a rare moment of blissful clarity in an expansive career.